KISHIDA CABINET APPALLINGLY ILL-PREPARED FOR TAIWAN CRISIS
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced on August 17 that it would be taking part in “Vostok 2022” joint flight drills with Russian armed forces in the Russian Far East August 30-September 5. The announcement reminds one of the 13-hour joint air exercises China and Russia conducted on May 24 over the Sea of Japan, the East China, and the Western Pacific.
The May drills were carried out as the leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the US, which make up the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), congregated in Tokyo on the last day of President Joe Biden’s five-day visit to South Korea and Japan to deepen strategic ties with America’s Asia-Pacific allies. The previous day, Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly warned China in a joint communique against its efforts to coercively change the status quo in the East and South China Seas, re-emphasized their commitment to peace and security across the Taiwan Strait.
Responding to the communique, China and Russia flew six cutting-edge strategic bombers in what was the fourth joint air drills they conducted around Japan since July 2019. They also held joint exercises in December 2020 and November 2021. Explains Ikuo Oda, former lieutenant general of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force:
“With these exercises, China and Russia are warning Japan and the US that they will not put up with any undue moves the Quad makes to the detriment of their national interests. In the same way ten Chinese and Russian battleships cruised around Japan last October, Beijing and Moscow are trying to politically intimidate Japan by flexing their military muscles. The significance of joint drills lies in repetition, because it makes for an improvement in coordination. I suspect that their joint drills starting late this month will enhance the interoperability between the two forces.”
The coming joint maneuvers presumably are also meant to put a check on the ongoing nine-day Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises which began on August 22—the biggest combined US-South Korea miliary training in years on the Korean Peninsula. They are made up of exercises involving aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops. Oda says Japan should pay particular attention to whether or not North Korea will take part in the joint drills with China and Russia, explaining:
“China has since 1990 been importing a large number of fighters and submarines from Russia, which is its biggest supplier of weapons and equipment. North Korea’s possible participation in the drills would be the worst nightmare for Japan. The North in all likelihood would launch ballistic missiles in line with the military actions China and Russia would take, creating a ‘three-front’ situation that Japan would have to deal with. That would be the worst situation possible for Japan.”
“Okinawa’s Enjoys Sister-State Relationship with Fujian Province”
The military threats surrounding Japan are indeed ominous. But the big question is whether our prime minister is cognizant of this fact. On August 4, China launched live-fire military drills in six areas surrounding Taiwan in retaliation for the visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese drills were so intense and conducted on such a massive scale that specialists regarded them as a dry run for China’s invasion of the self-ruled island. Five of the nine ballistic missiles China launched landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). And yet, Kishida fell short of protesting the Chinese action that day, and failed to summon a session of the National Security Council.
The missiles landed in a sea area barely 50 miles from Japan’s westernmost island of Yonaguni. If the missiles had actually hit the island inhabited by 1,600 citizens, one would not have been surprised to see a serious conflict—or even a war—ensue. It was only the next morning, after conferring with Pelosi, that Kishida held a news conference to protest the missile launches. Kishida’s belated protest must have given the Chinese side plenty of reason to ridicule Japan as an adversary easy to deal with. A nation should never show such nonchalance and indifference to a security threat of this nature. Japan should never let China misunderstand it, as China will miss no opportunity to exploit our weaknesses.
But I suppose such criticism has yet to reach our prime minister. After reshuffling his cabinet on August 10, Kishida declared that his new cabinet is committed to “responding to emergency situations expeditiously and expertly.” Despite his strong words, however, appropriate measures have yet to be put in place where they are most urgently needed. Kenichi Itokazu, mayor of Yonaguni Town, stresses that the central government and Okinawa Prefecture must urgently prepare effective measures to evacuate Yonaguni’s citizens in case of the serious threat of an attack. Itokazu recently explained:
“Obviously, the central government is taking into consideration a variety of situations that call for an application of the Civil Protection Act. Under this act, however, citizens can only be evacuated after the government recognizes an impending armed attack by a hostile force…when a military incursion is deemed unavoidable. That would be too late. The government says citizens can be evacuated at the last moment, but what realistically can we do when there are no underground shelters on this island? It is clearly too dangerous to leave the people here unprotected. What to do, then? I’ve asked Okinawa Prefecture and the central government for solutions, but they have failed to respond.”
