Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan and the Defense of Taiwan
Akio Kawato / Former Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Newsweek Japan Columnist

October 26, 2021
The defense of Taiwan has often been the subject of recent deliberations. Chinese military aircraft enter Taiwan's air defense identification zone almost daily. "The Chinese military has grown powerful. The U.S. aircraft carrier groups are wary of Chinese missile attacks, and avoid casually approaching Taiwan. China will begin using its military strength to bring Taiwan under control within the next few years. In that event, what will Japan and the U.S. do? " These are some of the topics of discussion.

If Taiwan is assimilated into China, the significance of its bases in Japan to the U.S. military will be sharply reduced. This is because the deployment of the U.S. Navy ships and aircraft from its bases in Japan southward, and to the Indian Ocean, or the Middle East, which will have to pass through waters odd the coast of Taiwan, will no longer be safe. This can lead to moving the bases elsewhere, though costly it may be, to Australia, for example. That would leave Japan "naked", strategically placed in a position similar to present-day Taiwan.

Thus, there are talks about defending Taiwan, strengthening the Japanese military, and working out an operational division of labor with the U.S. Protecting the status quo in Taiwan is beneficial not only to Japan and the United States, but also to many who currently live there.
Many uncertainties about the situation in Taiwan

However, upon careful scrutiny, much of what is said about Taiwan is fraught with uncertainties. First, although the Chinese navy has increased in strength, in order to deploy to the Pacific coast to surround Taiwan, they must pass through the narrow straits between Japan's Sakishima islands in Okinawa or use the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines. In armed contingencies, Chinese naval ships attempting to pass through these regions could easily be destroyed.

It is said that about one million troops would be needed to bring Taiwan under control by military force, but China is not yet believed to have the capability to stage such a massive trans-oceanic operation and sustain the requisite supply. Therefore, China is believed more likely to attempt a "blockade" which would lead to Taiwan’s capitulation than use military force to bring it under control. However, as shown above, it would not be possible to block the Pacific coast. Moreover, if Taiwan, the U.S. and others “close” the sea-lanes of the South China Sea, it would decimate the coastal and Cantonese economies which are the heart of China's economy.

On the other hand, are the Taiwanese willing to sacrifice their lives in defense of Taiwan?  Conscription was already abolished in 2018. And many of Taiwan’s officers are "Waishengren (Mainlanders)",namely descendants of former Kuomingtang (Chinese Nationalist Party) military officers who fled to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. Some of them cling to their nostalgia for the mainland, including those who dream of joining hands with the Communist Party regime and returning to the mainland. China may perhaps be considering helping the Chinese Nationalist Party, which is increasingly inclined toward appeasement with the mainland, to gain control of the government so that they can assimilate Taiwan without fighting.

The U.S. is now said to be in a Cold War with China, but does not want it to escalate into a "hot war" over Taiwan. From the beginning, the U.S. has avoided promoting Taiwanese independence. Rather, it has put pressures on Taiwan not to declare a clear separation or independence from the mainland, and has done little to ameliorate the deterioration and obsolescence of Taiwan’s weapons. The U.S. is now shifting its policy to help modernize and upgrade Taiwanese weapons, but will not permit Taiwan to go overboard.

For its part, Japan, it has significantly increased its military capabilities with helicopter destroyers such as the "Izumo" and the "Kaga", which are equivalent to light aircraft carriers. However, public opinion is not likely to support Japan’s defending Taiwan and fighting against the Chinese military. If Japan were to attack the Chinese military, it would come under the threat of China's nuclear missiles. The problem is that Japan does not possess its own means of deterring such attacks. Also, should China decide to seize the assets of Japanese companies located in China to “counter Japan’s hostile policies against China”, it could trigger an unmitigated disaster reminiscent of World War II, when Japan was forced to withdraw, leaving behind tens of trillions of yen in assets.

Thus, the situation regarding Taiwan is a three-way or four-way standoff. All things considered, we might as well accept the status quo which is legally as undefinable as “nue”, a mythical chimera-like creature in Japanese legend, where Taiwan is neither independent from nor subordinate to China. And Taiwan, China, Japan, the U.S. and others concerned can work together to defend it.

There have recently been signs of instability in the Chinese economy. This is because Xi Jinping's leadership has adopted a policy that prioritizes distribution rather than growth and the maintenance of its power rather than the economy. The Evergrande Group, the largest real estate company in China, is now on the verge of bankruptcy with debts of over 30 trillion yen. Also, in order to curb carbon dioxide emission, the Chinese government has stopped coal power generation on a massive scale, which has led to rolling blackouts.

If China's economy takes a big step backward, it will be a game changer in international relations, including Taiwan.

Akio Kawato is Former Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Newsweek Japan Columnist
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

河東 哲夫 / 元在ウズベキスタン・タジキスタン大使、日本版Newsweek コラムニスト

2021年 10月 26日





一方、台湾人は防衛に命を投げ出す覚悟はあるのだろうか? 徴兵制は2018年既に廃止されている。そして将校クラスの多くは「外省人」、つまり1949年蒋介石に率いられて渡海してきた元国民党(今も国民党だが)軍の将校の末裔なのだ。彼らの中には本土への郷愁を捨てず、いつかは共産党政権と手を握って本土に復帰することを夢見る者もいる。もしかすると中国は、本土への宥和姿勢を強めている国民党に政権を取らせ、戦わずして台湾を手に入れることを考えているかもしれない。



こうして、台湾をめぐる情勢は三すくみ、四すくみ。結局のところ今の台湾の、対中独立でもなければ従属でもないという、法的にはヌエのような状況をstatus quoとして、台湾、中国、日本、米国、皆で守っていくことでいいではないか。



筆者は元在ウズベキスタン・タジキスタン大使、日本版Newsweek コラムニスト
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