It would be easy to describe the tensions generated by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as something largely involving the US and China; sometimes even Taiwanese are not seen as part of the equation or as having an agency. However, the fact is that there are many more countries that have a stake in the fate of Taiwan and how any eventuality involving Taiwan plays out.
One of these countries is of course Taiwan’s neighbour, Japan. With just over 100 km separating the westernmost Japanese island of Yonaguni from Taiwanese territory, it is no surprise that on August 4, Chinese missiles were fired over Taiwan during a a military exercise following Pelosi’s visit to Japan‘s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Chinese policy in the East China Sea
The Japanese protested, of course, against the Chinese action. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded by saying, “China and Japan have not carried out maritime delimitation in the relevant waters, so there are no Chinese military actions in or entering the Japanese EEZ. If it is correct that the two countries have not completed negotiations to delimit the East China Sea, it is largely because China demands almost all of the waters of the East China Sea as well as the sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands – a claim she only first made in 1971.
Without any hope of a diplomatic solution, Japan was forced to consider the median line as the limit of its EEZ and put in place the necessary internal measures under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1996. The Chinese spokesperson’s comment, however, is all the more striking for implying that China now intends to cancel the middle line claimed by Japan and extend its control to the first chain of islands.
Chinese rhetoric about “regularizing” military exercises around Taiwan is creating particular sensitivities in Japan. In 2012, the Japanese government decided to buy three of the Senkaku Islands, until then private property, in an attempt to defuse tensions with Beijing. The latter, however, took the opportunity to claim that Tokyo had upset the status quo and responded by sending large numbers of its coast guard vessels to “regularize” its patrols in territorial waters near the islands. In fact, Beijing had begun such a deployment in 2008, but used Japanese administrative action to shape a new status quo on the islands and the East China Sea.
China has therefore for some time been engaged in a multi-pronged approach to undermining Japan’s security and economic interests.
Increasingly concerned and anxious about China’s growing military might, Japanese governments, particularly under the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, responded by seeking to strengthen alliance ties with states. -United. Abe was a major driving force behind several ideas – the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and, indeed, the concept of the “Indo-Pacific” itself. These concepts now enjoy great popularity among countries, including India, who share common concerns about the rise of China and Abe’s death likely only strengthens their resolve to stick with them.
In many ways, China’s belligerence in the form of military exercises around Taiwan will therefore likely have the effect of strengthening Japanese resolve to find ways to counter China’s assertiveness in the region.
Japan’s position and role
While Article 9 of Japan’s post-World War II constitution effectively renounces war, over time Japan has developed a military capability in the form of so-called “war forces”. self-defense” aimed at deterring attacks on Japan. In recent years, however, a sense of crisis vis-à-vis China has deepened and discussions are ongoing within the Japanese government about how to support US military operations in any eventuality that could harm the country. Japan’s security environment, like, for example, Taiwan. China’s latest military exercises will only accelerate this Japanese approach. Over the weekend, in fact, Japanese lawmakers conducted a simulation exercise on Japan’s response to a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
East Asia’s security fault line has shifted from the Korean Peninsula and Cold War-era Indochina to the First Island Chain, up to which China aims to establish control total. The Japanese increasingly view the conflict between democracy and autocracy as a central issue in international politics.
Tokyo has already taken a stand against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has not been shy about expressing its concerns on issues such as the infringement of freedoms in Hong Kong under China’s national security law as well as the mistreatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Taiwan’s security and survival are therefore also seen as vital to Japan’s national interests and if China escalates tensions, Japan may well have an important role to play. This role was in fact indirectly recognized when, on August 5, the Chinese and Russian ministers meeting on the 12e The East Asia Summit foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia left the room when it was his Japanese counterpart‘s turn to speak.
With its victory last month in the elections for the upper house of Japan’s parliament, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and other parties that support constitutional reform now have a two-thirds majority in both houses, the threshold required to initiate constitutional amendments, including to Article 9. Such reform was, in fact, a grand ambition of the assassinated former Prime Minister Abe. While Japanese domestic politics may still come into play, the fact that there is also growing public support for constitutional reform to make Japan a more “normal” country capable of defending its interests is remarkable. While this will naturally prompt Beijing to stage further anti-Japanese protests, Chinese leaders themselves are responsible for not pursuing a more balanced and respectful relationship with Japan.
(Chisako T. Masuo is Associate Professor, Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University, Japan. Jabin T. Jacob is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence, Delhi -NCR, India. )
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