China is ‘greatest strategic challenge,’: Japan’s White Paper

A day after Taiwan carried out its first anti-takeover drill at the self-ruling island’s major international gateway in Taoyuan to test its ability to defend itself from a Chinese invasion, Japan issued a White Paper on July 28 in which it expressed its worries about China’s growing military activities around Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing as its own territory. China has vowed to unify it with mainland China by force, if necessary.

According to The Japan Times, the White Paper devotes an entirely new section to China’s move around Taiwan as well as a “full-page commentary on the Chinese military trends surrounding the island.” Upset over Japan’s White Paper’s details on the Chinese military activities around Taiwan, China made serious demarches to Japan on July 28 and issued a long-winded riposte.

“The Defence of Japan 2023 White Paper gravely interferes in China’s internal affairs, smears China’s normal defence development and maritime and naval military activities, deliberately hypes up the “China threat” narrative and creates tension in the region,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said.

As if it was not enough, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson reiterating Beijing’s stand on Taiwan, said, “Taiwan is China’s territory. The Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affairs that brooks no external interference.”

In August 2022, China conducted large-scale military drills around Taiwan after then US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruling island. Infuriated over the US’s third highest official’s visit to Taiwan, Chinese used a significant part of its military might in conducting drills around the self-ruling island.

China even test launched ballistic missiles over Taipei, which also fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, including one only 80km from Okinawa Prefecture’s Yonaguni Island. Japan, as per the White House, saw it as a threat to its territory. Beijing once again carried out a big military exercise across the Taiwan Strait in April 2023, in retaliation, after the self-ruling island’s President Tsai Ing-wen met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.

In the three-day military exercise, China used eight warships and 42 fighter jets and some of the deployed craft had crossed the middle line of the Taiwan Strait that separates the self- ruling island from the mainland, said Taiwan defence ministry.

These developments impacted strategic thinkers and policy makers of Japan because Yonaguni Island of the East Asian country’s Okinawa Prefecture is just 100 km away from Taiwan and it is home to a key Self-Defence Force base.

Senior Japanese officials, including late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have said that a Chinese attack on democratic Taiwan—a key semiconductor maker that sits across shipping lanes that provide Japan with much of its energy—would represent an emergency for Tokyo, The Japan Times said.

Since 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping has reiterated his call for unification of Taiwan. In his opening speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress in October 2022, he said, “We have strengthened our strategic initiative for China’s complete reunification and consolidated commitment to the one-China principle within the international community…We have put our national interests first, focused on internal political concerns, and maintained firm strategic resolve. We have shown a fighting spirit and a firm determination to never yield to coercive power.”

Interestingly, The Jamestown Foundation, a US-based think tank sees President Xi’s dogged determination to unify Taiwan with mainland China through the prism of his family’s historical involvement in the self-ruling island’s unification efforts.

The think tank says Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun was for years involved in the United Front Work that worked secretly for the unification of Taiwan by incorporating former KMT officials into the Communist Party.

But unification efforts failed and this reportedly “rankled” Xi Zhongxun in the “twilight” of his life, Matthew Fulco said in his article for China Brief, a journal published by The Jamestown Foundation on May 19, 2023. Matthew Fulco said every CPC leader since Mao Zedong, considering it as a sacred mission, has vowed to achieve unification with Taiwan. However, “Xi Jinping is the first with a realistic chance of achieving the goal,” Fulco said in his article in China Brief.

American intelligence agency, the CIA has concluded that President Xi wants the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) to be ready to launch a war across the Strait by 2027 but has doubts about the Chinese military’s capabilities. Yet Japan seems to be not ready to take the PLA’s military activities around Taiwan lightly. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which features prominently in the White Paper, has shaken the Japanese leadership. Tokyo believes China would be looking to take a page from Russia’s war to unify Taiwan with the mainland.

China’s activities around the East and South China Seas seem to have also rankled Japan. China is Japan’s “greatest strategic challenge,” the White Paper said, while reiterating the phrase Tokyo used in the country’s National Security Strategy (NSS) released in December last year.

Shredding Japan’s post-World War hesitancy, the National Security Strategy, unveiled days after an unprecedented defence budget of $315 billion for its armed forces, is not only bold and nervy but also full of determination to pre-empt enemy attacks by launching a “counterstrike.”

“The NSS sets the fundamental principle of national security which is to achieve the security of Japan as well as peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and to contribute even more proactively in securing peace, stability, and prosperity of the international community as “Proactive Contributor to Peace” based on the principle of international cooperation,” Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi said following the adoption of the National Security Strategy on December 17. For Japan, underlying concerns remain protection of its national interests and given the rising military activities of China in the Indo-Pacific region, it is beefing up its security arrangement. But it is not Japan, the entire international community is facing its toughest challenge of the postwar period.