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America’s collapsing supremacy in East Asia:

Wary of a crises in the Taiwan Strait, entering into a new phase in dealing with China.

東アジアで崩れる米優位 台湾有事警戒、対中新局面


March 29, 2021

‘5 years of implementing the National Security Legislation’ (Part 1)

March 29 marked 5 years since the implementation of the National Security Legislation. This deepened the Japan-U.S. alliance by making it possible to execute, within limitations, the right to collective self-defence. One [reason for this was that] the speed of the expansion of China’s military power, and of the development of nuclear missiles in North Korea, surpassed expectations. We had entered into a new phase of expanding our deterrence capacity.

“China’s defence budget has increased to become 16 times the size of Taiwan’s.” On March 16 at the Ministry of Defence in Ichigaya, Tokyo, Nobou Kishi, Japan’s Minister of Defence, touched on the issue of the change in the balance of military power across the Taiwan Strait in a meeting with America’s Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. In the event that there is a new Taiwan Strait crises, the impact on Japan, which is geographically proximate, would be great… Kishi and Austin’s views were on the same page.

Subsequent to this, a meeting was convened between the two nations’ foreign ministers and defence ministers (a ‘2+2’ meeting). Included in the meeting’s joint statement was a line on the “importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.’ The word ‘Taiwan’ has been written [into such declarations] since 2005.

Taking the opportunity presented by Covid-19 and the strengthening of control over Hong Kong, the U.S. and Europe have increased their pressure on China.

Europe has been more concerned about human rights problems in the autonomous Uighur regions of Xinjiang than issues related to the geographically distant Taiwan. The U.S., which is competing with China for hegemony, attaches importance to Taiwan, which is located in the strategically important Indo-Pacific, and which upholds democracy.

America is closely looking into the possibility that China is moving to ‘unify’ Taiwan with the mainland.

John Aquilino, nominated as the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said in a senate hearing held on March 23 that “this problem is much closer to us than most people think.” In early March, Phillip Davidson, the commander of this same post, for the first time in six years mentioned fears of a Chinese invasion on Taiwan.

“In the early part of a battle we will be at an overwhelming disadvantage. Taiwan’s army, Japan’s Self Defence Force (SDF) and American forces posted in Japan combined won’t have the numbers.” [This was an opinion that emerged] in the meeting of a project group from the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) foreign affairs committee that was held in early March, where senior officials of the former government presented materials titled “The Taiwan crises is real,” and exchanged views with members of the Diet.

In the case of changes in China’s behaviour, what are the possible scenarios? Kohara Bonji, a senior researcher at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, talked about the possibility of landings on the South China Sea’s Taiping Island, which is effectively controlled by Taiwan.

Taiping island is about1,600 kilometres south of Taiwan’s main island. It takes time for Taiwan’s military to get there from the main island. In comparison to a scenario in which the main island is invaded, it is possible that America may be unresponsive [to a landing on this island].

Kohara explained “This could be an operation to ‘unify’ Taiwan by using military power to impose psychological pressure.”

If a Taiwan crises became a reality and America took action, the probability the Japan would be asked to cooperate is high. There will come to be a need to deal with this based on the National Security Legislation.

Left as it is, this could be recognised as [what the legislation calls] “a situation that has an important influence” in threatening Japan’s security. Japan’s [role] is equivalent to that of America’s logistical support. It would deal with this by refuelling American’s veseels and fighters through the deployment of Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) supply vessels and Japan Air Self-Defence Force airborne refuellers.

If it were to develop into a situation whereby America and Taiwan’s armed forces were engaged in a full blown military conflict, it could be regarded as a “existential crises situation” where there is a clear danger that Japan’s very existence is threatened. One would suppose that America’s Aegis-class cruisers would be protected by JMSDF destroyer escorts.

For America and Japan, Taiwan exists in a delicate position and can’t be easily adjudicated. China insists that mainland China and Taiwan are both part of ‘one China’ and that Taiwan is a ‘core interest.’

America recognises that Beijing is the only legitimate government of China, and while it doesn’t have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it continues to supply weapons and supports the island’s defence based on the Taiwan Relations Act. Japan does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and does note have cooperative ties with the island’s military.

A Taiwan crises is being spoken of with a sense of realism because the America military’s ascendancy in East Asia is in the process of collapsing.

Davidson mentioned that without changes to America’s readiness in the region, the scale of China’s military capacity in the region could come to far exceed that of the United States. His speech reflected America’s anxiety that the ripples could spread to Japan.

The number of Chinese fighter jets deployed around Asia is 1250. This is five times the number of America’s regional based fighters. In 25 years, moreover, the gap is forecast to extend to being 8 times greater than that of America’s Indo-Pacific Command. China has 5 times the number of combat ships, and is forecast to have 9 times the amount.

America’s capacity to make large scale increases in military expenditure is limited. It has pinned its hopes on collaboration from allies.

In dealing with China, the Biden administration places particular importance on Japan. Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be the first foreign leader to have a face-to-face meeting with President Biden since the latter’s inauguration.

There is caution in the government that Japan could be asked for something in return. One of the topics to be discussed will be the Asian deployment, with an eye on China, of American ground launched missiles. In early March, the Indo-Pacific Command submitted a document to congress requesting budgeting for the construction of a missile network extending across the first island chain from Okinawa to the Philippines.

If the deployment is requested, there will be consultations between America and Japan on their location and capabilities. Since this will agitate China, gaining the consent of local governments and residents of the sites chosen for deployments will not be easy.

Maintaining Japan’s defence capabilities is also vital. We should push forward on developing and extending the range of domestically produced surface-to-ship guided missiles to deter China.

A point in question is the division of roles between Japan and the U.S. along the lines of ‘shield’ and ‘spear.’ The previous Prime Minister Abe expressed the position that the controversy on Japan having ‘the capacity to strict enemy bases,’ meaning striking enemy missile launching sites before they attack, should be settled within 20 years.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who inherited power last autumn, postponed this. Despite the Komeito’s strong conservativism, there is hope that this capacity will be retained on the American side. In the beginning paragraph of the 2+2 joint statement is the line “Japan resolved to enhance its capabilities to bolster national defense and further strengthen the Alliance.” It isn’t just about resolve - the stage where we will be asked to act is also coming.