Last Friday, August 19, Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki visited Yonaguni ahead of the gubernatorial election September 11. Itokazu appealed to the governor, stating: “An attack on Taiwan is an attack on Japan and Okinawa. How can we protect our citizens? I’ve asked your government but have yet to receive a reply.” Itokazu says Tamaki told him:
“We must appeal to all Okinawans the world over to get on with all the nations of the world.”
Tamaki was not answering his question in earnest. So Itokazu further emphasized:
“Yonaguni has enjoyed a sister-city relationship with the Taiwanese city of Hualien over the past 40 years. We in Yonaguni wish to proactively cooperate in the interchange between Japan and Taiwan in number of ways.”
Itokazu says Tamashiro replied to his surprise: “But you know our prefecture enjoys a sister-state relationship with (China’s) Fujian Province.” Laments Itokazu:
“Our governor absolutely lacks an understanding of the fact that Okinawa Prefecture, especially its small islands including Yonaguni, are faced with a grave crisis of China’s making. Under such unfortunate circumstances, we are constantly told to contact the prefectural government first whenever we want to ask the central government how we should protect our 1,600 citizens. We already have, time and again, to no avail. Yonaguni is faced with a real threat from China. I earnestly hope you understand what I have to say about Yonaguni’s sad reality.”
I find the mayor’s appeal more than justifiable.
Building up Fund to Evacuate Islanders
Each local government must take the initiative in formulating concrete measures to protect its citizens. Unable to turn to the central government or Okinawa Prefecture, what can the township of Yonaguni do to protect its citizens? Itokazu says three areas on his island have been designated as the gathering places for Yonaguni citizens in case of an emergency on the basis of past disaster drills. But everything else is undecided beyond that.
“This is just a hypothetical, but if we were to evacuate our citizens to Shimoji Island, which has a runway long enough for large aircraft to land and take off, we could use the small aircraft currently serving Yonaguni to carry a maximum of 50 citizens per flight. A total of 30 or more flights would be needed to transport all of our citizens. And we would have to get it done within a very short period of time.” (Shimoji Island is 220 kilometers, about 140 miles, to the northeast of Yonaguni.)
Itokazu keeps asking himself if such a feat is doable. Self-Defense Forces would probably have to be brough in to replace the evacuated residents. But that is a decision only the central government can make, not something within Yonaguni’s purview. The mayor has more than his fair share of headaches when he cannot even have a meaningful discussion with the central government or Okinawa Prefecture concerning an evacuation of his fellow citizens. But these are the hard facts of life in Japan today. Itokazu says he is even considering setting up a fund aimed at enabling Yonaguni citizens to leave their island ahead of a Chinese attack, explaining:
“When as mayor of this town I cannot say for certain how I can enable our citizens to collectively evacuate to a safe spot in case of an emergency, all I can tell them would be to leave this island swiftly and seek temporary shelter in places where their families and relatives reside. For that purpose, I figure around \1 million (roughly US$7,500) per head would be necessary as air fare and short-term expenses. So I am beginning to think seriously that I must start building up a fund to the tune of roughly \1.6 billion (US$12 million) in order to protect the citizens of Yonaguni.”
An idyllic island barely 111 kilometers (about 70 miles) from Taiwan, Yonaguni would be one of the islands in the region most in danger should China launch an attack on Taiwan. Its mayor is tormented by this theat. While China and Russia continue to plot to change the status quo of the world by force, the possibility of an invasion of Taiwan by China continues to increase. Mr. Kishida, you’ve declared that your new cabinet is “committed to decisively responding to an attack.” Please show us how serious you are in delivering on that commitment.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,013 in the September 1, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)