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Japan promotes status quo in Taiwan

Felix Kim

Japan has consistently voiced support for Taiwan in the face of threats from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The supportive language from Tokyo in official documents and government statements has not included a pledge to defend Taiwan militarily, but Japan’s position is being expressed more specifically and frequently than in the past.

That signals to Taipei and Beijing that Tokyo is concerned about PRC threats to Taiwan at a time when Chinese aggression is pervasive across the Indo-Pacific region, analysts said.

Japan has stated official opposition to unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the region, both in the South and East China seas, which straddle Taiwan, and along India’s Himalayan border with China. Japan’s most recent defense white paper released in June 2021 mentions Taiwan by name for the first time in 30 years. “Stabilizing the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for Japan’s security and the stability of the international community,” the paper states.

Strategically, Taiwan is vital to Tokyo as a major supplier of semiconductors for Japan’s economy. The Luzon Strait to the south is a vital shipping path for the energy tankers Japan needs to power its companies and homes, Bloomberg reported. While Taiwan is administered by its own democratically elected government and maintains an independent military, the PRC claims Taiwan as its territory.

Beijing conducted 149 military flights near Taiwan’s southwest coast in early October 2021, The Associated Press reported, prompting the island to scramble its defense forces. Following similar activities in June 2021, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Taiwan’s peace and stability are “directly connected to Japan” and that his ministry regularly monitors relations between the PRC and Taiwan.

Kishi traveled to Taiwan in September 2020 to attend memorial ceremonies for its former president, Lee Teng-hui. In April 2021, he voiced concern over the prospect of a PRC takeover of the island while visiting Yonaguni, the nearest Japanese island to Taiwan. His colleague, State Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama, described Japan and Taiwan as “really close” and “brothers” at a Hudson Institute event in June 2021. (Pictured: Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, left, visits Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016.)

“Japanese officials have been looking with laser focus at Chinese activity in Xinjiang province, in India, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, they see China active everywhere, and then they see China really ramping up the action against Taiwan,” Japan defense analyst Jeffrey Hornung of the Rand Corp. told FORUM. “The fact that they’re publicly saying that Taiwan is important to Japan’s security is different, and it sends signals.”

The change in rhetoric, Hornung explained, puts Beijing on notice that a United States ally with an advanced and well-equipped military recognizes the importance to its own security of maintaining the status quo in Taiwan.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.



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