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The Path, Motivation and Future Trend of Japan’s Taiwan-Related Policy Adjustment


Wen Tianpeng and Chen Xing, Taiwan scholars at Nanjing University and Beijing Union University, respectively, explore the motivations behind what they perceive as a reorientation of Japan’s strategy vis-à-vis Taiwan and implications for Japan-China relations going forward. In their view, the dynamics of U.S.-Japan-China ties are driving Tokyo to depart from its traditionally “low profile” position on Taiwan. However, Wen and Chen argue that Japan’s strong economic ties to China will ultimately prevent it from revising its official “One China” policy.

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Since the end of the Cold War, Japan has kept a relatively low profile on the Taiwan issue, but the strategic competition between China and Japan has become more and more pronounced in recent years due to domestic and foreign factors such as the intensification of strategic competition among major powers, U.S. multilateral containment of China, the resurgence of Cold War thinking, and the orientation of Japan’s national development strategy. Driven by geopolitical interests, Japan’s Taiwan-related policies have seen significant adjustments. In view of its national development strategy, Japan has been continually making moves on the Taiwan issue for some time now, forcefully intervening in the Taiwan issue in the realms of diplomacy and defense. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities in Taiwan, meanwhile, are also trying to confront the mainland with external forces such as the United States and Japan, and with Japan’s so-called pro-Taiwan stance, Taiwan and Japan have formed ever-closer ties.


I. Japan’s Taiwan-Related Policy: Basic strategy and changes in perception


The adjustment of Japan’s Taiwan-related policies is closely related to its strategic perception of China. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Japan’s perception of China “has been slow to shift, leading to a mismatch between facts and perceptions.”1 As geopolitics in the Taiwan Strait region changes amid the strategic competition between China and the United States, Japan’s perceptions of the Taiwan issue and Taiwan-related policies have also changed significantly, mainly in the following three respects.


(1) Japan’s willingness to involve itself in the Taiwan Strait situation has strengthened as Japanese politics increasingly shifts rightward due to domestic and foreign factors.


Geopolitical factors have made Japan particularly sensitive to changes in the military situation around it. Japan’s strategic perception of China has continued to grow more complicated and negative, due to factors such as China’s growing comprehensive national power, the accelerating shift in relative power between China and Japan, and the intensifying competition between China and the United States. A rightward trend in Japanese politics has gradually emerged, and the anti-China, right-wing thinking that trumpets the “China Threat Theory” has gradually come to dominate public opinion. China’s GDP officially surpassed Japan’s in 2010, and in 2020 China’s total GDP reached three times that of Japan. The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is gathering pace, and the process of achieving complete reunification is also accelerating. The Japanese government and media are extremely reluctant to admit that China has become stronger than Japan, and in Japanese society, the “China Opportunity Theory” has been completely supplanted by the “China Threat Theory,” with Japanese public opinion on China moving from divergence to consensus. Japan’s attitude toward China is based on the perception that China is “unilaterally changing the status quo through strength,” which has led to the one-sided belief that China is a “strategic competitor” that is challenging the existing international and regional order.2 The rise of China’s comprehensive national power and the modernization of its military in recent years have also triggered collective anxiety in Japan, with Japan’s 2022 Diplomatic Bluebook declaring that China produces “strong security concerns for the region, including Japan, and among the international community.” The Bluebook, for the first time, claimed that the world “is entering an era of competition between the United States and China as well as competition among nations, shifting from the era in which the U.S. exerted its leadership … to support the stability and prosperity of the international community through its overwhelming political, economic, and military power.”3 In the face of a rising China, there is growing concern in Japan about the “security dilemma,” and “joining with the United States to contain China” has become a strategic choice for Japan’s policy toward China. Japan judged that after taking office, U.S. president Joseph Biden would further pursue the Obama-era “pivot to Asia” strategy, and that with the focus of U.S. diplomatic and security strategy shifting to the Indo-Pacific, competition between China and the United States had emerged as a long-term trend. In terms of China policy, former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe unabashedly claimed that “Asia, including Japan, has become the front line in the confrontation between China and the United States. Japan’s China policy must embrace awareness of, and mental preparedness for, the fact that the Indo-Pacific region has become the front line, and focus on foreign relations and security.”4 The change in Japan’s strategic perception of China is directly reflected in the Taiwan issue and Japan’s Taiwan-related policies. Domestically, Japanese rightists have repeatedly propagated the notion that “cross-Strait reunification will lead to a drastic deterioration of Japan’s strategic outlook,” exaggerating the “threat” to Japan of China’s reunification and fomenting a sense of insecurity among the public. Japanese public sentiment has “shift[ed] away from concerns about rearming to growing alarm over China’s military assertiveness in Asia, particularly toward Taiwan.”5


(2) Japan is attempting to link the situation in the Taiwan Strait to its own national security.


