Japanese leaders in 2021 have made an unusual series of high-profile statements and comments concerning Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait. These appeared to crescendo last month, when global headlines asserted that July 5 remarks by Japan’s deputy prime minister meant “Japan pledges to defend Taiwan if China attacks” or marked a fundamental change in Japanese policy…
“It makes little difference how many times U.S. officials or congressional leaders say the United States is competing with China or pivoting, rebalancing, or shifting its focus to Asia. What matters more is what they actually do.”
In a provocatively titled article published earlier this month, Nikkei reported that “Japan lawmakers want ‘Taiwan Relations Act’ of their own.” The article, which was published in English and attracted attention from U.S.-based Asia policy experts, further suggested that a “2-plus-2 dialogue among the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Taiwan” is being discussed in Tokyo.
Were Japan’s National Diet to actually pass legislation analogous to the landmark U.S.’ 1979 Taiwan Relations Act or to set up a Cabinet-level government-to-government “2-plus-2 dialogue,” it would be a groundbreaking and historic development in Japan-Taiwan relations. It is therefore no surprise the article attracted so much attention in Washington, D.C.
But neither seems likely to happen…at least not anytime soon or in the manner many may assume.
“…All the aforementioned challenges threaten foundational pillars of Japan’s economy and national security. Indeed, if the order were to collapse or the United States to “withdraw” or “abdicate” in the manner already suggested by some and feared by many, defining assumptions of Japan’s foreign policy would be fundamentally undermined…”
Taken collectively, the results suggest that Japanese citizens believe the liberal international order has been crucial to postwar national prosperity and peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. There is also robust support for Japan adopting a relatively more proactive posture in international trade and security affairs-within limits. In the economic domain, survey respondents strongly support the idea that Japan has benefited greatly from international free trade and should play a leadership role in that domain regardless of what the United States does. This comports with Solis’s argument that Japan is no longer a follower on free trade, as reflected in its effort to champion the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP, also known as TPP-11) after the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the twelve-member Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017. With regard to security affairs, the survey reveals strong support for strengthening ties with the United States, for Japan deepening ties with other countries in the region as a counterweight to China, and for pursuing more robust defense capabilities to bolster deterrence, such as increased defense spending. These goals all appear congruent with U.S. policies.
“…This paper focuses on the competition between China and Japan over their festering territorial dispute in the East China Sea. Though political frictions over the Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands are decades-old, since a 2012 contretemps over the islands led Beijing to begin regular, provocative deployments of government vessels into the islands’ contiguous zone and territorial seas, the dispute has become the most significant geopolitical flashpoint and locus of security competition between China and Japan today…
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of Japan’s strategy for dealing with China’s rise and critique of the idea that Japan is seeking a middle ground between the U.S. and China… […]
My latest analysis … of the rapidly evolving maritime gray-zone competition between China and Japan in the East China Sea … has just come out in print as part of a […]
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of Japan’s reforms to national security policy and institutions in the “Abe era” (since 2012)… has just been published by Texas National Security Review, an exciting new peer-reviewed journal based at the University of Texas and published by War on the Rocks.
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of the evolution of Chinese views of the U.S. alliance system and its role in East Asian security… is published in the March 2018 […]
My latest peer-reviewed article… an analysis of the implications of recent institutional reforms–esp. the new National Security Council–for Japan’s crisis management capabilities…has just been published in the newest issue of Journal of […]
My latest article… a brief overview of incremental balancing responses vis-a-vis China in the context of recent US calls for a “principled and inclusive security network”… has just been published in […]
My latest peer-reviewed article… a critique of traditional methodologies and metrics often employed in contemporary security studies and analysis of four regional states’ military responses to China’s rise…has just been […]
Desperately Seeking Statesmen
Japan’s self-restraint continues despite its refusal to acknowledge even the existence of a dispute. Ironically, and unfortunately, it is because Japan does not behave provocatively that its policy never makes headlines. Yet its constructive behavior demonstrates that even when a government claims territory “inherently,” acknowledges no dispute, and exercises effective administrative control, it still can choose self-restraint in the interest of regional stability. Meanwhile, Tokyo’s and Taipei’s initiatives demonstrate that when two are willing to hear the music, they can indeed tango.
As relevant parties search for a framework to manage South China Sea tensions, a consensus, binding definition of “self-restraint” faithful to the spirit of the 2002 DOC is the Holy Grail. The deck today seems stacked against it. Unconstructive activities driving changes to the status quo are unlikely to be reversed. Political will among relevant parties remains in doubt. Nevertheless, as observers naturally focus on tension and conflict, constructive alternatives must be proactively kept a part of the conversation.
That Japan’s decades-old policy of self-restraint is so often ignored is perhaps evidence that, at least until recently, it proved so effective.
Since Tokyo’s September 2012 ‘nationalization’ of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Beijing’s use of military and paramilitary forces to challenge Japan’s decades-old effective administration has introduced a major source of uncertainty and risk into a volatile flashpoint between the world’s second- and third-largest economies. Specifically, China’s unprecedented operations increase the likelihood of an unintended incident in the surrounding waters or airspace. While neither side seeks conflict, how capable China and Japan are of rapidly and effectively preventing such an incident from escalating is a crucial, yet rarely-asked question. This is particularly true given the noxious state of Sino–Japanese political relations, infrequency of high-level dialogue, presence of nationalism potentially affecting leaders’ domestic political calculations, policy decision-making processes considered relatively slow and consensus-oriented, and the longstanding absence of bilateral crisis hotlines.
The question of how capable the two sides are at managing a crisis effectively is not merely an academic one…