Taiwan is in focus again and for good reason!

There is more to the visits to Taipei of Taro Aso, former Japanese Prime Minister and that of Lai Ching, presidential hopeful to the US than meets the eye. While the former’s visit could signal a change in Japan’s approach, the American view of Taiwan gets reinforced by Ching’s visit. Though low-key visits, the statements made by the former Japanese PM certainly led Beijing to angrily react. Taro Aso’s remark that Japan must show “the resolve to fight” to defend Taiwan from attack was in line with Tokyo’s official stance, angered China, with the foreign ministry spokesperson saying that Beijing  urges Japan to abide by the One China principle and refrain from supporting pro- independence Taiwan forces in any way. In a way, both Aso and Lai Ching- te’s visits were primarily for their domestic audiences, but the impact of their statements and outreach will be felt in the US in  the coming year. Both the US and Taiwan head into Presidential election next year,

Aso, Vice President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said in Taipei that Japan, the US and others must show ‘strong resolve’ to come to Taiwan’s defence if it were attacked, signalling deterrence against China. Keisuke Suzuki, an LDP lawmaker who accompanied Aso on his Taiwan visit, said that Aso had discussed the issue with Japanese government officials, indicating that Aso’s view did not deviate from the official position. “The comment was not lawmaker Taro Aso’s personal remark, but a result of arrangements with government insiders”, Suzuki said. During the meeting between Aso and President Tsai the latter described Japan as an important partner of Taiwan and expressed her willingness to cooperate on reinforcing supply chains and other areas of mutual interest. Aso responded that there has  consistently been a sentiment within the LDP which advocated maintaining robust relations with Taiwan. He also expressed the hope that the relationship would be characterized by ‘mutual support during challenging times’ and ‘shared celebrations in moments of happiness’. The two officials also reportedly discussed how to evacuate Japanese nationals in the event of a potential crisis involving Taiwan.

Aso’s visit, which marked the most senior Japanese political official to visit Taiwan since 1972, when Japan normalised diplomatic relations with China, came as tensions have risen over Taiwan amid China’s increasing military pressure on the island in the past three years. Meanwhile, the US unveiled a Taiwan weapons aid package worth up to US$ 345 million last month. Japan, a close US ally, is in the midst of a historic boost to defence spending. US President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated that US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, which the White House said was not a shift in US policy. Aso’s recent remarks in Taipei are not new. In July 2021, China reacted angrily after Aso told a fundraising event for his party that along with the US, Japan needed to defend Taiwan if the island was invaded because “if a major problem took place in Taiwan, it would not be too much to say that it could relate to a survival-threatening situation” for Japan. Clearly, Aso is part of the hawks in the LDP who want to re-arm Japan. The potential invasion of Taiwan by China provides Japan the opportunity to

increase their military spending. Aso had then said that such a situation was one of the conditions that needed to be met for Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defence, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack. “We need to think hard that Okinawa could be the next,” Aso said.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Tokyo’s top government spokesperson, said that Japan has consistently hoped for a peaceful settlement of issues regarding Taiwan thorough dialogue when asked about Aso’s latest speech in Taipei, Asked if Japan would deploy its military to Taiwan if there is a crisis, Matsuno declined to comment, saying the government would not like to answer a hypothetical question. Meanwhile, China has pledged to take “forceful measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity” after condemning a visit by William Lai Ching-te, Vice President of Taiwan to the US. China’s reaction was immediate, stating that Ching-te’s vis it to Washington was at the “very heart of China’s core interests”, and warned that the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations. Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the US decision to arrange the so-called “stopover” for Lai sent “seriously wrong signals to separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence’.” He added that the US “stubbornly pursues the strategy of using Taiwan Island to control China, and continues to hollow out the one- China principle.”

Notably, Wang’s comments came after Lai returned  from  his  visit  to  the US. Officially, it was only a transit visit: first in New York and then in San Francisco, on the way to and from Paraguay to attend President Pena’s inauguration. Lai is the front-runner to become Taiwan’s next President in elections set for January 2024 as incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen cannot run again after two terms. China dislikes Lai especially because of  his previous comments about being a “practical worker for Taiwan Independence”, though on the campaign trail he has pledged to maintain the status quo and offered talks with  China. While in  the US, Lai gave speeches to the Taiwanese community and met officials from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a US government-run non-profit that handles unofficial relations. Taiwanese officials have said China is likely to conduct military exercises this week near the island, using Lai’s US stopovers as a pretext to intimidate Taiwanese voters ahead of the presidential election.

The Japanese perspective on Taiwan makes for interesting reading as it gives the ruling LDP the excuse to build up of defence spending. In February, the government announced that it intended to raise defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP by 2027, or 60 percent over five years. This will give the country the third-largest defence budget in the world. From a regional security perspective, this indicates a hope within Japan of achieving self-sufficiency in defence and security thus reducing the dependence on the US. This is still a long shot off. However, the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is very real, making it imperative for Japan to be prepared for any worst-case scenario. That is the key takeaway from former PM Aso’s messaging on Taiwan. While Presidential outcomes could well bring William Lai Ching-te to power, the challenge of keeping the island nation together in the face of increased Chinese pressure will remain for the foreseeable future.

Source: https://www.gingerriver.com/p/lai-ching-tes-stopover-in-the-us
Source:                                               https://ca.news.yahoo.com/japan-ex-pm-asos-fight- 014028977.html
Source:              https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/us-approves- potential-11-billion-arms-sale-to-taiwan-amid-china-