Japan usually considers the Taiwan issue within the framework of Japan’s overall national security and interests. Its colonial mentality and concern about maritime security corridors have given Japan an almost obsessive-compulsive sensitivity to the Taiwan Strait. There have been persistent voices in Japan maintaining that if something untoward happens in Taiwan, it will inevitably affect the security of Okinawa, so Japan must intervene in the Taiwan issue, preferably bringing in external forces such as Europe and the United States. Japan has deliberately taken a Taiwan Strait crisis as a reasonable excuse for it to intervene. In interviews with foreign media, former Japanese defense minister Nobuo Kishi constantly emphasized the imbalance in military power between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, saying that as (mainland) China strengthened its military power, the balance had increasingly swung in its favor, with the gap widening year after year. He repeatedly claimed that “the mainland’s military expansion is encircling Taiwan” and that “the international community should be more concerned about ‘Taiwan’s survival.’”6 Former deputy prime minister and finance minister Taro Aso similarly claimed that if (mainland) China “invades” Taiwan, the Japanese government would consider it a “threat to Japan’s survival” under the country’s security legislation, which would allow it to exercise a limited right of collective self-defense, and that the United States and Japan would defend Taiwan together.7 In June 2022, former prime minister Abe again spoke out on the Taiwan issue, reiterating that “a Taiwan crisis is a Japan crisis,” and claiming that he wanted to see relations with Taiwan and “willing” countries strengthened so that China would “abandon reunification by force.” There is a clear logic behind Japan’s “Taiwan crisis agitation: on the one hand, it can further manufacture the “China threat” and legitimize its intention to become a military power. On the other hand, it can also challenge the “One China” red line in a “salami slicing” manner, ultimately creating obstacles to peace in the Taiwan Strait and to cross-Strait reunification.8 In early August, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. In order to counter “Taiwan independence” and deter U.S.-Taiwan collusion, the People’s Liberation Army conducted a series of military exercises such as the test-firing of missiles. Japan then baselessly alleged that the missiles fired by China had landed in the so-called Japanese exclusive economic zone. In fact, China and Japan have not yet demarcated the relevant waters, and Japan was very obviously being deliberately provocative. In the context of the current Russia-Ukraine conflict, Japan was intentionally comparing China to Russia and conflating the Ukraine issue with the Taiwan issue—the latter purely an internal affair of China—taking the opportunity to play up tensions in the Taiwan Strait.


 (3) Looking for pretexts for meddling in the Taiwan Strait situation, Japan intends to incorporate Taiwan into the U.S.-Japan security system.


In Japan’s maritime development strategy, Taiwan is regarded as key to Japan’s southern defense and to its maritime transportation lifelines. It is also covered in the U.S.-Japanese plan to strengthen their alliance and security cooperation.9 In April 1997, in a meeting with Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) officials including Taku Yamasaki, chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, the then prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto remarked with regard to the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation that “questions in the Diet about U.S.-Japan security cooperation have always focused on the Korean Peninsula, but I have not limited it specifically to the peninsula, but have also included the Spratly Islands and Taiwan.”10 The “Far East clause” in the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty foreshadowed joint U.S.-Japan involvement in the Taiwan Strait. In April 2021, the then Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga stated that the peace and stability of Taiwan were key to the region and that Japan would work with the United States to ease escalating tensions between the mainland and Taiwan. Suga also said it was important to create an environment in which Taiwan and (mainland) China could resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully, while Japan and the United States would cooperate to maintain deterrence. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of talk within the Japanese government of expanding “Japan-U.S. defense integration,” and Japan has not only escalated confrontation with the China Coast Guard in the waters around the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, but has also repeatedly asked the United States to commit to the application of Article V of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty to the Diaoyu Islands. Japan is attempting to lump together the Diaoyu Islands issue and the Taiwan Strait issue, raising the latter’s profile in order to link the situation in the Taiwan Strait to the geopolitical landscape of East Asia.


II. Publication and Implementation of Japan’s Taiwan-Related Policy Adjustments


(1) At the domestic level: Establishing Taiwan-related organizations and paying close attention to developments in the Taiwan Strait


In February 2021, the LDP’s Foreign Affairs Division established the so-called “Taiwan Policy Project Team,” with the division’s director Masahisa Sato serving as its convener. At its first meeting, it announced that Japan’s relations with Taiwan would be set as the future policy direction. Representative Takashi Yamashita, chief secretary of Foreign Affairs Division, also said, “The world is convinced that if the Indo-Pacific region is to be peaceful and stable, the Taiwan issue has become unavoidable.”11 In a note posted on his website, Sato claimed that the project team’s priorities included “Taiwan’s ‘diplomatic’ dilemma and (mainland) China’s military ‘aggression and provocation’ toward Taiwan, and possibly even the economic security issues recently exposed by the supply and demand of semiconductors.”12 Emphasizing the “necessity to review Taiwan policy,” the project team’s “first policy advice” to the party proposed “jointly implementing with Taiwan strategies for a free and open Indo-Pacific, developing close economic ties with security significance, and promoting peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” In addition, it specifically stated that “a crisis in Taiwan would be a crisis in our own country.”13


In response to the rising temperature of the Taiwan Strait situation, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to create the post of “Taiwan Policy Planning Officer” to collect information on the increasingly active exchanges between European and American countries and the DPP authorities. At the same time, the ministry announced that a new “strategy team” would be established in 2022 in the First China and Mongolia Division of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau. Based on the existing political affairs team and Taiwan team, it will be tasked with developing a diplomatic strategy toward China. The ministry further announced that the Japanese government would also send a serving civilian official from the Ministry of Defense to be “resident” in Taiwan and work with the retired Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) officer currently stationed at the Taipei Office of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, thereby increasing the number of Japan’s “security officers stationed in Taiwan” to two. This arrangement will further enhance Japan-Taiwan intelligence collection and exchange capabilities, and the move can be regarded as an important indicator of the strengthening of security relations between Japan and Taiwan since the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan in 1972.


