A Taiwan Crisis Would be a Crisis for Japan and the Japan-U.S. Alliance

Seiji Fuji

China is putting greater pressure on Japan as it strives to expand into the Pacific

 On December 2, 2021, The Sankei Shimbun newspaper printed an article on page 7 under the headline “A Taiwan Crisis Would be a Crisis for the Japan-United States Alliance: Online Speech by Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.” It read:

Abe gave an online speech on December 1 at a symposium hosted by the Institute for National Policy Research, a Taiwanese thinktank. He shared his awareness that “An armed invasion of Taiwan (by China) would certainly pose a major threat to Japan’s territory. A Taiwan crisis would be a crisis for Japan, as well as for the U.S.-Japan Alliance.”
Abe’s speech was entitled “A Japan-Taiwan Relationship for a New Era.” Held at a venue in Taipei, attendees included young leaders from the Democratic Progressive Party (Taiwan’s ruling party) such as Taoyuan City Mayor Cheng Wen-Tsan and Hsinchu City Mayor Lin Chih-chien, as well as numerous people involved in international relations. Views were exchanged, and attendees asked questions of Abe.
In his speech, Abe discussed the Chinese threat and pointed out that China has increased its military budget by 42 times over the past 30 years, to an amount four times larger than Japan’s defense budget. To counter this, he emphasized that Japan and Taiwan “must enhance their own defense capabilities and express firm resolve.”

 According to an online article posted by Yukan Fuji on December 3, 2021, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted promptly to Abe’s speech. On the night of December 1, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying summoned Japanese Ambassador to China Hideo Tarumi to raise an objection. She said, “This is overt provocation regarding Chinese sovereignty, indicating strong support for the Taiwan independence movement.” “These extremely erroneous statements are a type of reckless interference in Chinese domestic affairs.” Tarumi made a direct counterargument, saying, “China must understand that some people in Japan think this way. I cannot accept the unilateral statements of the Chinese side.” Also on December 3, The Nikkei posted an online article titled “Abe is ‘Greatly Honored’ by China’s Objections.” Regarding the Chinese objections to Abe’s speech, the article reported that Abe said he found it a “great honor that China would pay attention to the words of a single National Diet member.”
 China has a population of 1.4 billion people and is steadily gaining economic power commensurate to this in recent years. It has focused on strengthening and upgrading its military force backed by this economic strength. Since the People’s Republic of China was founded, it has established its borders by fighting with Russia, India, Vietnam, and other neighboring countries. Today it has its sights set on maritime expansion all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and integrating Taiwan is its dearest wish. The Chinese navy already has more ships than the U.S. Navy, and China is working on qualitative as well as quantitative enhancements. China is also working on augmenting its aircraft carriers. In terms of aerial warfare, China has developed and is deploying its original Chengdu J-20 fifth-generation fighter that rivals Japanese and American F-35s. China is using this power to reclaim reefs and build military bases in the South China Sea, and to step up its ship and military aircraft actions in the East China Sea, where the Senkaku and Nansei Islands are located. Beyond that is the Pacific Ocean. According to a document about the state of affairs in China produced by the Japanese Ministry of Defense in September 2021, Chinese naval ships (including the Liaoning carrier) are frequently advancing into the Pacific Ocean in recent years along various routes, including between Okinawa and Miyako Island and between Amami Oshima and Yokoate Island. China is also flying airborne early warning aircraft, bombers, and many other types of military aircraft on the route to the Pacific between Okinawa and Miyako Island. Moreover, the Chinese military is putting stronger pressure on Japan, such as its increasingly active maritime and aerial activities in the Sea of Japan.

Japan’s Designated Sea Areas were set with consideration for security issues

 Ten Chinese and Russian navy ships passed through the Tsugaru Strait in October 2021. Some said this was a measure to oppose American naval ships passing through the Taiwan Strait. Because the middle part of the Tsugaru Strait is international waters, this posed no issues under international law. Traffic News posted an article that elucidates these circumstances on October 24, 2021. It was titled “Why Doesn’t the Middle of the Tsugaru Strait Belong to Japan? The Reason Japan Can’t Complain about Chinese and Russian Ships Passing Through the Strait.” According to international law, a country can establish territorial waters along its coasts up to 12 nautical miles (approximately 22 kilometers) from the baseline. Japan generally abides by this rule. However, it has defined five straits (the Soya Strait, Tsugaru Strait, east and west sides of the Tsushima Strait, and Osumi Strait) as “Designated Sea Areas.” There, Japan claims the territorial waters three nautical miles (approximately 5.5 kilometers) from the baseline, deliberately leaving the central parts of the straits as international waters. The official reason for this is to ensure free navigation through the strait by merchant ships, super tankers, and other vessels. However, for many years some have said there is another covert reason – Japan is preserving these international waters to allow American navy ships to pass through without running afoul of Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles. There is another important reason, as well. If Japan claimed the entire Tsugaru Strait as territorial waters, it would be treated as an “international strait” on the global stage, which would allow ships to exercise the “right of transit passage,” which limits the rights of the coastal country even more than the “right of innocent passage” through its territorial waters. The right of transit passage allows the passage of other countries’ submarines and aircraft, which is not permitted in territorial waters. In other words, Japan making the entire Tsugaru Straight into territorial waters could increase the threat to our national security. In any case, it is certain that these actions by the Chinese and Russian ships were intended to place strong pressure on Japan.

