Japan wakes up to the China threat to Taiwan

Tokyo’s annual defense review talks about ’stabilizing’ the situation surrounding the island democracy

Japan fears rising tension in the Taiwan Strait has triggered “a sense of crisis” after releasing its annual defense review.

The white paper painted a stark picture of China’s growing military presence in the South and the East China Seas which threaten peace in the region.

“Stabilizing the situation surrounding [the democratic island of] Taiwan is important for Japan’s security and the stability of the international community,” the defense review pointed out.

At a media briefing, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi went even further when discussing the findings of the study.

“The situation is becoming more serious. With military activities in the East and the South China Seas and around Taiwan becoming more active,” Kishi said.

High-tech hub

In the past 25 years, Taiwan has become a bastion of democracy and a high-tech hub at the heart of global semiconductor production. 

But Beijing and the ruling Communist Party of China consider the island a renegade province and have threatened to take it by force if necessary. 

President Xi Jinping has put the “reunification” of Taiwan with the “motherland” high on his agenda. Already the chips are on the table in a high-stakes geopolitical game of risk.  

The facts:

  • China’s Navy of the People’s Liberation Army is now the largest in the world.
  • Last year, the Chinese Air Force launched 380 missions into Taiwan’s southwestern airspace, reports revealed.
  • The island of nearly 23.6 million people is rapidly turning into the ultimate hotspot in the Sino-American New Cold War.
  • Beijing has also increased operations in the broader South China Sea.
  • Up to US$3 trillion of trade traverses through this highly-contested maritime superhighway. 
  • So far, China has claimed more than 90% of the South China Sea in direct violations of international law.

What was said: “It is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever,” the Japanese defense white paper stated in a new section on Taiwan.

Tech war: “In particular, competition in technological fields is likely to become even more intense,” the defense review pointed out, referring to deteriorating relations between Beijing and Washington.

China’s reaction: “This is very wrong and irresponsible. China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to this. Taiwan is purely China’s internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a media briefing on Tuesday.

Coalition of the willing: Defense Minister Kishi made it clear that Japan would collaborate with allies such as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the US to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Project protect: “This expresses my determination as defense minister to protect the country, including values such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental human rights,” Kishi told the media briefing.

Flashpoint: “As the [the US] administration makes clear it will support Taiwan in a military sense, it is unlikely China will compromise, and there is a possibility that a confrontation between the US and China will emerge,” the defense review warned.

Delve deeper: In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled against China in a dispute with the Philippines involving vast tracks of the South China Sea. Xi’s administration has continued to reject the decision, insisting it is “null and void.”

Rules, what rules? “China has neither accepted nor recognized it,” state-run Global Times said in an editorial earlier this week.

China Factor comment: Indo-Pacific nations are finally waking up to the military and economic threats posed by China. In democracies, it takes time to mobilize like-minded societies. But they usually get there in the end.