(2) At the diplomatic level: Seeking to “internationalize” the Taiwan issue through bilateral and multilateral international forums


In April 2021, U.S. president Biden and the then Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga met in Washington, D.C., and the “U.S.-Japan Joint Leaders’ Statement” issued afterwards openly mentioned the Taiwan issue. It was the first time since 1969 that the leaders of Japan and the United States had mentioned Taiwan in a joint statement.14 In January 2022, the U.S. and Japanese foreign ministers and defense ministers held a “2+2” virtual meeting and released a joint statement, in which they expressed their concerns about the “ongoing efforts by China to undermine the rules-based order,” reaffirmed that Article V of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty applied to the Diaoyu Islands, and once again mentioned the Taiwan issue. In May, during a visit to six countries including Indonesia, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida repeatedly warned that “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow.”


In multilateral talks, Japan has also been actively trying to draw other international forces into the Taiwan issue. After Japan’s active lobbying, the joint communiqué issued at the 2022 Group of Seven (G7) summit made much of the Taiwan issue, and a subsequent G7 foreign ministers’ meeting resulted in another joint statement on Taiwan, which claimed that China’s response to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan risked increasing tensions. Playing up security concerns in Asia and the Pacific, NATO listed Japan as a “special partner.” Leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand participated in a NATO summit for the first time in 2022 in Madrid, and Kishida directly called on NATO to increase its attention to and involvement in Indo-Pacific affairs.


(3) At the military level: Beginning to discuss involvement in the Taiwan Strait and related military deployment


Japan attempts to play a greater security role in the Asia-Pacific region and even in the global arena. Its continuous expansion of defense spending and intention to raise the defense budget cap have demonstrated a quest to become a major military power. On the issue of defense spending to be included in the 2022 budget, key Japanese officials such as the then defense minister Nobuo Kishi, chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato, and LDP secretary general Toshimitsu Motegi all said they would not consider keeping the defense budget within 1 percent of GDP.15 In the 2022 budget passed by the Japanese government at a cabinet meeting, defense spending reached a record 5.4 trillion yen, representing the 10th consecutive year of growth in Japan’s annual defense budget. In three documents submitted to Prime Minister Kishida, including the National Security Strategy, the LDP has proposed raising Japan’s defense budget to more than 2 percent of GDP from the current level of about 1 percent. At the same time, in the military field, Japan is also strengthening its offensive weaponry, with the Ministry of Defense and the JSDF stepping up efforts to support cooperation with the defense industry on major projects, so as to improve homegrown defense capabilities. The ministry plans to develop a land-based cruise missile and is considering deploying a submarine-launched long-range cruise missile after 2025 with a range of about 1,000 kilometers.16 The draft defense budget request for fiscal year 2023 prepared by the ministry is the highest ever at 5.6 trillion yen (about 279.4 billion yuan).


Manufactured “security threats” provide an important pretext for Japan’s expansion of its military power. In the 2022 defense white paper, the Japanese government once again ignored the facts and exaggerated the so-called military threat to Taiwan from the mainland, baselessly claiming that “stabilizing the situation surrounding Taiwan is important not only for Japan’s security, but also for the stability of the international community.” The Japanese government plans to revise the National Security Strategy by the end of 2022 to include content on the “capability to attack enemy bases.”17 Prime Minister Kishida has made developing the ability to attack enemies his priority in defense, and has been communicating with the United States on defense-related strategic issues to demonstrate Japan’s firm determination to strengthen its military alliance with the United States. The formalization of the so-called attack capability as a fundamental national security policy indicates Japan’s decision to develop, in an increasingly open, strategic, and policy-oriented fashion, a “counterattack capability” for preemptive action.


Seeking to break past the limits of Japan’s long-standing “exclusively defense-oriented policy,” and under the pretext of strengthening the defense of the outlying islands, the JSDF are accelerating a shift in the focus of deployment to the southwestern islands. Japan’s Ministry of Defense plans to deploy missile units of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force on Okinawa Prefecture’s Ishigaki Island, which will form a group of four strongholds together with missile units already deployed to Kagoshima Prefecture’s Amami Ōshima, Okinawa Prefecture’s Miyako Island, and Okinawa Island. Based on the concept of expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO) adopted by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command,  the JSDF have also developed a Japan-U.S. draft operations plan “for Taiwan contingencies” in collaboration with the U.S. military.18 The plan involves the setting up, in the early stages of a contingency, of temporary military bases for the U.S. Marine Corps on the southwestern islands from Kagoshima Prefecture to Okinawa Prefecture. The Japanese government is also considering deploying more than 1,000 long-range cruise missiles that could “cover the coastal areas of North Korea and China,” and developing an improved version of the Type 12 anti-ship missile with a range of 1,000 kilometers, to be deployed mainly on the southwestern islands in order to prevent a “Taiwan crisis and enhance “counterattack capability.”


