Japan and the United States are still adjusting their Sino-Taiwanese policies
Once Japanese officials finish putting their foreign policy irony into practice, we hope they take a serious and sustained national security approach to the growing threat from China.
Before and during Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to Washington, the Biden administration called for a more open statement on the regional dangers presented by China’s aggressive behavior.
The American effort failed to produce more than a lukewarm expression of hope for “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” As light as this ambitious phrase is, it has been touted by the administration and the world media as some sort of diplomatic breakthrough, as it last appeared in a joint statement in 1969.
Beijing was quick to take offense at even this innocuous phrase, calling it Japanese interference in China’s “internal” affairs, while arguing to the contrary that Washington had failed to secure the commitment. Tokyo’s explicit anti-Chinese “collusion” on Taiwan.
The Tokyo government has ensured that no one would interpret the declaration as a Japanese pledge to militarily help America defend Taiwan – such as Washington’s inclusion of the Senkaku Islands in the US-Japan mutual defense treaty. Suga quickly made a post-summit “clarification” that it “does not presuppose military involvement at all.”
Suga’s reluctant performance seemed ungracious and short-sighted, given a) the long history of Japan-Taiwan relations during and after 50 years of Japanese imperial occupation of Taiwan; b) the values shared between the two emerging democracies; (c) Taiwan’s leading role in the humanitarian aid effort after the Fukushima nuclear disaster; and d) Taiwan’s critical geostrategic location for the security of Japan.
But even Shinzo Abe, Suga’s more hawkish predecessor, felt the need to strike a delicate balance between friendship with Taiwan and maintaining viable relations with China.
Last week, however, a stronger voice from the Japanese government was heard. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso made direct and refreshing remarks on the existential link between Taiwan’s security and that of Japan: “If a major incident were to occur, [over Taiwan], we can say that this would be linked to a situation threatening the survival [of Japan]. If so, Japan and the United States must defend Taiwan together. … We need to seriously think about the fact that Okinawa could be next.
What is remarkable about Aso’s public statement is that it was so late. Tokyo could hardly ignore the intimate security link between Japan and Taiwan given that the Japanese imperial regime used Formosa to launch its attack on the Philippines on December 7, 1941. Beijing has made it clear that it will use the geostrategic location of Taiwan as a fulcrum. for expansion in South East and North East Asia.
It is also evident that the nation that seeks to reincarnate the sphere of co-prosperity of Greater East Asia today is not peaceful and democratic Japan, but expansionist Communist China – even if it distracts attention from it. his assault by constantly evoking memories of the previous historical period.
Suga-Aso’s stark contrasting views on the Taiwan issue reflect Japan’s conflicting concerns about its security relationship with the United States: fear of being “drawn” into a Sino-American conflict over Taiwan. or the South China Sea, or being abandoned by Washington with Japan’s direct security at stake.
The irony now is that while Suga fears that the United States is dragging Japan into a conflict with Taiwan, his deputy fears that Washington is abandoning Taiwan, whose security is intimately linked to that of Japan.
Aso’s concerns have hardly been alleviated by recent comments from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marc MilleyMark MilleyGOP’s representative demands that the Air Force Academy professor be fired for teaching Critical Race Theory. Chinese military prepares for war, as US military ‘wakes up’ Trump told John Kelly that Hitler ‘did a lot of good things,’ read MORE and Kurt Campbell, Chinese policy coordinator for the national security adviser Jake sullivanJake SullivanSunday shows preview: Biden defends troop withdrawal in Afghanistan; COVID-19 Impacting Unvaccinated Pockets Biden Cannot Counter China With Team Lacking Expertise Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Meets Biden Officials MORE.
Milley focused on China’s capabilities, telling Congress: “[I]to seize such a large island, with so many inhabitants and the defensive capabilities available to the Taiwanese, would be extraordinarily complicated and costly. At this point – the next 12-24 months – I don’t see any indicator warnings. He made no mention of the myriad of minor military actions against Taiwan that the People’s Liberation Army is well prepared to carry out. Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: The top US commander in Afghanistan leaves | United States sends delegation to Haiti following request for troops | Senate Democrats propose 0.3 B for Pentagon in Capitol Hill security bill US nears end of game in Afghanistan Chinese military prepares for war, while military American “wakes up” MORE, also present at the hearing, confirmed Milley’s statements.
Campbell commented on the issue of Chinese and American intentions. First, he rejected any need to get rid of American public ambiguity about the defense of Taiwan. “I think there are significant drawbacks to what’s called strategic clarity,” he said in a discussion moderated by The Financial Times. A few days later, he issued a warning to Taiwan, favored by the Clinton administration, saying, “The United States is not in favor of Taiwan independence. (Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for the Chinese Taiwan Affairs Bureau, welcomed Campbell’s remarks but urged Washington to go further and “explicitly oppose” Taiwan independence. “) In the same interview of the Asia Society, Campbell was asked to comment on the diplomatic and PR impact on China if it attacked Taiwan, saying they would be “catastrophic.”
It is not clear whether Campbell’s sudden swerve toward discredited Chinese policy was a deliberate decision by the administration to quell the growing perception that the combined policies of Trump and Biden represent a permanent change in U.S. policy, or if it was a thoughtful return from Campbell to his. personal predilections on China and Taiwan.
At a 2016 Center for Strategic and International Studies conference, Campbell was asked about Korean unification. He endorsed it, likening it to one China: “I have to say that the greatest foreign policy success of the last sixty years in Asia is the general acceptance of the idea that there is only one ‘one China – and the fact that it is so fundamental. politics is part of everything we do with Beijing. I think this is something South Korean friends should continue to understand. It’s my point of view.
Campbell’s reluctance to do or say anything about Taiwan that might offend “our Chinese friends” – a phrase he invariably used while serving in the Obama administration – may reflect the trauma. which he says he felt during the Taiwan Strait Missile Crisis of 1995-96. He described it to a Washington audience as “our own Cuban missile crisis.” We had looked into the abyss.
Those who have worked with Campbell and believe they know his personal opinions describe him as a “friend” of Taiwan. Still, we can expect Beijing to pocket what is known to the public. Washington’s shyness in defending Taiwan and Milley-Campbell’s recent remarks encourage China to continue to prepare for a military confrontation it expects the Biden administration to avoid or bypass – and they explain that Beijing is ‘expects his relentless pressure on Taipei, Washington and Tokyo to finally succeed.
Joseph Bosco was National Director of China for Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and Asia-Pacific Director of Humanitarian and Disaster Relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a non-resident researcher at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and member of the Advisory Board of the Global Taiwan Institute. Follow him on twitter @BoscoJosephA.