After the Japanese Cabinet meeting announced the 2021 version of the defense white paper, four Chinese Coast Guard official ships sailed into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands. It is believed that this move is China’s dissatisfaction with the importance of the stability of the situation in Taiwan, which was written in the white paper for the first time. Japanese military sources and experts have offered different perspectives on the White Paper’s formulation of the Taiwan issue and its description of China’s military actions against Japan as “worrisome” rather than “threatening.
First “Taiwan Situation” and separate section from China
For the first time, Japan’s new defense white paper states that “the stability of the Taiwan situation is essential to Japan’s security and the stability of the international community. For the first time, the white paper also removes Taiwan from the China section and places it in a new section on “U.S.-China Relations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Japan of “gross interference in China’s internal affairs” on the day the white paper was released, stating that Taiwan is a Chinese territory and that the Taiwan issue is purely an internal affair of China, and that China will not allow any country to interfere with the Taiwan issue in any way.
General Fumio Ota, former head of intelligence at the Japanese Defense Agency, told the Voice of America that China’s recent escalating military actions near the Taiwan Strait have clearly caused tension in Japan, and with the growing clarity of U.S. support for Taiwan, it is only logical that the white paper clearly states the situation in the Taiwan Strait.
He said, “The U.S.-Japan diplomatic and defense 2+2 talks and the U.S.-Japan summit have publicly identified Taiwan Strait security as an important international security issue. In this context, it is natural to take Taiwan out of the China chapter and place it in the context of U.S.-China relations for independent discussion. China’s military attempts to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait have become increasingly aggressive, and the Japan-U.S. alliance understands that such a threat has escalated to the point where operational countermeasures should be discussed separately.”
Koji Murata, a professor of law at Japan’s Comrade University, told Voice of America, “First, China’s military rise is obvious, and the military balance between China and the United States is gradually moving in China’s favor, which makes the Japan-U.S. alliance nervous; furthermore, among China’s internal involvement in many countries, its political, economic and social involvement in Taiwan is the most obvious. Taiwan is the best indicator of whether a democratic country can prevent China from intervening. Although the premise of Japan’s one-China policy has not changed, it is also understood that Taiwan operates independently in essence as a state and has no direct relationship with China’s state operations, and given the importance of the Taiwan Strait issue in the Japan-U.S. alliance, it makes sense to assign Taiwan to a separate chapter for discussion.”
In an interview with Voice of America, Ishihara Tadahiro, a researcher at the Center for International Relations at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, pointed out that the treatment of Taiwan in this defense white paper can be seen in the diplomatic documents released by Japan earlier this year, as well as the repeated references to the Taiwan Strait issue by Japanese government officials.
He said, “This defense white paper separates out the U.S. relationship with China, and this is the same as the diplomatic blue book (diplomatic green book) released by Japan in April this year, because diplomatic and defense units must be consistent in their public positions to the outside world, and on the other hand, it also has the significance of explaining to the domestic community.”
Military support for Taiwan to be simulated
The situation in the Taiwan Strait is closely related to Japan’s security, and for the possible ways and degree of involvement of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in supporting Taiwan, experts believe that it will gradually enter the discussion soon after the publication of the white paper.
Fumio Ota said that the results of various seminars and civilian surveys show that the proportion of Japanese society in favor of SDF support for Taiwan Strait has exceeded 70%, which will also be reflected in the official attitude.
He said: “The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has recognized that if China invades Taiwan, Japan must send its Self Defense Forces to participate in support. The government now wants to start a careful review of the situation in the Taiwan Strait in the security law set by the ‘significant impact of the state of affairs’ and ‘existential crisis state of affairs’ legislative definition, the opposition parties in the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Japan are not very willing to escalate this to the height of explicit legislation, but However, the position of the Japan Restoration Party and the National Democratic Party is basically the same as that of the LDP, so it should be followed by the discussion of legislation.”
Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso said in early July that if China invaded Taiwan, Japan should exercise its right to collective self-defense and join the U.S. in defending Taiwan in what is considered a “state of existential crisis.
Murata said: “Japan and the United States attach great importance to defending Taiwan’s security and maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait, but the actual scenarios envisaged, and the extent and manner of SDF involvement, have not been carefully planned. I think a mock trial calculation of SDF involvement will begin after the defense white paper places Taiwan in a separate section on U.S.-China relations.”
See North Korea as a threat, just “worried” about China?
Japan’s defense white paper refers to North Korea as “a serious and imminent threat to our security,” and to China as “a major security concern, including for Japan and the international community.”
Fumio Ota, former head of intelligence at Japan’s Defense Agency, expressed strong dissatisfaction with the description of the situation posed by China to Japan as only “worrying”. He said the military threat includes the ability and intention to attack. North Korea has hundreds of ballistic missiles with the range to reach Japan, while China has thousands of them. So both sides have the capability to attack Japan. North Korea claimed a few years ago that it wanted to turn Japan into a “sea of fire” and clearly had the intention to attack, so Japanese society mostly agrees that North Korea is considered a “threat.
Regarding China’s intention to attack, Japanese government officials leaked that the white paper did not describe China as a “threat” because former Prime Minister Abe had tried to shift Japan-China relations from competition to cooperation at the 2018 Japan-China summit, and would not pose a threat to each other.