Taking advantage of the changing international situation, Japan has followed on the heels of the United States and strengthened military ties with Australia, the United Kingdom, and various European countries, conducting joint military exercises and provoking tensions in the Asia-Pacific region while exploiting the situation to loosen the restraints on its military. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force held joint military exercises with the U.S. Marine Corps and the French army first in the East China Sea and then in Japan. The 2022 U.S.-Japanese Orient Shield exercise was the largest in 36 years. In the first eight months of 2022, the number of joint exercises involving the JSDF and the U.S. military increased by 50 percent compared to the same period in 2021. Furthermore, the United States, Japan, and Taiwan agreed as early as 2017 to share military aircraft identification codes to identify so-called friendly forces. This tripartite interoperability will enable joint defensive action by the parties in the event of a Taiwan crisis. Japan’s attempt to draw on more military coordination with international partners to counter China is more dangerous than its political and economic coordination.


(4) At the level of enhancing Japan-Taiwan relations: Frequent interaction and close cooperation in industry and technology


With cross-Strait relations continuing to deteriorate in recent years, the Taiwan authorities have wanted to rely on Japan to confront the mainland, and high-level Japan-Taiwan exchanges have become more frequent. In December 2021, the “Japan-Taiwan Co-Prosperity Leader Alliance,” consisting of the heads of some Japanese cities, towns and villages, held its inaugural meeting in Tokyo and urged the Japanese government to formulate a so-called Japanese version of the Taiwan Relations Act. In May 2022, an 11-member delegation led by Representative Masanobu Ogura, director of the LDP’s Youth Division, met with a group of senior figures from the DPP authorities; in late July, former Japanese defense ministers Shigeru Ishiba and Yasukazu Hamada also visited Taiwan; in late August, encouraged by U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Keiji Furuya, an LDP member and head of the “Japan-ROC Diet Members’ Consultative Council” (Nikkakon), also went to Taiwan to meet with Tsai Ing-wen. Japan has followed the United States’ lead in its continual moves on Taiwan-related issues, and the high frequency of Japan-Taiwan collusion warrants a high degree of vigilance.


Japan and Taiwan are interacting with each other through multiple channels such as elected legislative bodies, political parties, and think tanks. In July 2021, the Nikkakon, a group of pro-Taiwan Diet members, hosted the first “Taiwan-U.S.-Japan Strategic Dialogue,” at which the head of Taiwan’s legislature, Yu Shyi-kun, declared his hope that “Taiwan would join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) cooperation mechanism between the United States, Japan, India, and Australia,” and called for “the United States and Japan to establish a BTA (bilateral trade agreement) or FTA (free trade agreement) with Taiwan at an early date.” In December, former prime minister Abe delivered an online speech at a Taiwan think tank” in which he openly declared that Japan was “facing a challenge” on the Taiwan issue and that “a Taiwan crisis is a Japan crisis, and therefore a crisis for the Japan-U.S. alliance.”19 In the same month, the “ruling parties” of Japan and Taiwan also held a “2+2” talk. Under pressure from the LDP, the DPP authorities announced in February 2022 that the import ban on “nuclear food” from Fukushima and four nearby prefectures would be lifted, in an attempt to obtain Japan’s support for Taiwan’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).


Industrial and technological cooperation is another means for Japan to intervene in the Taiwan issue. The semiconductor industries in Japan and Taiwan have further accelerated efforts to integrate the supply chains and production chains of the two economies. The Japanese government, aiming to enhance economic security, had long tried to attract the chip-making giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to set up factories in Japan. TSMC energetically cooperated, announcing first the establishment of a materials research and development center in Japan and later the construction of its first wafer fab in the country in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu, mainly to supply Japan’s Sony Group. In an exclusive interview with foreign media, the then Japanese minister of economy and security Takayuki Kobayashi said, “Convincing TSMC to come Japan is just the beginning of Japan’s semiconductor renaissance. Japan needs a long-term strategic vision for the semiconductor industry that can rival those of the United States and China, and maintaining the supply chain is essential.”20 Kishida has made rebuilding the chip industry a key part of his economic policy, and Japan has passed amendments to relevant laws to subsidize the emerging, cutting-edge semiconductor industry. TSMC and Sony Group’s new jointly-built plant is expected to become the first to receive such a subsidy.


III. Motives and Purposes of the Adjustments in Japan’s Taiwan-Related Policies


(1) With Japan’s politics becoming collectively more right-wing, a hard line on China has become a consensus, and the Taiwan issue has become a tool in political struggle.


Since the end of World War II, Japan’s right-wing forces have been constantly eroding the fabric of Japanese society and Japan’s relations with its Asian neighbors. Today, they once again constitute a potential threat to Japan’s political situation, Sino-Japanese relations, and East Asian peace.21 The right-wing political forces of Japan’s LDP have a long history of taking a “pro-U.S. and China-averse” stance, expanding the military and revising the constitution, pretending to be a normal country in Asia-Pacific affairs, and reshaping Japan’s national security strategy to counterbalance China.22 Whether it is due to Japan’s “Taiwan complex,” its geopolitical and economic interests, or considerations of the U.S.-Japan alliance, both the ruling party and the opposition believe that involvement in the Taiwan issue will benefit the country’s national interests. In recent years, as Japan’s relations with China have gradually become more right-leaning and conservative, being tough on China has become a domestic consensus. Against this backdrop, Japan-Taiwan relations have continually overstepped the framework of the “1972 System,” gradually developing from low-level economic and cultural ties to high-level political, “diplomatic,” and security ties. The reasons for this can be explored from the following two aspects.


On the one hand, the collectively right-leaning environment in Japanese politics is directly related to a right-wing hawkish group at the LDP’s core in recent years. In his lifetime, Shinzo Abe, who was at the helm of the LDP’s largest faction—the Seiwa Policy Research Council (Seiwakai)—became Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, having been elected to two separate terms. A staunchly right-wing politician, Abe presided over the easing of the restrictive “Three Principles on Arms Exports,” the removal of the ban on collective self-defense, and the weakening of the restrictions in Japan’s Peace Constitution on military activities. He and the current LDP vice president Taro Aso came to exemplify the right-wing forces within the party. Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi, a former defense minister, is a member of several right-wing groups and advocate of radical conservatism, supporting amending the constitution and denying that Japan had forcibly recruited “comfort women” during World War II. He is considered the Japanese government’s “liaison officer for Taiwan affairs,” having visited Taiwan several times. During his tenure as defense minister, he strongly promoted the establishment of the “Japan-Taiwan Military Security Cooperation Mechanism.” In early August, Kishida made a lightning reshuffle of the cabinet and the LDP leadership, with Yasukazu Hamada, who had visited Taiwan with right-wing politician Shigeru Ishiba, taking the post of defense minister, and right-wing politician Sanae Takaichi becoming minister of economy and security. Nobuo Kishi became special advisor to the prime minister for security issues, and representatives of right-wing forces in Japan continue to occupy key positions in Kishida’s cabinet.


On the other hand, Japan’s policies toward China and Taiwan are often not simply reflections of its diplomatic orientation, but more outgrowths of internal party disputes. After Kishida’s election as prime minister, the confrontation between Abe and Kishida became more and more open and heated, and the conservative faction of the LDP led by Abe and his protégé Sanae Takaichi made alarming remarks on Taiwan-related issues from time to time. This was regarded as a means for the Japanese right-wing hawks to exert pressure on Kishida’s government. After forming his cabinet, Kishida began to distance himself from Abe and gradually plotted to undermine him. Despite Abe’s opposition, Kishida appointed the number two figure of his own faction and former president of the Japan-China Friendship Parliamentarians’ Union—Yoshimasa Hayashi—as foreign minister. After the House of Representatives election, the Kishida camp intended to join forces with the [Taro] Aso and [Toshimitsu] Motegi factions to dismantle Abe’s influence in the party. Although Abe died following a shocking assassination in July 2022, his political legacy is still carried on by many right-wing politicians in the LDP. They will likely continue to use China policy to pressure the Kishida government in the future, and it has become increasingly clear that Japan’s China diplomacy and Taiwan-related policies face interference from domestic political disputes. Nevertheless, there are various signs that, even though different forces within the party often disagree with one another, they are gradually moving toward a consensus on China relations and Taiwan-related policies.


(2) With its dependence on the United States, Japan has stepped up its involvement in the Taiwan issue, and has coordinated its action with the U.S. strategy to contain China


During the Trump administration, “containing China” became the consensus between the Democratic and Republican parties. Since taking office, Biden has largely continued the Trump-era strategy toward China, with the Biden administration viewing China as the “most serious competitor” to U.S. prosperity, security, and democratic values.23 Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first major foreign-policy speech also declared that “China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system—all the rules, values, and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to.”24 The Interim National Security Strategic Guidance issued by the White House in 2021 suggested that China and the United States would engage in a “great-power competition.” Although the Biden administration claims to be upholding the “One China” policy, the United States’ continued implementation of a comprehensive competitive strategy against China and the influence of active pro-Taiwan and anti-China forces there have rendered the policy increasingly hollow, with the U.S.-China jostling around the Taiwan issue further complicating and exacerbating the situation in the Taiwan Strait.25 In November 2021, Biden and his team put forward a policy of “four noes and one no intention” toward China,26 but the important consensus reached by the Chinese and U.S. leaders has so far failed to take hold in the United States, and U.S. actions have even run counter to the stated position of the U.S. leaders, constantly violating the commitment to “not support Taiwan independence.” The United States still tries to stir up the Taiwan issue to achieve the goal of containing China. Prosecuting strategic competition with China, the Biden administration is attempting to coordinate with its international allies to encircle China and check its growth. Japan, as an important strategic ally in the Asia-Pacific region, is indispensable. According to Shi Yinhong, “given the fundamental trend of China’s rise and the intensification of U.S. competition with China, Japan has become the number one ally of the United States.”27 It is willing to be the front line of the U.S.-led “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which aims squarely at China, and the vanguard in the strategic competition with China. Its national security policy has become a component of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy. Since Suga and then Kishida took office, they have continued the diplomatic line inherited from Abe and deepened the U.S.-Japan alliance, making Japan increasingly subordinated to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy.