Conventional weapons provide less deterrence against China today

 Taiwan is in increasingly grave danger. An article posted on The Sankei Shimbun website on November 18, 2021 was titled “American Report Says China has the Ability to Invade Taiwan, Abandoning the Concept of Minimal Deterrence.” According to this article, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), a bipartisan Congressional advisory committee, indicated the possibility that the Chinese military has obtained the ability for an initial invasion of Taiwan. The commission warns that it would be difficult for the U.S. to deter an invasion with conventional forces. It says that China brought its Type 075 landing helicopter dock (Yushen-class landing helicopter assault) into commission in April 2021, and today the Chinese military is capable of landing more than 25,000 troops in the initial stage of an invasion. China is also able to mobilize civilian ships for military operations. The report points out that it is unclear whether the U.S. could deter an invasion of Taiwan through conventional forces alone. China is also engaged in a nuclear buildup. The article says that China has a new strategy – the “limited, preemptive use of nuclear weapons” – to prevent American intervention. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan is seeming more and more likely.
 China is extremely ambitious. High officials in the Chinese navy first proposed to American Admiral Timothy J. Keating that the U.S. and China divide the Pacific Ocean in 2007. In addition, President Xi Jinping brought this up to President Barack Obama in 2013 and to President Donald Trump in 2017. If this proposal was ever implemented, Taiwan would of course come under Chinese control, as would Japan and South Korea. Then-Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono indicated his displeasure about China’s 2017 statements on television, but the Japanese government has not said anything at all. The government should not give China tacit permission, but should immediately object and point out that this is a violation of Japan’s sovereignty.
 Article 9 of the Japanese constitution and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty are not sufficient reasons for Japanese people to feel peace of mind. China does not take Article 9 into account, nor would it serve to prevent an attack. Furthermore, the Japan-U.S. Security treaty does not stipulate that the U.S. would absolutely fight on Japan’s behalf in any circumstance.
 The security treaty states that Japan will fight to defend itself in the event of an attack. If the situation is too perilous for Japan to handle on its own, the U.S. Congress can approve whether America will fight on Japan’s behalf. Many Japanese people do not consider this concept of “fighting on our own.” To instill this way of thinking, Japan should promptly revise its constitution to become a country that is capable of independent self-defense. And just like The Sankei Shimbun article about the USCC report says, we have entered the phase in which conventional American weapons are not enough to deter China’s military buildup. Nuclear-based tactics would be needed if Taiwan or Japan were in danger. If a crisis broke out, would the U.S. truly intervene according to the security treaty alone? This seems increasingly uncertain as time goes on.
 Despite the risk of being denounced as “inhumane,” the U.S. took the decisive action of dropping atomic bombs on Japan during World War II. Japan had clearly indicated its intent to surrender in the final stage of the war, premised only on the condition of guaranteeing the continuation of the Emperor system. The U.S. had two reasons for using the atomic bombs, even though it was fully aware of what Japan wanted. The first was that, if the war ended without using the atomic bombs that had cost massive amounts of secret Congressional funds to develop, the government expected to be harshly denounced in Congress, which was something it wanted to avoid. The second reason was that the U.S. needed to contain the increasingly powerful Soviet Union in the postwar period. The Soviet Union became a major military power through American aid, and it grew strong enough that it could communize the entire Eurasian continent. The U.S. decided to use its atomic bombs to rein in the Soviet Union and transform the predicted World War III from a “hot” to a “cold” war. During this new Sino-American cold war, China is attempting to keep the U.S. in check by having more nuclear weapons and setting forth a strategy for their preemptive use. The U.S. is in an extremely difficult position as it tries to decide how to respond, including how it will handle these nuclear weapons.

Japan should further strengthen its submarine force

 Continental nations, as well as countries located on peninsulas attached to continents, have histories in which they repeatedly occupied other countries and were themselves occupied. Japan has been guarded from time immemorial by its surrounding oceans that serve as a natural barrier. The seas protected Japan during the two Mongol invasions. And thanks to the waters that surround Japan, it has maintained independence except for the American occupation after Japan’s defeat in World War II (including the atomic bomb attacks). The cultures, politics, and institutions of the continent did have major impacts on Japan, but it took on those things it found expedient and rejected what it saw as unfit. We can say that China’s foot-binding, eunuchs, and other practices did not spread to Japan because of its advantageous geopolitical location surrounded by ocean while being close to the continent. This resembles in some ways the United Kingdom, which is separated from Europe by the Strait of Dover. During World War II, the UK was forced to withdraw from the continent with the Battle of Dunkirk. But even after Nazi Germany occupied France, it was not able to invade the UK across the Strait of Dover, and independence was maintained.
 Taiwan is in danger now that American power is on a relative decline, and by extension, so is Japan. As a country encircled by ocean, Japan’s greatest military advantage is its Soryu-class submarines that are said to be of the top level in the world. No official announcements have been made about their capabilities, but some theorize that they can submerge down to 900 meters. This is in contrast to regular submarines that can only submerge to 500 to 600 meters. It is thought that Soryu-class submarines are also equipped with torpedoes they can launch from those depths. Japan currently has 22 submarines. This includes 12 Soryu submarines; nine of the previous Oyashio-class submarines; and the Taigei, the first of the latest Taigei-class submarines that will come into commission in March 2022. Hakugei, the second Taigei-class submarine, was launched in October 2021 and will be placed in commission in March 2023. However, these are still not enough. I think Japan will have to protect itself from the depths of the sea by increasing its number of submarines to 50 to 60 vessels, rather than by using ships atop the ocean.

November 12 (Friday), 5:00 p.m.