In a series of recent signs, Japan’s role and mission in the U.S.-Japan alliance has begun to evolve dramatically. At the U.S.-Japan Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers’ meeting just concluded last week, Japan made new important commitments to strengthen the Japan-U.S. military alliance and respond to military threats in the Taiwan Strait, including the joint use of U.S.-Japan facilities, expansion and restructuring of support for the U.S. military , as well as strengthening the combat readiness of the Self-Defense Forces in Japan’s Nansei Islands and other regions.
Japan’s defense ministry said in an outline of the meeting released after the meeting that Japan will significantly enhance its regional defense capabilities. “Both the United States and Japan welcome the evolution of Japan’s roles, missions and capabilities, as well as the significant progress made in joint planning work.”
In addition, the joint document clearly states that it is “welcome to see tangible progress” in response to the widely concerned proposed joint plan by the two countries to deal with the emergency. The ministers look forward to “signing substantive and special agreements” on improving the coalition’s defense capabilities, according to a statement issued by the Security Consultative Committee.
In view of the fact that any effective counterattack by the U.S. military against China’s military invasion of Taiwan is inseparable from the support of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, including the full use of Japanese islands near the Taiwan Strait, the United States has been strongly expecting Japan to join hands to deal with the conflict in the Taiwan Strait in recent years, but for Japan, this is It also means that these islands in Japan may be attacked by China during wartime.
For a long time, China and Japan have had frictions from time to time due to issues such as history and the dispute over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu Islands in China), but on the Taiwan issue, which is the most sensitive to China, Japan has always been cautious in its words and deeds, and has always been cautious in its words and deeds. Cooperation often maintains a certain distance. However, a series of recent signs show that with the escalating threat of China’s military force against Taiwan, Japan is accelerating the military integration of Japan and the United States, which is extremely taboo in China. The progress may greatly increase the difficulty and cost of attacking Taiwan by the Chinese military.
Is Japan gradually abandoning its low profile?
The “Defense White Paper” released by Japan in July last year for the first time removed the Taiwan region from the chapter describing China’s military and made it a separate chapter. The white paper particularly emphasizes that the Chinese military has recently become more active around the Taiwan Strait, saying that “the stability of the situation in Taiwan” is “of course very important” to Japan’s security.
That same month, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso told a House of Representatives meeting that if China invaded Taiwan, the Japanese government would consider it an “existential crisis” under the law on security. As one of the elements for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to exercise the right of collective self-defense, an “existential crisis situation” refers to a situation where other countries closely related to Japan are attacked by force, thereby forming “a threat to the survival of the Japanese nation and an apparent fundamental subversion of the lives and rights of the people.” Dangerous State”. U.S.-Japan cooperation projects in “existential crisis situations” include patrolling by ships and supporting armed attacks.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even publicly stated last month that Japan and the United States would not stand idly by China’s armed attack on Taiwan. He said: “If there is something in Taiwan, there is something in Japan, and there is something in the Japan-US alliance.”
An analysis by the Shanghai Institute of International Studies last year believed that the Japanese government of Yoshihide Suga began to adjust and change its policies on China after taking office, which fundamentally changed the policy stance of easing Sino-Japanese relations established by Abe in the later period of his administration, including the policy on the Taiwan Strait. Japan has taken actions to further intervene in Taiwan Strait affairs, and the background of this policy change is that Japan’s domestic politics has further shifted to the right in recent years, and it regards China’s development as Japan’s biggest “real threat”.
A poll by the Pew Research Center, a U.S. think tank, last June showed that among the 17 developed economies in the survey, the Japanese held the highest proportion of negative views of China, as high as 88%, compared with 88%. The U.S. (76%) is also a few percentage points higher.
Stephen Young, the former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, recently wrote that he was shocked by the recent series of moves by Tokyo concerning Taiwan. The former senior US diplomat, who also serves as the US consul general in Hong Kong, said in the English-language Taipei Times earlier this month: “Japan seems to have decided to support Taiwan’s independent status more frankly, bringing it closer to what Washington is currently doing. position – especially with regard to island defense.”
He noted that for many years before that, Japan had been subject to Beijing’s tough stance on the issue.
A recent analysis by Taiwan’s “National Defense Security Research Institute” pointed out that Japan lacks a specific response plan for possible military conflicts in the Taiwan Strait. This stems from Japan’s failure to face up to the importance of the Taiwan Strait in the past, and Japan is currently strengthening the “Taiwan has something to do”. Anticipation ability, this analysis said that Japan’s attitude towards Taiwan has gradually shifted from a low-key vagueness in the past to a direction of emphasis. “Especially in dealing with Taiwan’s security issues, Japan’s cooperation with the United States has also become clear.”
Ryan Ashley, an intelligence officer for the U.S. Air Force, recently wrote that Japan has consistently maintained a more ambiguous stance than the U.S. on the Taiwan issue for decades, and has never developed a similar U.S. Taiwan Relations Act, the government often even suppresses any public statements from within about pro-Taiwan, prioritizes economic relations with China over geopolitical considerations, and is reluctant to include all but the most moderate pro-Taiwan statements in the U.S. . However, Tokyo’s strategy toward Taiwan is currently changing, and this is the most important development in Taiwan Strait security that may be unfolding in Japan, he said.