特朗普执政时期,“遏制中国”已成为美国民主、共和两党共识。拜登上台后,大致延续了特朗普时期的对华战略,拜登政府将中国视为美国繁荣、安全和民主价值的“最严峻的竞争者”(most serious competitor)。美国国务卿布林肯的首次对外政策重要演讲也宣称,“中国是唯一拥有经济、外交、军事和技术权势去严重挑战稳定和开放的国际体系的国家,使世界以我们希望的方式运作的所有规则、价值和关系受到挑战”。2021年美国白宫发布的《国家安全战略临时指南》(Interim National Security Strategic Guidance)提出,中美将进行一场“大国竞争”。拜登政府虽然声称延续“一个中国”政策,但在美国继续实施对华全面竞争战略和国内亲台反华势力活跃的背景下,相关政策使“一中”政策内涵更加空心化,中美围绕台湾问题的博弈将使台海形势更加复杂严峻。2021年11月,拜登及其团队提出对华政策的“四不一无意”,但中美元首达成的重要共识至今在美国国内无法落地,甚至美方的行动与美国领导人的表态背道而驰,不断违背“不支持‘台独’”这一承诺,美国依旧妄图挑动台湾问题来达到遏制中国的目的。为与中国进行战略竞争,拜登政府试图以联合盟友的方式,构筑一个围堵、遏制中国发展的国际包围圈,而日本作为其亚太地区的重要战略盟友则是首选对象。时殷弘即认为,“在中国崛起与奋进、美国对华竞斗加剧的根本形势下,日本已成为美国的头号盟国”。美国主导的所谓“印太战略”最主要对手就是中国,而日本甘当美国“印太战略”的前沿,对华战略竞争的“急先锋”,其国家安全政策已经成为美国“印太战略”环节之一。菅义伟及岸田文雄上台后继承安倍晋三的外交路线,不断深化美日同盟关系,越来越趋向于附从美国的“印太战略”。

Japan intends to actively tie itself to the United States and seeks to opportunistically profit from the U.S.-Japan alliance. Against this backdrop, Japan is trying to leverage the Taiwan issue as an important bargaining chip to keep the United States close and strengthen the alliance, which it sees as the foundation for counterbalancing China, and is actively shaping the United States’ policy adjustment.28 In April 2022, Abe wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan is now “untenable.” Comparing Taiwan to Ukraine, he urged the United States to make clear that it will “defend Taiwan against any attempted Chinese invasion.”29 Abe’s call for “strategic clarity” in U.S. policy toward Taiwan is ostensibly in line with U.S. moves on Taiwan, but in essence it is a kind of “policy capture” to entangle the United States, thus achieving the goal of “joining with the United States to contain China.” During his visit to Japan, Biden reiterated that Japan is protected under the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” and emphasized the further strengthening of its “extended deterrence,” the goal of which is not simply to protect Japan, but to engage in military confrontation with other countries—a goal that aligns exactly with Japan’s strategic ambitions. Japan’s Taiwan-related policies have usually followed those of the United States. As the United States adjusts its Taiwan-related policies, Japan has vigorously cooperated with U.S. action and actively intervened in the Taiwan Strait, taking a more aggressive and proactive approach in military strategy. On one hand, it is trying to deepen the U.S.-Japan alliance by actively responding to the “Indo-Pacific Strategy.” It rushes ahead to test the waters for the United States on the Taiwan issue, taking the opportunity to test China’s determination and red line. On the other hand, it hopes to enhance its own military presence by means of relevant military action and seeks to obtain geostrategic dividends. In the future, Japan may completely dismantle its postwar defense-oriented security policy and instead play an active role in regional security in the Indo-Pacific region with the goal of containing China.


(3) Japan is attempting to leverage its involvement in the Taiwan issue as a strategic stepping stone for more say in regional rules and order in the Asia Pacific.


Constrained by the post-World War II political landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan, as a defeated country, has never been able to have sufficient say on the international political stage despite being the second or third largest economy in the world. Many Japanese see their country both as a quasi-global power and as a protectorate in terms of security.30 As a result, Japan’s ambition to become a world political power has never changed. After assuming power, the Abe administration made every effort to promote the LDP’s right-wing concept of security, which held that in the new post-Cold War geopolitical environment, Japan must break away from the constraints of the “Peace Constitution,” push forward the process of “becoming a normal country” and the pursuit of national interests as the world’s third largest economy, and highlight Japan’s role in the international arena as a major power.31 Japan is unwilling to accept China’s dominant position in East Asia, and pursuing its national development strategy, it is increasingly determined to seek more say in regional rules and order in the Asia Pacific. Japan has been enhancing its strategic autonomy and initiative in a quest to “become a political power” and “become a normal country.” The “Indo-Pacific Strategy” designed to encircle and contain China was first proposed by Japan and then adopted by the United States. As Kenneth N. Waltz, an expert in international relations theory, has clearly pointed out, it is a common strategy and geopolitical trend that a power tries to effect a strategic, military, and diplomatic “rebalancing” when a rising neighbor has caused substantial change in the balance of power and a “security dilemma.”32 In the face of China’s rise, Japan intends to shape the international order to its own advantage. It will, “informed by its judgment of the internal and external situations and by its own interests, switch from the Trump-era idea of combining strategic counterbalancing with tactical hedging, to a strategy of ‘high degree of counterbalancing’ against China in the military and security realms.” And one of the tools for carrying out the counterbalancing is the Taiwan issue.33 The strengthening and substantial elevation of Japan-Taiwan relations is an inevitable choice for Japan under the new circumstances in order to pursue its national strategy.

