An invasion of Taiwan by China would likely trigger a major conflict that would drag Japan and the United States into war with the Asian power, according to a senior Japanese official who suggested that Beijing's ambitions could pose an existential threat to Tokyo.
“It would not be too much to say that it could relate to a survival-threatening situation,” Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said Monday while discussing the possibility of a Chinese assault on Taiwan. “If that is the case, Japan and the U.S. must defend Taiwan together.”
That statement made Aso “the most senior government official to state a clear scenario in which” Japanese military forces would intervene in a conflict over non-Japanese territory, according to local media. The comments underscore a growing Japanese unease about Beijing’s aggression, as Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping has tightened the mainland regime’s grip on Hong Kong and increased military sorties around Taiwan, which officials in each country regard as a strategic fulcrum for the region.
Since World War II, Japan's military has focused on defensive operations. Defending Taiwan would amount to projecting force off its own island, an offensive operation. That would mark a major shift in the region and beyond.
“There's a manual that [Chinese] PLA Air Force officers are issued that explains why Taiwan is so important as a target to be annexed by the Communist Party. And it's all about Japan,” former White House national security adviser Matt Pottinger, who held that post in former President Donald Trump’s administration, said last month. “[The Chinese military thinks that] if Taiwan were taken, basically China would be able to dominate the region and render Japan irrelevant.”
Japan’s emergence as an outspoken counter to Beijing’s military and diplomatic influence has major ramifications for U.S. efforts to assemble an “alliance of democracies” to mitigate Chinese threats. Japan’s military was recast as a modest Self-Defense Force after the Second World War, but Tokyo gradually has acquired significant military capabilities from the U.S. in recent years, and China hawks in both countries want that to continue in the hopes that joint U.S.-Japanese efforts might discourage China from launching a regional war.
“So in this situation, what we need to do to make us ready for escalation, to develop the war fighting posture and especially fighting to win,” former Japanese defense ministry strategist Sugio Takahashi told the Hudson Institute in May. “We need to show we are ready to fight a war.”
Chinese officials responded Tuesday by likening Aso to the imperial Japanese officials who launched wars of conquest across the Pacific region in the decades prior to the Second World War. Taiwan, which Japan won from the fading Qing dynasty of China in 1895, functioned as a staging ground for the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941.
“Some politicians are still coveting Taiwan till this day,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday. “Today's China is no longer what it was back then. We will never allow anyone to meddle in the Taiwan question in any way. No one should underestimate the resolve, the will, and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Chinese officials have claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since they took power in 1949, but the regime has never ruled the island.
“They are trying to surround all the Taiwan islands,” Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama said last week. “We have to wake up.”
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Original Author: Joel Gehrke