Japan readies to confront China as tension escalates in Taiwan Strait

Japan appears to be gearing up for armed conflict in the East China sea as the prospects of the invasion of Taiwan are becoming increasingly clear. After signing a security pact with the Solomon Islands, China has increased its military activities in the Pacific region. Recently, eight Chinese naval ships sailed through Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, making Tokyo nervous. The fleet had the aircraft carrier Liaoning, from where warplanes were spotted taking off and landing. Japan has started taking measures to build its strength as the Taiwan conflict flare-up will lead to its active involvement.

With its presence in the Solomon Islands, Chinese forces now can better observe the maritime activities of rivals especially the US and Australia. China wooed the Solomon Islands and forced it to drop its recognition of Taiwan through assurance of investment and tourist visits. This allowed China to build a military base around 2,000 km away from the country’s eastern border. China may use similar tactics to bring other island nations in the region such as Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Kiribati, and Taiwan allies the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu to its side. This has perturbed the US and Australia.

Notably, Japan is in alliance with these nations through different pacts, which means Japan must join them in case an armed conflict occurs with China. Beijing is well aware of Japan’s efforts to sabotage China’s attempts to gain unparalleled power in the Pacific region. It compels China to think of military strategies to neutralise Japanese challenges. So, Tokyo has embarked on strengthening military capabilities as well as diplomatic ties. Reacting to the China-Solomon pact, Japan joined the US, Australia and New Zealand expressing “shared concerns about the security framework and its serious risks to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

As a part of extending its tentacles in southeast Asia, possibly to surround China, Japan has signed a defence pact with Thailand. Japan has already ventured into a security agreement with Vietnam and is planning to sign a similar pact with the Philippines as well. It worked well for Japan since the southeast Asian nations are wary of China’s growing assertiveness in the region, which threatens their sovereignty and territorial integrity. “Any attempts to change the status quo by force, and we are opposed to the threat by or use of weapons of mass destruction,” said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Japan’s relations with China are deteriorating thanks to geopolitical tensions amid strong undercurrents of anti-China sentiments and security threats. People in Japan have already expressed their displeasure over China making claims on Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in Chinese). The strained relations and Japan going closer to the US-led group has irked China. Lamenting Japanese deep ideological prejudice toward China, the Chinese Ambassador to Japan Kong Xuanyouwarned said “We are at a crossroads where we either forge ahead or retreat.”

Japan’s worries have amplified after the bond between China and Russia became stronger in the wake of the Ukraine invasion. Russia has already criticised Japan and suspended talks on a peace treaty for joining the international voices against Russia. Both countries already are in disagreement on the control over Kurlis islands. China has been the major supporter of Russia on the Ukraine invasion. This draws Russia closer to China. This certainly added pressure on Japan.

Japan now is exploring boosting security ties with European countries. A few weeks ago, it held security talks with Germany. Jun Okumura, an analyst at the Tokyo-based Meiji Institute for Global Affairs said Japan was keen on “any kind of new alliance that will help to face down China.” Japan has acquired an important place in the anti-China, anti-Russia block being formed by the European Union. The UK too is mulling a defence and security agreement with Japan for joint military exercises and operations.

Japan has taken a clear stand in the Taiwan Strait conflict and has decided to support Taiwan in case of a Chinese invasion. Its foreign policy has accorded importance to Taiwan and sought to ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Japanese Prime Minister Kishida has opposed the invasion of Taiwan by saying “We must collaborate and never tolerate any unilateral attempt to change borders by force in East Asia.” With the Chinese flotilla coming closer to Japanese territorial limits, Japan now will be seen showing urgency in ramping up defences to deter and respond to possible attacks from China.