Japan is now increasingly saying they want to “protect Taiwan as a democracy,” including joining the Military Defense Against Taiwan.
He even argues that Japan’s turnaround could make China more distressed in the short term than the recently announced US-Australia submarine deal.
On the other hand, Ashley also pointed out that although Tokyo has expressed its willingness to stand up for Taiwan’s sovereignty, it is unlikely that Japan’s security or foreign policy towards Taiwan will undergo formal changes.
Adam Liff, an associate professor of East Asian international relations at Indiana University, also pointed out that despite high-profile statements by Japanese leaders on the Taiwan issue in 2021, recent developments have not indicated a major change in Japan’s official position. He told VOA: “When assessing the position of the Japanese government, it is crucial to carefully distinguish between individuals speaking in an official government capacity and unofficial speech. The latter may still be important, but do not necessarily reflect Japan’s official position or policy.”
The current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also recently said that he must “explore stable relations with China”. In a media speech at the beginning of this year, he emphasized on Japan-China relations: “When necessary, we will be outspoken, but we are also neighbors. We must continue to explore stable relations and dialogue.” Kishida also said, “It is necessary to implement realism to judge how to Deal with China.”
Li Yadan emphasized that although Japan’s concerns about peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait have clearly become mainstream in the past year, “some people outside Japan claim to the contrary, the Japanese government has never publicly pre-committed in the event of a cross-strait conflict. Take any specific action. Throughout 2021, the Japanese government has repeatedly affirmed its long and deliberately ambiguous official position: whether and how Japan responds will depend on the circumstances.”
As the US deepens its involvement in the Taiwan Strait
Military observers pointed out that China is now facing not only Japan’s rhetoric, but also its active participation in military action by the United States and its allies to threaten Taiwan with force against China.
Japanese media disclosed at the end of last year that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military have formulated a draft joint operation plan that envisages an emergency in Taiwan. The islands set up temporary military strongholds for attack. There are about 200 islands in the Southwest Islands of Japan, and there are about 40 sites that can be used by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the US military.
An analysis by the Chinese state media Xinhua News Agency last week said that the main content of the draft plan is to implement the US Marine Corps’ concept of “expeditionary forward base operations”, that is, the US military will use Japan’s Nanxi Islands to “reform into Zero”, breaking through the “anti-access” zone constructed by China’s shore-based strike force.
A report in the US “Wall Street Journal” said that the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the US Marine Corps conducted the first joint exercise jointly commanded by officers from both countries in December last year in a forest off Japan’s northern coast, practicing the use of surface-to-ship Missiles destroy sea targets. In the past, the U.S. or Japan usually conducted such exercises alone, the report said.
In addition, a New York Times report last month revealed that Japan deployed missile launchers on Ishigaki Island, close to Taiwan, amid concerns over a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
That was before the Japanese government decided to deploy missile launchers near his Ishigaki Island property. Ishigaki Island is located in the east of Taiwan, only 322 kilometers away from Taiwan. The anti-ship and air defense systems here could theoretically be used against Chinese warships should Beijing attack Taiwan with force.
Last week, Chinese media quoted a researcher from the China Institute for Policy Science as saying that Japan’s missile site on Ishigaki Island has entered the concrete construction stage. Covering the entire Taiwan Strait.
Scott Harold, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, said that although Japan has already included the Taiwan issue in the category of “neighboring affairs”, it has not made a specific action plan before. The draft joint action plan is a new development.
The expert on China and Japan told VOA that if the U.S. is involved in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. military will almost certainly use Japan as a base, so in this sense, I think Chinese military planners will almost certainly have done it early. Just realize that any military conflict with Taiwan will inevitably turn into a military conflict with the United States and Japan. He believes, however, that Japan’s recent actions have complicated China’s military plans, as Japan is actively discussing whether it should have what Japan calls “the ability to attack enemy bases,” where it believes its air and sea targets are subject to In the case of strikes, it has counterattack capabilities such as long-range cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, fighter-bombers, etc.
He said that although these in themselves do not represent a qualitative change, they may greatly reduce the PLA’s ability to conduct surveillance, targeting and strikes, and at the same time, China must also strive to protect its own resources used to conquer Taiwan from the Japanese army’s interception and attack . “So I think it does complicate things, and I would say that it’s already very difficult for China to deal with the challenges of the United States and Taiwan, and it’s only going to make an already very difficult challenge more difficult,” he said.
Military analysts say any effective defense by the U.S. military depends on free access to the support of the Japanese military, while U.S. and Taiwanese leaders have questioned for decades whether Japan would risk a possible Chinese strike in wartime Full support for the U.S. military.
“A Japan willing not only to allow war on its soil, but also with its own troops, could provide a decisive advantage to Washington and Taipei’s deterrence efforts,” said Ashley, a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer.