A Two-Cover Story: Japan’s Taiwan Message Gets U.S. Attention

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NEW YORK – Gone are the plum blossoms and the image of Mount Fuji against a calm pink background from last year. A fully armored samurai warrior mounted on a charging steed is sported on the cover of Japan’s Defense White Paper this year, and people are taking note of the change in leadership.

The annual Defense of Japan White Paper is written by a team of six people from the Ministry of Defense. Four of this year’s staff were women in their 30s, including the team leader. Members are said to have pushed for the samurai on the cover – partly to gauge the interest of young people, but also as a message to the world that Japan is ready to stand up for itself.

The change in Tokyo’s public stance is “astonishing,” according to Japanese expert and political scientist from RAND Corp. Jeffrey Hornung.

The change has been noticed in Washington. While analysts are divided on the best way forward for Japan, it is widely believed that its public messages are deliberate and stray from years past.

Analysts point to several new elements as notable. For the first time, the document directly links Taiwan to the security of Japan. “Stabilizing the situation around Taiwan is important for the security of Japan and the stability of the international community,” he said. “Therefore, it is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation more than ever with a sense of crisis.”

The document also gives more space to the space, cyber and electromagnetic fields and highlights the importance of climate change, aligning with the priorities of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Murasame-class destroyer Ikazuchi, left, Fleet Supply Tanker USNS John Ericsson, and aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan advance while conducting a replenishment at sea in the Philippine Sea in August 2020. (Photo courtesy of US Navy)

“What we are seeing again now with the comments from these officials is the connection between the public and the security of Taiwan and Japan,” Hornung said. It was often a topic of discussion in private conversations with Japanese officials, but never acknowledged in public, he said.

“Japan’s new white paper is likely to be well received by US policymakers seeking to work more closely with Japan to contribute to regional peace and security, including stability in the Taiwan Strait,” said Bonny Lin. , the new director of the China Power Project. and Senior Security Researcher in Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Think Tank.

“I would also add that China is watching closely what is happening and is alarmed,” Lin said. She pointed to a video circulating in China on how Beijing could use nuclear weapons against Japan and said it was “a sign that China is concerned that a fundamental change is happening in Japan regarding its Taiwanese policy “.

Derek Grossman, Senior Defense Analyst at RAND, said: “We are seeing a more public messaging campaign from Tokyo that Japan, at a minimum, is concerned about what is happening in the Strait as it is negatively impacting Japanese security, and on the high end that Tokyo could even join the United States in defending Taiwan if the island had already been attacked. “

The white paper comes just weeks after Japan’s No.2 leader Taro Aso, who is deputy prime minister and finance minister, said in a speech that if China invades Taiwan, Tokyo could interpret the move as a “threat to survival of Japan” and deploy Self-Defense Forces to defend Taiwan alongside the United States

Japanese No.2 Taro Aso said earlier in July that “if a major incident occurs [in Taiwan], it wouldn’t be strange at all if it touched on a life threatening situation. If so, Japan and the United States must defend Taiwan together. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Finance of Japan)

Yasuhide Nakayama, Japanese Minister of State for Defense, told the Hudson Institute in June that “we must protect Taiwan as a democratic country” and questioned publicly whether the “One China” policy than the United States and Japan followed for decades was still worth maintaining. .

RAND’s Grossman said, “I don’t expect this trend to reverse as long as Beijing continues to step up diplomatic, economic and, in particular, military pressure against Taiwan. The fact that Tokyo, which normally avoids to express grievances, feel compelled to send such forceful messages to Beijing is truly an indictment of China’s bad behavior in the Strait. “

Aso and Nakayama’s comments follow an April summit statement in which US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stressed “the importance of peace and stability across the Straits of Taiwan “- the first reference to Taiwan in a report by US-Japanese leaders. declaration since 1969.

In May, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told the Nikkei in an interview that Japan must increase its defense capabilities “at a radically different rate than in the past” and that annual defense spending cannot be limited by the long-standing ceiling of 1% of gross domestic product. .

“When you look at the full commentary from Kishi, Nakayama, Aso, it just doesn’t stop,” Hornung said. “These are not blunders. These are intentional. This is Japan’s public policy position now.”

But Michael Swaine, director of the East Asia program at the Quincy Institute, warned that while the wording about Taiwan in the white paper itself isn’t so alarming, the context is.

“The move towards defining Taiwan as a key strategic location for Japan which implies that an independent Taiwan or Taiwan that remains separate from the mainland is really important to Japan’s national security is very dangerous,” he said. .

Swaine said it is important to remember that the Biden administration has not changed its stance on the “One China” policy, which the United States has maintained since 1979.

As part of this policy, Washington “recognizes the Chinese position” that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The United States recognizes the government of the People’s Republic of China as “China’s only legal government,” but does not explicitly recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

“If you look at the statements made by some US defense officials and military officers about China’s readiness to attack Taiwan, and maybe it will happen soon, there is a greater need for message control within administration to make it very clear that not he is only saying he supports ‘One China’, but he has to actually show that he supports the idea of ​​the ‘One China’ policy, “Swaine said .

Swaine said a better path for Japan would be to exercise “middle power diplomacy,” aligning more closely with countries like South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. “to act more as a stabilizer, a brake on the United States and China relationship.”

He called the tensions between Japan and South Korea over historical issues “unfortunate” and said that “the two countries really need to reassess their situation for broader strategic reasons.”


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