受二战后形成的亚太政治格局影响制约,作为战败国的日本即使经济实力雄踞世界第二、三位,但在世界政治舞台上,始终不能拥有足够的话语权,许多日本人认为自己国家既是个准全球性大国,在安全上却又是个被保护国,因此日本企图成为世界政治大国的野心从未改变。安倍政府上台后竭力推行自民党右翼色彩浓厚的安保理念,即认为在冷战后新的地缘政治环境中,日本必须摆脱“和平宪法”约束,强化日本作为世界第三大经济体的“正常国家化”进程和国家利益追求,提升日本在国际舞台的大国角色。日本不愿在东亚地区接受中国占有主导地位,从国家发展战略导向出发,谋求在亚太地区的规则主导权、秩序定义权的企图心愈发强烈。日本不断加强塑造战略自主性与主动性,谋求“政治大国化”与“正常国家化”,旨在遏制包围中国的“印太战略”,就是日本率先提出,美国采纳。国际关系理论大师肯尼思·沃尔兹(Kenneth N. Waltz)曾明确指出,随着大国崛起带来的力量对比实质性变化以及“安全困境”效应的深化,地缘上邻近大国对崛起大国采取战略、军事和外交上“制衡”(rebalancing)战略是常见的战略选择和地缘政治演变态势。面对中国崛起,日本意图塑造一个对己有利的国际秩序,将“基于对内外形势判断和自身利益诉求,转换特朗普时期的战略制衡与战术对冲相结合的思路,在军事与安全领域对华采取‘高度制衡’战略”,而进行高度制衡的工具之一就是台湾问题。日本强化并实质性提升日台关系,是新形势下日本推行其国家战略的必然选择。

In terms of economic security, Japan intends to seize the strategic initiative in regional cooperation, consolidate its position in global production and supply chains in the semiconductor industry, and seek a voice in rule setting in the global trading system of the twenty-first century. It not only played a leading role in the successful negotiation of the CPTPP, but also actively participated in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), joining 14 other countries in the Asia Pacific. Strategic technologies and industries have increasingly become an arena of competition between powers, and the Asia-Pacific region is where globally significant industrial clusters concentrate. South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan in particular hold a commanding position in the global semiconductor supply chain. Affected by events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S.-China tech war, and the shortage of automotive chips, all countries have realized the importance of establishing a complete semiconductor supply chain in their own countries. The United States, the European Union, South Korea, Japan, and China have all launched policies to support the semiconductor industry, which has moved to the foreground of international competition. Taiwan has one of the most complete semiconductor supply chains in the world, and happens to be located at a key spot in this geoeconomic chess game. Japan is therefore making a greater effort to attract Taiwan’s semiconductor industry to invest in research and development in Japan, aiming to work cooperatively on upgrading the semiconductor supply chains in both countries with a view to moving further up in the global industry chain. Japan is also actively participating in the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” (IPEF) launched by the United States, with which it has also initiated an economic version of the “2+2” talks. The two countries have formulated a plan of action with four elements, including strengthening supply chain resilience in next-generation semiconductors. Regarding the rationale for the new economic version of the “2+2” mechanism, Japan’s foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi explained, “We have a sense of crisis about the challenge posed by (some countries) that seek to realize their own strategic interests through the unfair and opaque use of economic influence.”34 Japan’s moves were clearly aimed at China. Upgrading technology and industry and building a semiconductor ecosystem have become Japan’s national strategy as it seeks to become a technological giant.


IV. The Future Direction of Japan’s Taiwan-Related Policies


Informed by a Cold War mentality and geopolitical objectives, Japan’s strategy toward China has exhibited marked changes, including an increasingly clear “Taiwan orientation” in security diplomacy and military strategy. As can be seen from a series of statements and policies from the Japanese government, its Taiwan-related policies are constantly testing China’s red line. Since February 2021, the Japanese government has continued to make moves on Taiwan-related issues. Officially, it does not recognize “Taiwan independence” and still adheres to the “One China” policy, but it has begun to treat Taiwan as a “quasi-state” in its action. 35 Although Japan has frequently involved itself in the Taiwan issue, Japan’s high-level security commitment to Taiwan has also been uncertain, ambiguous, and changeable. It wants to woo Taiwan but will not compromise on important interests, much less overly provoke China. Such opportunism means that Japan always puts its own interests first and seeks to maximize what it may gain from its policies. It is important to listen to what Japan says on Taiwan-related policies, but even more important to see what it does.


