Japan calls for greater attention to ‘survival’ of Taiwan

Asia maritime tensions updates

Japan’s defence minister has called on the international community to pay greater attention to the “survival of Taiwan” as he warned that China’s military build-up was enveloping the island.

Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, told the Financial Times that broad international pressure was crucial to prevent Taiwan’s future being decided by military confrontation.

His comments marked a further step up in rhetoric after Japan broke with years of precedent and directly linked Taiwan’s security with its own in a recent defence white paper, with an explicit reference to the need for a greater “sense of crisis”.

The same report, whose cover illustration of a samurai adorns Kishi’s office, warned that the overall military balance between China and Taiwan was now “tilting to China’s favour” — a warning the minister repeated.

“We’re seeing various moves by China that work to envelop Taiwan,” said Kishi. Chinese military aircraft have regularly entered the air defence identification zone off Taiwan’s south-western coast since last year.

Beijing has also started flying around the southern tip of the island into airspace off its south-eastern coast, and Chinese military planes flew parallel to the northern half of Taiwan’s east coast earlier this year. Chinese naval vessels have increasingly been spotted in waters off Taiwan’s eastern coast.

Kishi is known for his close relations with politicians in Taipei and is regarded as both a conservative and a hawk on China. He was recently photographed gazing across the 110km strait that separates Taiwan from Japan’s westernmost island of Yonaguni.

Japan’s strong message, Kishi said, was that peace in the Taiwan Strait would only be assured if the international community demanded it. “Rather than a direct military collision between China and Taiwan, international society needs to pay greater attention to the survival of Taiwan,” he said.

US and Japanese military officials have begun serious planning for a possible conflict between China and Taiwan, including top-secret tabletop war games and joint exercises, six officials told the FT at the end of June.

Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister, said a crisis in Taiwan could present an existential threat to Japan, in remarks at a private fundraiser that were reported by local media. The comments were significant because that is the constitutional hurdle for use of Japan’s military to support US forces.

But despite its growing concern, Tokyo does not intend to forge a direct military relationship with Taipei, Kishi said, and would maintain the status quo in which the two nations do not have formal diplomatic relations.

“While maintaining the existing framework, we want to reach a mutual understanding via various initiatives, or through the exchange of views between Japan and the United States,” he said.

Although the gap in military strength between China and Taiwan is widening every year, Kishi indicated that he believed in Taipei’s ability to defend itself. He said the island was combining “asymmetric military capabilities”, which use cheaper weapons to offset an adversary’s strength, into a “multi-layered defence system”.

As part of Japan’s push for greater international attention to the issue, Kishi said Tokyo welcomed a greater role for European countries in the region, including the upcoming visit by the UK’s Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier strike group.

“A lot of countries have shown their sympathy with our idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. By showing their presence in the region, “we can together send a strong message on regional peace and stability”.

Additional reporting by Kathrin Hille in Taipei

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