Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

  • HOME
  • Speaking Out
  • 【#1097】Political Will Required to Enhance Japan-Taiwan Deterrence
Fumio Ota

【#1097】Political Will Required to Enhance Japan-Taiwan Deterrence

Fumio Ota / 2023.12.12 (Tue)

December 11, 2023

While the war between Russia and Ukraine has plunged into a stalemate, the Congress of the United States, the largest military supporter for Ukraine, has been unable to agree on additional aid to Ukraine due to confrontation between Democrats and Republicans. If this situation remains unchanged, Russia may end up benefitting from its aggression against Ukraine.

Seeing this situation, China’s Xi Jinping regime may judge that it has a chance to successfully invade Taiwan, going ahead with the aggression. In order to prevent a Taiwan contingency from reducing Japanese land to ashes and taking the lives of innocent citizens, Japan must enhance its deterrence to keep China from invading Taiwan.

On December 6, a bipartisan agreement was reached in the U.S. House and Senate on the $886 billion defense authorization bill for fiscal 2024 that includes support for Taiwan’s military training and capacity building. The agreement can be said as expressing the U.S. political will to bolster deterrence in preparation for a Taiwan contingency. How about Japanese measures to improve deterrence?

Interaction between SDF and Taiwanese Forces is necessary

The biggest deterrence, especially against China, is military power. The U.S. has sent military personnel to Taiwan for training Taiwanese forces. Japan has a lot of U.S. military bases in the country and frequently conduct combined military exercises with the United States. Regarding Japan-U.S.-Taiwan trilateral relationship, however, the absence of the Japan-Taiwan relationship is a missing link that markedly weakens deterrence against China.

There is no direct interaction between Taiwanese forces and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. I had guessed that diplomatic authorities might have hindered the interaction. When questioning a former top-level Foreign Ministry bureaucrat about my guess, however, I found that the absence of military interaction might be a matter of political will.

A number of countries that have no diplomatic relations with Taiwan like Japan have engaged in military-to-military interaction with Taiwan. For example, Singapore and South Korea station active army, navy, or air force colonel-class officers in Taiwan. In the Czech Republic where I visited in August this year, President of the National Defense University was talking proudly with President of the Taiwanese National Defense University. President of Japan’s Joint Staff College or Director of the National Institute for Defense Studies is absolutely not allowed to have direct conversation with President of the Taiwanese National Defense University.

Taiwan launched its first domestically produced submarine this year and plans to commission it in 2025. If there is no direct communication channel between the Taiwanese Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, the MSDF could sink a friendly Taiwanese submarine as a ship of unknown target during a war, or vice versa.

Don’t give in to China without fighting

If the Japanese SDF and Taiwanese forces engage in direct interaction, China may toughen countermeasures such as economic coercion against Japan and the detention of Japanese nationals in China. If Japan refrains from taking due measures out of fear of such Chinese reaction, however, it may mean that Japan succumbs to China’s influence operations without fighting and that valuable warships and aircraft, and the precious lives of SDF members could become likelier to be lost due to blue on blue in the event of a war. Which is more serious?

The best way to prevent a Taiwan contingency is to demonstrate Japan-U.S.-Taiwan cooperation in responding to such contingency and lead China to understand the trilateral deterrence.

Fumio Ota is a councilor and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. He is a retired Vice Admiral of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and a former Director of Defense Intelligence Headquarters.