Fumio Ota did not agree with this explanation, saying, “China has often invaded the areas around our Senkaku Islands for days on end, and has used the invasion of the Taiwan Strait as a premise to establish mock bases similar to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture and Yokosuka Base in Kanagawa Prefecture in the desert areas of western China, and to conduct missile test firing exercises. With such an observation, isn’t it clear that China’s intention to encroach on Japanese territory and attack militarily?”
He said the Biden administration’s Interim National Security Strategy, released on March 3 this year, specifically named China as a new threat to the United States and the only country with the strength to challenge the international architecture, and Japan needs to be consistent.
Fumio Ota said, “From the standpoint of a Self-Defense Force officer, I think both sides of the Japan-U.S. alliance must have a consistent understanding of the ‘threat’ in order to use it for joint strategy, operational planning and joint training, otherwise it is easy to have problems with different perceptions.”
Fumio Ota explained from his personal experience that the defense white paper is released in draft form to other official departments for adjustment months before it is published.
He exchanged views with a number of former military staff as well as army, navy and air force generals after this white paper was made public, and all agreed that China’s behavior already poses a threat to Japan. Therefore, he speculated that the Defense Ministry sees China as a threat, but the Foreign Ministry is likely to revise the wording to “concern” in order to avoid a head-on confrontation with China.
The wording of the diplomatic decision is different between the marine police and the military
Japan and China are diplomatic relations and have very close economic ties,” said law school professor Koji Murata. In contrast, North Korea has no diplomatic relations with Japan and its economic ties tend to be close to zero. Therefore, Japan does not need to be polite to North Korea, but is still cautious about China, and even if it actually feels threatened, it will avoid using it as a term under diplomatic considerations. Recent polls show that Japanese society clearly feels that China poses a great threat to Japan, but the government’s public profile is not yet ready to say so.”
He pointed out that because Japan and China are diplomatic allies, it is still possible to resolve differences through institutional dialogue and negotiation mechanisms, and Japan still hopes to resolve disputes with China in a peaceful manner, and therefore does not want to directly refer to China as a threat.
Ishihara Tadao agreed with this statement, and further added: “China’s military actions around the East China Sea and the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutai Islands) are not the deployment of troops, but through the maritime police to change the status quo of Japan’s control over the Senkaku Islands. Therefore, China is not provoking Japan’s East China Sea periphery with its military, but using its police to promote actions to change the status quo in the gray area. This situation does constitute a threat to Japan in terms of security, but compared to North Korea threatening Japan with missiles and nuclear weapons, this part I think is still a different threat posed by China than by North Korea.”
Balanced diplomacy cannot continue
Even though China is not listed as a threat in the wording, Tadao Ishihara believes that there is no room for Japan to exercise balanced diplomacy between the U.S. and China now. This is because the United States is still the most important in Japan’s foreign relations, followed by the free and open Indo-Pacific region that Japan is promoting, its four-way dialogue with the United States, India and Australia, and its relations with other Western European countries. On this basis, Japan’s economic and trade relations with neighboring countries, such as China and South Korea, are certainly important to Japan’s national interests, but the Japan-U.S. alliance is still of primary importance, and the situation in this regard will never change. And as the U.S.-China confrontation continues to intensify, Japan will of course lean on the United States.
Regarding the future of Japan-China relations, Tadao Ishihara said, “Before the outbreak of the new crown epidemic last year, Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan was originally scheduled. But after the outbreak of the epidemic last year, China promoted tough war-wolf diplomacy, which led to an overall deterioration in China’s foreign relations and also set Japan-China relations back, and I think it will be difficult to improve Japan-China relations in the short term, and even after the epidemic, it will take a long time for China-Japan relations to recover.”
Koji Murata said, “Japan’s ability to maintain balanced diplomacy between the U.S. and China is based on the fact that the U.S. is overwhelmingly superior to China in terms of military power. China has become aggressive in recent years, already causing concern and civil disgust in Japan, and Japan will naturally move closer and closer to the U.S. after China’s military power rises significantly. And not only the factor of change in military power, China is also becoming more assertive in its foreign attitude, which makes Japan must rely on the United States-led allies, and the relationship with China has declined.”
Experts: violation of the Senkaku waters has become the norm
Kyodo News reported that on the morning of the next day of the release of the defense white paper (July 14), four Chinese official ships sailed into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku. One of them was carrying a machine gun-like device. Chinese official ships have been spotted around the Senkaku for 152 consecutive days, the longest streak since the Senkaku was nationalized in September 2012.
Ishihara Tadao said Japan is not surprised that China will make a little trouble in the territorial waters and airspace of Japan or Taiwan whenever it finds itself in any unsatisfactory situation with Taiwan, the U.S. and Japan relations.
I believe Japan must have communicated with the Chinese side before releasing the white paper about the timing of the release, the content of the record, and the reasons for the record, which should be at least slightly explained,” he said. Of course, for China, when Japan publishes such contents, China must express its dissatisfaction and must have some actual actions in the territorial waters and airspace, on the one hand for internal propaganda, and on the other hand for external statement. But this kind of action has become normalized because there are often Chinese ships in the surrounding waters, so this time we feel just ‘here we go again’ .”
Fumio Ota said, “In fact, China has been continuously violating the perimeter of the Senkaku Islands since 2010, not just in response to the contents of the defense white paper, because it has been a routine violation of Japanese territory by China. China has long demonstrated its intention to invade the Senkaku Islands by its actions, and it has not stopped so far, and it will not stop in the future, just as it intends to invade Taiwan, which is why security in the Taiwan Strait is so important to Japan, and also why China is a clear threat.”