Lying at the core of Sino-Japanese relations, the Taiwan issue is extremely important and sensitive, and what shapes Japan’s Taiwan-related policies is the development of the trilateral relationship involving Sino-U.S. relations, Sino-Japanese relations, and U.S.-Japan relations. Since the Biden administration came to power, the United States has been doing its best to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance and win over Japan to the anti-China camp. Constrained by the U.S.-Japan alliance and the strategic considerations of Japan’s national interests, Japan’s China and Taiwan-related policies also closely follow those of the United States. If the strategic competition between China and the United States continues to escalate, the room for Sino-Japanese relations to develop will narrow, and if it does not, there will be some room for détente. The year 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan. Although Japan’s 2022 Diplomatic Bluebook continued to play up the so-called China threat, it also stated that it was important for China and Japan to build “constructive and stable relations.”36 This shows that Japan’s handling of relations with China is still relatively complex and cautious, and the two-sided nature of its China policy is increasingly laid bare. In the short term, the strategic competition between China and the United States will not stop, and the tensions may even rise further. “The full support among Japanese political circles for the United States’ competitive strategy toward China, the long-running territorial disputes between Japan and China, and Japan’s negative geostrategic perception of China will continue to be severe obstacles to the improvement of Sino-Japanese relations.”37 Given the LDP’s collective rightward shift and the deep influence of the U.S.-Japan alliance on the political environment, the Kishida cabinet will inevitably maintain a somewhat hard-line stance on China in the future, in which Japan is likely to continue to play the “Taiwan card” to tie in with the U.S. strategy of containing China.


It should, however, also be noted that the Sino-Japanese relationship remains one of the most important bilateral relationships for the Japanese government, and Japan still cannot do without China when it comes to regional development and economic revitalization. Although Japan sees China as an adversary in security and there is also some economic competition between the two countries, it nonetheless considers China a key link in the global market and supply chains, and thus has maintained a relatively stable economic relationship with China. Even though Japan is cooperating with the United States on the overall strategic level and some right-wing forces in Japan are even advocating economic “de-sinicization,” the Kishida cabinet does not support decoupling from China’s economy either as a policy or as a concept for economic security reasons, and has taken a more cautious attitude in its actual action. Economic and trade relations between China and Japan are already very close, and this economic linkage can effectively restrain Japan from taking excessive action on the Taiwan issue. As economic and trade ties between the two countries grow ever closer, China’s huge market will be indispensable to Japan’s economic development. If Japan touches China’s red line on the Taiwan issue, Sino-Japanese relations, and thus Japan’s economy, are bound to experience a shock. The LDP’s Kōchikai faction led by Kishida, having inherited the principle of economic priority from former prime minister Isato Ikeda, places more emphasis on economic and trade interests. The RCEP agreement that came into force in January 2022 has brought Sino-Japanese economic and trade relations closer still. The 2022 Diplomatic Bluebook highlighted that despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, trade between China and Japan had grown by 14.8 percent year-on-year in 2021. China had been Japan’s largest trading partner for 15 consecutive years, and Japan was the third largest source of foreign investment in China.38 This is precisely why there is still a strong but low-profile force in Japan pushing Sino-Japanese relations toward continued cooperation and peace. In the future, the Kishida government is unlikely to rashly violate the principles established in the four China-Japan political documents. Rather, due to the U.S.-Japanese alliance and the strategic competition between the United States and China, the Kishida government will still maintain flexibility in dealing with China; that is, “Sino-Japanese relations are about the economy and trade, and U.S.-Japanese relations are about security.”


Faced with fluctuations in Sino-U.S. relations, Japan wants to hold tight to the United States without destabilizing its relationship with China, and to enjoy U.S. security protection without losing access to China’s huge market—neither of which it can do without.39 In the future, Japan-Taiwan relations will probably continue to maintain the established policy models of “strictly maintaining the distinction between official and civil” and “actively developing practical non-governmental relations.” From the perspective of Japan’s overall national strategy, however, there have been significant breakthroughs in its Taiwan Strait policy compared to the past. In the military and security realms, “defending Taiwan” has moved from words to substantive preparations. In economy and trade, meanwhile, cooperation between Japan and Taiwan has also become closer, especially in upgrading the supply and production chains of high-tech industries such as semiconductors. If the strategic competition between China and the United States continues to escalate, and if cross-Strait relations reach an impasse and the United States continues to support Taiwan, Japan will follow the United States’ lead and take the opportunity to pursue its geopolitical interests in the Asia Pacific to maximize security and economic interests. The spiraling tensions are bound to cause continued instability in the Taiwan Strait region. Yan Xuetong argues that “the confrontation between China and the United States will lead to a strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance as the United States collaborates with its partners in the Asia Pacific, using Japan to balance China’s role as a major power in Asia. China will then lose the possibility of leveraging the disagreements between Japan and the United States.”40 In summary, the political foundation of Sino-Japanese relations is likely to suffer further blows in the coming period due to the Taiwan issue, and the mainland’s two struggles of “opposing interference” and “opposing Taiwan independence” will be carried out simultaneously, while the situation and tasks of opposing “independence” and promoting reunification will also face new challenges.


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Cite This Page

陈星 (Chen Xing), 温天鹏 (Wen Tianpeng). "The Path, Motivation and Future Trend of Japan’s Taiwan-Related Policy Adjustment [日本涉台政策调整的路径、动因及未来走向]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Taiwan Studies [台湾研究], October 20, 2022

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