Japan may see escalation of tension in its relations with China as Tokyo, which feels its security will be threatened if Taiwan is attacked, has appointed a serving government official to act as its de facto defence attaché in the self-ruling island.
Japan has no formal diplomatic representation in Taiwan as Tokyo adheres to ‘One- China’ policy, but handles its bilateral engagement with the self-ruling island through the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association in Taipei. It is treated symbolically as Japan’s open support to Taiwan, the Japan Times said.
Until a few years ago, Japan and its political leadership avoided playing pro-active role for Taiwan as Tokyo considered the self-ruling island too politically sensitive to speak about or support it publicly.
But such cautions were done away with when ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s vice president and former Prime Minister Taro Aso made a three-day visit to Taiwan last month. He was the first LDP leader to visit the self-ruling island since Japan severed diplomatic ties with it in 1972.
In the changed geo-political situation in the Indo-Pacific region, this reflects a shift in Tokyo’s stand towards Taiwan as it feels that if China attacks the democratically-ruled island, Japan will not be safe.
Tokyo has appointed a serving government official to act as its de facto defence attaché in the self-ruling island at the time when China has mounted military activities around Taiwan. On September 11, as per The Guardian, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent a carrier strike group past Taiwan’s tip into the western Pacific Ocean, led by the aircraft carrier Shandong. Dozens of warplanes were also detected over the median lines of the Taiwan Strait, and to the islands south, the British daily said.
A day after this development, Japan’s defence ministry detected two flotillas of eight PLA warships sailing through the Miyako Strait south of Okinawa, while Taiwan’s defence ministry on September 13 detected Chinese 36 fighter jets taking sorties around the self- ruling island. The Financial Times said these were the largest ever military manoeuvres by the PLA around Taiwan in the recent past.
In support of these developments, China’s foreign ministry said, “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory and China is unwaveringly determined to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Beijing had also carried out military drills around Taiwan in the third week of August this year in retaliation for Taiwanese Vice President and election frontrunner Lai Ching- te’s visit to the US.
In April 2023, China once again carried out a big military exercise across the Taiwan Strait 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.
Tokyo was rattled when five of the total nine ballistic missiles launched by China over Taiwan in August 2022 in reaction to the then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei had fallen into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, near Yonaguni Island which is a part of the country’s Okinawa Prefecture and lies just 111 km away from Taiwan.
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.”
On July 28, the White Paper issued by Japan’s Ministry of Defence highlighted Tokyo’s concern about China’s growing military activities around Taiwan.
“China has been intensifying its activities across the entire region surrounding Japan, including the East China Sea, particularly the area around the Senkaku Islands, the Sea of Japan, and the western Pacific Ocean including areas around the Izu and Ogasawara Islands, extending beyond the so-called first island chain to the second island chain. It is increasing military pressure on Taiwan and continues to entrench its military foothold in the South China Sea,” the White Paper said.
For the first time the White Paper, issued by Japan’s Ministry of Defence every year since 2014, has devoted an entire section exclusively on Taiwan, indicating Tokyo’s concern.
China’s aggressive military positioning around the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea was prominently discussed during the recently concluded Camp David Summit held between Japan-South Korea and the US, which was first of its kind between Washington DC and its close Asian allies.
Significance of the Japan-South Korea-US trilateral meet was that it led to creation of a mechanism which will work as a deterrent to China’s expansionism in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan, in particular, is concerned about the security of Taiwan.
Various reports suggest that China may attack Taiwan by 2027. If that happens, it will prove catastrophic for the region and the world as it will draw the US, Japan and South Korea and other American allies into the war with massive consequences for humanity.
A strong deterrence measure along with warning of imposition of punishments through sanctions against China may work well and stop conflict from happening—is what the majority of strategic thinkers feel. But all this is in the realm of speculation. Japan and like-minded countries want peace to prevail in the region for its prosperity and growth.