Japan defence paper warns for first time of crisis over Taiwan

Annual defence report calls on Japanese government to pay attention to US-China tensions over Taiwan with ‘a sense of crisis more than ever before’.

Taiwan special forces during a naval drill in Kaohsiung on January 27, 2021 [File: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA]

Japan, in its annual defence white paper, has warned growing military tensions around Taiwan, as well as economic and technological rivalry between China and the United States, could threaten peace and stability in East Asia.

This marked the first time that the report (PDF) – which was approved by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government on Tuesday – took up the issue of stability around Taiwan.

“China has further intensified military activities around Taiwan including Chinese aircrafts’ entering the southwestern airspace of Taiwan,” the report said in its new section on Taiwan. “In the meantime, the United States has demonstrated a clear stance of supporting Taiwan in military aspects, such as transits by US vessels through the Taiwan Strait and weapon sales.”

Stabilising the situation surrounding Taiwan, it said, was important for Japan’s security and also the stability of the international community.

“Therefore, it is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever before,” it said.

For Japan, Beijing’s recent uptick in military activity around Taiwan is worrying since the self-ruled island lies close to the Okinawa chain at the western end of the Japanese archipelago.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory, and has never ruled out the use of force to retake the island.

Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to complete the “reunification” with Taiwan, while the Chinese military in June branded the US as the region’s “greatest creator of risks” when a US warship transited the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.

As tensions grow, Tokyo has become more outspoken on the issue, with the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Asa saying earlier this month that Japan should join forces with the US to defend Taiwan from any invasion.

Aso’s comments immediately prompted a sharp rebuke from Beijing, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying they “harmed the political foundation of China-Japan relations”.

Aso later clarified his comments saying that any contingency over Taiwan should be resolved through dialogue.

The Japanese defence white paper also identified the South China Sea as another domain that is key in the US-China rivalry.

“In the South China Sea, China is expanding its military activities, including ballistic missile launches and military exercises involving aircraft carriers,” the paper said.

“Meanwhile, in July 2020, the United States criticized China’s claims of maritime interests as being illegal, and toughened its stance against China further by implementing Freedom of Navigation Operations and military exercises involving aircraft carriers.”

Therefore, it added, it was necessary to pay greater attention to the military trends of the two superpowers in both Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The defence paper, also for the first time, included a section on threats posed by climate change, which it says will increase competition for land and resources, and may trigger the mass movement of climate refugees.

An increase in disasters linked to global warming could also stretch military capabilities, it added, while Arctic Sea ice melting could lead to the militarisation of northern waters.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies