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The “Rally Round the Flag” Effect in Sino-Japanese Conflicts: Characteristics and Effects of Japan’s Involvement in the Taiwan Issue


Cai Liang, a researcher focused on regional issues in Asia at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, argues that Japan is no longer maintaining purely unofficial relations with Taiwan that center around trade, investment, and cultural exchange. This is evident, Cai holds, in what he sees as Tokyo’s efforts to internationalize discussion of Taiwan and emphasize shared values. Cai attributes this perceived change largely to the dynamics of rising strategic competition between the United States and China.

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The “rally round the flag” effect, which is derived from political science theory, refers to the political effect where an issue triggers a crisis during a general election, and leads to a significant increase in support for a candidate (especially an incumbent or a candidate in the ruling camp). Generally speaking, issues of this type have three characteristics, i.e. international attention, close connections with national interests, and high levels of public attention. 1 As a concept in international relations, the “rally round the flag” effect focuses on the major impact on the relationship between countries due to their focus on a certain issue, whose impact is even strong enough to threaten each other’s political foundation. 2

“聚旗效应”(the rally-around-the-flag effect)源自政治学理论,意指在大选中因某个议题引发危机,导致候选人(尤其是现任者或执政阵营的参选者)支持率大幅提升的一种政治效应。一般而言,这类议题有三个特征,即国际瞩目、与本国利益息息相关、公众关注度高。而作为国际关系学上的一个概念,“聚旗效应”重点探究的是国家间关系因聚焦某个议题而受到重大影响,其冲击效应甚至会达到足以动摇彼此政治基础的程度。

Taking Sino-Japanese relations as an example, the two countries are entangled in historical and geopolitical conflicts, and their deep-seated strategic structural doubts are interwoven and interlayered with practical interests on the surface. If we compare the conflicts between the two countries to an iceberg in the ocean, the deep structural conflicts are the part below the surface, and the tip of the iceberg floating above is a series of apparent conflicts between the two countries. Looking at Sino-Japanese relations since their normalization of diplomatic relations, the apparent conflicts between the two countries are mainly focused on the three major issues: the Taiwan Issue, how to understand the historical issues, and the Diaoyu Islands dispute. At the present stage, the “rally round the flag” effect of the Taiwan issue in the Sino-Japanese conflict is becoming increasingly prominent and has seriously impacted the political foundation of Sino-Japanese relations. This article focuses on the causes of this phenomenon, the characteristics of Japan’s involvement in the Taiwan issue at the present stage, and the impact of the Taiwan issue on Sino-Japanese relations at the present stage.


I. The “Major and Minor Premises” for Japan’s Treatment of the Taiwan Issue Since the Normalization of Diplomatic Relations


The core of the Taiwan issue, from the perspective of Sino-Japanese relations, is whether the Japanese government can abide by the “One China” policy, which is a core interest of China and one of the political foundations of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations. Taking the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan in 1972 as an opportunity, Japan has developed a basic structure for dealing with the Taiwan issue: while Japan has established official relations with China, it maintains unofficial but practical exchanges with Taiwan, focusing mainly on economics and trade.3 For Japan, maintaining official relations with China is the “major premise” and maintaining non-political contacts with Taiwan is the “minor premise”. From a horizontal perspective, the “major and minor premises” coexist, while from a vertical perspective, the “minor premise” is subordinate to the “major premise”. It needs to be emphasized that this kind of non-official and practical relationship between Japan and Taiwan also has two meanings. First, it means maintaining a political, economic, trade, and cultural interaction as well as exchanges of personnel; second, it means that whenever problems in bilateral relations arise, which need to be resolved by formal diplomatic means, Japan and Taiwan will resolve them appropriately through special communication channels.4


In order to maintain economic and trade relationships, Japan and Taiwan established the “Interchange Association (Japan)” and the “Association for East Asian Relations” (AEAR) in late 1972. Since the Interchange Association and AEAR are private organizations, their staff members enjoy only partial diplomatic treatment, and they are authorized mainly to protect the personal and property safety of their own people located on the other side. Their activities are limited to the promotion of economic, trade, technical, and cultural exchanges and cooperation between Japan and Taiwan.5 In terms of functional characteristics, the private nature of the Interchange Association and the AEAR means that these two organizations perform the functions of official foreign missions only at ceremonial and service levels. When faced with highly sensitive political issues, the AEAR can neither correspond directly with the Japanese government nor negotiate with the Interchange Association as official foreign agencies do, and Japan and Taiwan cannot have direct “political” contacts. In fact, there is another important channel for communication between Japan and Taiwan, namely the Japanese Diet Members’ Council for Japan-ROC Relations (abbreviated as “Japan-ROC Council” or “Nikka-kon”), which was established on March 14, 1973 by 152 “pro-Taiwan” Diet members from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). 6 The members of this organization use the special status of Diet members in Japan and their contacts among the upper echelons in Taiwan to serve as a medium for indirect political contacts between the two sides.7 On the whole, until the end of the Cold War, the Japanese government was still adhering to the principles related to the “major and minor premises” in dealing with the Taiwan issue. After the end of the Cold War, as the rise of China collided with the strategic interests of the United States and the practical interests of Japan, the “China threat theory” repeatedly reared its head in Japan, and Japan increasingly viewed Taiwan as an effective tool for preventing and containing China’s rise. The “major and minor premises” have also taken different degrees of impacts. This change is not only reflected in the increasing tendency for the Interchange Association and the AEAR to become inherently more official in nature, but also in the increasing diversification of “civil” channels between Japan and Taiwan. These “private” organizations tend to function more and more as “official” agents between the two sides. This change is apparent in the following three aspects.


First, the political level of the Interchange Association has risen. At the beginning of Association’s establishment, Japan’s basic policy was to keep a low political status, but after the end of the Cold War, its political status rose to a new level. In terms of staffing, the number of staff at the Interchange Association in the beginning was less than the 30 people at the former “embassy” in Taiwan, but by 1992, it had increased to 70.8 In terms of the positions of accredited representatives, those at the Interchange Association had also relatively low rankings during the time of its establishment, but after the end of the Cold War, the political positions of those who serve as Chief of General Affairs at the Taipei Office had risen significantly. In May 1991, for example, for the first time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent Yoshio Nomoto, head of the Second Southeast Asia Division of the Asia Bureau, on “extended leave” to serve as Chief of General Affairs at the Taipei Office of the Interchange Association; and in January 2003, a former major general of the Self-Defense Forces, Yoichi Nagano, was sent to the Taipei Office to take a position similar to that of a defense attaché in a foreign embassy.9 The aforementioned actions show that the nature of the Interchange Association has been upgraded from “unofficial” to “semi-official” level since the end of the Cold War. After Shinzo Abe returned to power, the Interchange Association and the AEAR changed their names to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association and the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association respectively in early 2017. This means that the level of Japan-Taiwan exchange has been upgraded again to the “quasi-official” level.


Secondly, the “civil” channels between Japan and Taiwan have diversified. This is mainly reflected in two respects: First, the Japan-ROC Council has changed from a single-party “pro-Taiwan” organization of the LDP to a cross-party “pro-Taiwan” organization. With the split of the LDP in 1993, the Japan-ROC Council also split. On February 5, 1997, the Japan-ROC Diet Members’ Consultative Council (still referred to as the Japan-ROC Council) was established with 300 members.10 Until July 10, 2022, before the Diet elections, there were 276 Japan-ROC Council members, still rendering it the largest and most influential cross-party “pro-Taiwan” organization among Japanese Diet members. Second, each party has formed a “pro-Taiwan” organization that emphasizes communications with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Traditionally, the Japan-ROC Council emphasized liaison with the KMT, but with the rise of the DPP, the target of communication has now shifted to developing relations with the DPP. In fact, some of the “pro-Taiwan” organizations that were newly established in the 1990s have emphasized ties with the DPP from the very beginning. Examples include the Japan-ROC Friendship Parliamentarians’ League established on May 28, 1997,11 and the Japan-Taiwan Friendship Parliamentarians’ League established on May 9, 2001.


Finally, Japan has been making a big push to win over of Tsai Ing-wen’s government. As mentioned earlier, Japan has always viewed Taiwan as a strategic tool to counterbalance the power of China, and Shinzo Abe repeatedly emphasized that Taiwan is an important pivot area for Japan to maintain its so-called “Open-Country” strategy from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia.12 Therefore, Abe made great efforts to co-opt Tsai Ing-wen. For example, during Tsai’s pre-election visit to Japan, Abe had a “chance meeting” with her at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu near the prime minister’s official residence. When Tsai Ing-wen was elected as Taiwan’s leader on January 16, 2016, the then-Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida immediately sent a rare written message of congratulations, stating that the two sides “share common values” and that he hoped that they would “continue to maintain practical non-governmental relations and deepen cooperation and exchanges”.13 At the same time, Abe himself and the former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also expressed their respective “heartfelt congratulations” to Tsai. Subsequently, Japan organized congratulatory delegations to Taiwan for Tsai’s inauguration speech and the Double Tenth Day and other events. Most notably, on March 26, 2017, Prime Minister Abe dispatched Senior Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama to Taiwan for an “official” visit, making Akama the highest-ranking official dispatched by Japan since diplomatic relations between Japan and Taiwan were severed in 1972.


Accordingly, it can be seen that, during the Cold War, the Taiwan issue did not trigger the “rally round the flag” effect in two countries’ conflicts. It was because Japan had soundly observed the “major and minor premises” for dealing with the Taiwan issue. However, after the end of the Cold War, the above-mentioned “major and minor premises” have suffered repeated impacts, and unofficial exchanges between Japan and Taiwan have crossed the line at various levels. Evidently, the Japanese government is also aware that the bottom line of the Taiwan issue cannot be crossed at will. For example, the Japanese government clearly stated to the Chinese party in May 2018, that “the Japanese side will only maintain civil contacts with Taiwan in accordance with the provisions of the Japan-China Joint Communiqué”.14


II. Characteristics of Japan’s Involvement in the Taiwan Issue in the Context of the “Rally Round the Flag” Effect


Overall, Japan’s motives for getting involved in the Taiwan issue are complex and diverse. From the perspective of various aspects, such as economic security and geopolitics, Japan has always considered Taiwan to be closely linked to Japan’s national security and economic interests.15 In terms of favorable feelings toward Taiwan among the Japanese people, both the Japanese public and politicians have always had a highly favorable opinion of Taiwan, especially in contrast to the continuously declining trend in favorable feelings toward mainland China among the Japanese. For this reason, Japan believes that the “major and minor premises” of the Taiwan issue should be adjusted according to the needs of the times. For example, since Taiwan has achieved democratization, any changes concerning Taiwan’s “future” must be consistent with the mainstream public opinion of the Taiwanese people. And even though Japan should not interfere in internal affairs of other parties, from the standpoint of regional stability, it should still make clear that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are of paramount importance to Japan.16 Nevertheless, the Japanese side is also aware that the Taiwan issue is the foundation of Sino-Japanese political relations, and except for repeatedly clashing with the “major and minor premises” at the level of engagement, it has not yet intervened in the Taiwan issue to the extent that the United States has.


At this stage, the “rally round the flag” effect of the Taiwan issue in Sino-Japanese conflicts is becoming increasingly apparent, and the most important variable of which is the background of strategic competition between China and the United States. In the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy, China is seen as “the only competitor that can continuously challenge the U.S.-led international order in multiple fields, including economic, diplomatic, military, and technological fields,” and the United States even believes that China is “trying to change the current international order according to its own interests,” in order to “establish a world that is antithetical to U.S. values and interests.”17 For this reason, the United States has long been the biggest international obstacle to China’s eventual reunification, and from the Trump administration to the Biden administration in particular, the United States has frequently played the “Taiwan card” and even the “Taiwan independence card” in its policy toward China. The purpose of “using Taiwan to contain China” is all too clear. At the same time, Taiwan’s DPP authorities are also actively cooperating with the U.S. diplomatic agenda, intending to “seek independence by relying on the United States.”


On the one hand, Japan fully agrees with the U.S. position toward China, and it emphasizes that the only regional security arrangement which provides the public good of regional peace and stability has the Japan-U.S. alliance at its core.18 On the other hand, Japan’s geographical location puts it at the forefront of strategic competition between China and the United States, and its comprehensive national power is the key “third pole” after China and the United States, which increases the United States’ reliance on Japan. This is conducive to Japan’s pursuit of being a major political power and the enhancement of its defense forces. China’s strategic forbearance toward Japan, adopted to reduce the pressure exerted by the United States and to gather support from more countries, has also led to a relatively favorable international security and economic environment for Japan.19 On this basis, Japan is now more inclined to think about issues from the perspective of a “zero-sum game” when dealing with China, especially when it comes to the various conflicts between the two countries, which consequently expands its leeway for “asserting what should be asserted.”20 The common interest of Japan and the United States in “using Taiwan to contain China” is also gaining stronger basis, and Japan’s motivation and ability to intervene in the Taiwan issue are undoubtedly increasing as well.21 Therefore, it is not surprising that the Taiwan issue has triggered a “rally round the flag” effect in Sino-Japanese conflicts. At this stage, Japan’s involvement in the Taiwan issue is characterized by the following three features:


First, Japan is looking to values, trying to seek “righteous justification” for its intervention in the Taiwan issue. In its joint involvement in the Taiwan issue with the United States, Japan has been increasingly emphasizing the importance of values that Taiwan shares with Japan and the United States. The United States has explicitly included Taiwan in its Indo-Pacific Strategy, pointing out that the importance of “building an international system based on shared values to … deter (China’s) military aggression against our own country and our allies and partners … including by supporting Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities—so that we can ensure an environment in which Taiwan’s future is determined peacefully in accordance with the wishes and best interests of Taiwan’s people.”22 Under this context, Japan is using the excuse of “supporting Taiwan” to conceal its ulterior motive of “resisting China”.


Specifically, when Japan packages the “free and open international order” as “universal values,” it simultaneously labels China, a country with a different development path from that of the United States and the West, as “heterodox” and in violation of “universal values”. As a result, after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Japan’s policy stance toward Taiwan has increasingly deviated from the established framework of Sino-Japanese relations. The latest edition of Japan’s Diplomatic Bluebook suggests that “Japan and Taiwan are extremely important partners and friends who have shared values and close economic ties, and (the Japanese government) will continue to promote various practical exchanges with the Taiwan authorities.”23 At present, Japan continues to challenge the bottom line of the “One China” principle, while emphasizing that Japan and Taiwan are “partners with shared values.” Japan has not only turned a blind eye to the DPP authorities’ “de-Sinicization” and its pursuit of “Taiwan independence,” but has also been giving signals to the DPP authorities from time to time that it condones “Taiwan independence,” resulting in volatile and unstable cross-Strait situations. For this reason, Japan and the United States have included the Taiwan issue within the scope of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, viewing China’s principled position on Taiwan, along with its statements and actions, as a challenge to the regional order. In actuality, Japan and the United States have correlated the interference in China’s domestic affairs to the goals of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, a “distorted correlation” has been deliberately made between the Taiwan issue and the Ukraine issue. In the 2022 edition of the Defense White Paper, Japan deliberately used the Russia-Ukraine conflict to create regional tension. On the one hand, it deliberately exaggerated the so-called “security threat” to Japan posed by China’s military development and Sino-Russian military cooperation, and emphasized that “China’s rapid improvement of the quality and quantity of its military forces has aroused strong concerns in the international community.” On the other hand, it increased its reference to Taiwan, claiming that the reunification of mainland China with Taiwan would “become a real threat to Japan.”24


Second, Japan has used various international occasions to shape forces of international public opinion, gathering momentum for its deeper involvement in the Taiwan issue. Starting in March 2021, Japan has used several bilateral or multilateral international conferences to reiterate that Taiwan’s values are the same as those of the United States, Japan, Europe, and other Western countries, and that countries should pay attention to “the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” It also played up the notion that Taiwan is facing the “threat” from mainland China. At 2021’s “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” virtual summit, Japan-U.S. “2+2“ talks, Japan-U.S. “Joint Statement,” EU-Japan Summit, and Japan-Australia ”2+2“ talks, and at 2022’s G7 Summit in Cornwall, Japan-Australia Summit Meeting, Japan-U.S. and Japan-France “2+2” talks, Japan-U.S. summit, Japan-U.S.-South Korea foreign ministers’ talks, and EU-Japan Summit, Japan and other countries have repeatedly mentioned the Taiwan issue. Under the leadership and influence of the United States and Japan, one can say that the Taiwan issue is something that “no meeting is without.”


In particular, the visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi was a political provocation that seriously violated the “One China” principle, severely infringed on China’s sovereignty, and seriously endangered peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Japan argued that Pelosi’s move was a “completely normal and routine act”25 and reacted extremely vehemently to the various countermeasures taken by China, maligning China for harming peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and threatening Japan’s national security, and dispatching several warplanes to closely observe China’s military exercises in the vicinity. At a breakfast meeting with Pelosi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that “China’s recent actions will have a profound impact on peace and stability in the region and the international community,” and called on the Chinese side to immediately stop the military exercises. The two sides exchanged views on strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance and striving for a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” with Kishida hoping that Pelosi “will continue to play a leading role and support the U.S. Congress in achieving its goals.” Kishida confirmed that “Japan and the United States will continue to work closely together to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”26


Furthermore, Japan again “stirred up” the topic of “Chinese missiles landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone” as the rationale for it to play up the “China threat theory”. Japan stressed that “this time, five ballistic missiles launched by China landed in Japan’s coastal waters, including the exclusive economic zone,” which was a major issue concerning Japan’s security and the safety of its citizens, and made strong accusations and protests regarding this issue.27


Finally, through the powerful “pro-Taiwan” forces in Japanese politics, Japan has been repeatedly challenging the “One China” principle. Although Japanese politicians claim that they will not establish state relations with Taiwan, they actively support Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization and the World Civil Aviation Organization, and oppose China’s so-called “suppression and coercion” of Taiwan and so-called “unilateral changes to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait”.28


Before his death, Shinzo Abe was the chairman of the Seiwa Policy Research Council (Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyūkai, or “Seiwa-kai”), the largest faction of the LDP, and the “Shadow Dancer” influencing Kishida’s chance to become the prime minister. After his resignation as prime minister, he served as an advisor to the “Nikka-kon” and became a representative of the “pro-Taiwan faction” in Japanese politics. Even after Abe’s assassination, his political legacy is inevitably still looming over the Kishida government’s policy toward Taiwan.


On the one hand, Abe himself and his followers, the pro-Taiwan faction of the LDP, unscrupulously and frequently tested the bottom line of the Taiwan issue, intending to use the tough message of “resisting China and protecting Taiwan” to cater to the interests of the United States, strengthen their power within the party, and thus influence the Kishida government’s policy toward Taiwan. For example, Abe’s political confidant Masahisa Sato has been intent on institutionalizing the so-called “2+2 Dialogue between the ruling parties of Japan and Taiwan,” and has held two meetings on August 27 and December 24, 2021. The two sides believe that the exchange of legislators in charge of their respective ruling parties can effectively enhance Japan and Taiwan’s “exchanges in diplomatic, economic, security, and other areas.” And in particular, as two sides are facing “China’s unilateral changes to the regional status quo in recent years, the Japanese side believes that exchanges with Taiwan should be strengthened.”29 Abe himself even arrogantly claimed that if “Taiwan has a crisis,” it can also mean that “the Japan-U.S. alliance has a crisis.”30


Seiwa-kai members make up about 1/4 of the LDP’s upper and lower house members. Their strong stance has a significant impact on the LDP’s basic policy and exerts some pressure on the administrative policies of the government. For example, during the formulation of the 2022 government budget plans, the LDP planned to include the Taiwan issue in the “budget outline.”31 After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Japan-ROC Council not only invited Tsai and Abe to a video conference at their 2022 annual meeting, but also adopted 14 items of Japan-Taiwan cooperation, stating that they would do their utmost to cooperate with Taiwan on defense matters and especially in the area of security, where they firmly opposed “unilateral changes to the status quo by force.” The meeting also stressed that the two parties would jointly maintain “the fundamental values of respect for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law,” and ensure “peace and stability in a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”32


LDP Diet members outside of the Seiwa-kai also have been unwilling to lag behind. Some even visited Taiwan more intensively in July 2022 after Abe’s assassination, and offered their condolences to Lee Teng-hui. Keisuke Suzuki, the chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee in the lower house and the LDP’s deputy chief of public relations, visited Taiwan from July 25 to 27, 2022, to participate in the “Ketagalan Forum: 2022 Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue.” The Taiwan authorities regard Suzuki as a “Taiwan-friendly” force and “star of tomorrow” of LDP. Not only was Suzuki received by Tsai Ing-wen and Lai Ching-te, he also took the opportunity to consolidate his so-called “personal friendships” with DPP politicians such as Cheng Wen-tsan and Lin Chia-lung. LDP’s chief of public relations, Taro Kono, emphasized via a video conference that “the United States and like-minded countries are showing strong determination. They will send a signal of deterrence to China.  Japan’s goal is to show its determination to its allies, and to resolutely defend common values.”33 From July 27-30, the “Society for Thinking about Japan’s Security,” co-headed by the former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and former Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, visited Taiwan. In addition to being received by Tsai and Lai, they also exchanged views on security and other issues with Joseph Wu, head of Taiwan’s foreign affairs department, and Su Jia-chyuan, president of the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association.34


It can be said that the above-mentioned public exchanges between Japanese and Taiwanese political personalities are intended to explore how “in the face of China’s increasing military activities and security pressure in the neighborhood, Japan and Taiwan should increase exchanges and cooperation in the field of security, and ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”35 But in essence, through face-to-face exchanges, the intention of the two sides is to keep emphasizing that although Japan and Taiwan do not have formal state relations, they are “allies” with the same values. As Japan and Taiwan are working together to ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the two sides in fact aim to keep the same pace in the confrontation between “democracy and authoritarianism,” which has characterized the “Indo-Pacific” region, and to demonstrate their determination to jointly maintain a “free and open international order.”


In addition, Abe, through his younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, who served as defense minister in Kishida’s cabinet, directly created momentum in his cabinet to “show friendly signals” toward Taiwan and “tough signals” toward mainland China.36 Nobuo Kishi is the chairman of the Japan-ROC Council, a representative of the “pro-Taiwan” faction in Kishida’s cabinet, and a “megaphone” for Taiwan policy. He has publicly advocated for the establishment of a Japan-U.S.-Taiwan security dialogue and proposed the enactment of a “Japan-Taiwan Relations Act,” emphasizing that Taiwan is an important friend that shares “universal values” with Japan, and that if “Taiwan has a crisis,” Japan will not be able to stay out of it. He has also promoted Taiwan’s membership in the World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization, with the intention of helping Taiwan forge its image as a so-called “sovereign state” in the international community.37 Although Abe has been assassinated, the “pro-Taiwan” forces in the Japanese Diet are still very vocal. For example, thanks to their urging and insistence, Taiwan’s deputy leader Lai Ching-te even went to Japan to offer condolences as a former close friend of Abe’s.


III. Effects of Japan’s Involvement in the Taiwan Issue


The Kishida administration has oriented its relations with China realist diplomacy for the new era, 38and while it also emphasizes the goal of constructive and stable bilateral relations, it does so on the premise that Japan “will advocate what should be advocated” and strongly urges China to act responsibly.39 What, then, are the areas covered by “what should be advocated,” and what are the criteria for the so-called “responsible action”? As to whose rules are to govern these areas and criteria, the answer is obvious: the United States, Japan, and other Western countries have the final say. Thus, the tone of Japan’s involvement in the Taiwan issue has become one of using “universal values” as the finishing touch to justify “using Taiwan to contain China,” intending to force China into making concessions on its principles.


As mentioned earlier, at this stage, as Japan involves itself deeply in the Taiwan issue, it will first emphasize the unique significance of Taiwan at the level of values, and then portray China’s principled position on Taiwan as a challenge to the “free and open international order” in the Indo-Pacific region, and deliberately make a “distorted correlation” between the Taiwan issue and the situation in Ukraine. Japan emphasizes its “homogeneity” with Taiwan on the level of values, implying that mainland China is a “heterodox” country, and defines China’s various statements and actions as specific examples of “threats” to the current international order. Conversely, any Japanese response to China is bolstered with the “righteous justification” of maintaining a “free and open international order”.


In fact, the differences in history, culture, and social systems have existed since ancient times, and diversity has always been an inherent attribute of human civilization. In the final analysis, the self-proclaimed “universal values” of Japan and the United States are nothing more than an attempt by Western societies to take “native” political experiences and value judgments, originally established in the West, and superimpose them worldwide by virtue of their dominance for the past two centuries in the world’s political, economic, and even ideological and cultural fields, forming the so-called modern “global international society.”40 In essence, the so-called “universal values” are merely rhetorical embellishments with hegemony wrapped inside, and what Japan is doing is merely using values as “packaging” for the purpose of “using Taiwan to contain China,” flagrantly interfering in China’s internal affairs, and obstructing China’s grand mission of reunification.


Japan uses values as a justifiable excuse for intervening in the Taiwan issue, and even believes that it can take advantage of the tense situation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to make a “distorted correlation” between the Taiwan issue and the situation in Ukraine. Consequently, it will then be able to use the Japan-U.S. alliance as the core, and unite more “partners with the same values” to intervene in the Taiwan issue. Furthermore, after making a “three-sea coordinated strategy” by correlating the Taiwan Strait issue with the issues of East China Sea and South China Sea, and broadly integrating it into the “Indo-Pacific strategy,” China can be made to “act responsibly” according to their wishes. Actually, China’s attitude has long been clearly stated: “No foreign country should expect us to trade away our core interests or to swallow the bitter fruit of damaging our sovereignty, security, or development interests.”41 It is conceivable that if Japan were to really violate the “major and minor premises” for dealing with the Taiwan issue and allow the “rally round the flag” effect of the Taiwan issue to continue to fester, it would only lead to a further deterioration of the mutual trust deficit between the two countries, and a deeper risk of falling into the “pan-securitization trap.”


As China rises, it faces an extremely complex and volatile security environment. Given its historical problems and the intensification of strategic competition between China and the United States, one can say that China’s security pressures are ever present and increasing, which undoubtedly greatly increases the difficulty for China to defuse the risks. Because of this, in the face of the “defining security by threats,” brought about by “pan-securitization,” China has given its remedy which “defines security by development.” It upholds the principle that security is indivisible, strives to build a balanced, effective, and sustainable security architecture, and opposes basing one country’s security on the insecurity of other countries. This concept was first embodied in the “Asian Security Concept,” and was later refined and included in the Overall National Security Outlook. Therefore, China advocates a common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable Overall National Security Outlook to achieve “desecuritization.”


With regard to China’s policy toward Japan specifically, the general direction should be oriented at adhering to the “major and minor premises” based on the political consensus between the leaders of China and Japan on “working together to build constructive and stable Sino-Japanese relations that meet the requirements of the new era” and “continuing to strengthen economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges.”42 Adherence to the principles of the four Sino-Japanese political documents is the only guardrail to ensure the foundation of political relations between the two countries. Whether it is “hollowing out” or “deflating” the “One China” principle or deliberately making a “distorted correlation” between the Taiwan issue and the situation in Ukraine, it is a serious provocation to China’s core interests and territorial sovereignty. In response, China should focus on using the existing dialogue platform between China and Japan to control the various security crises that may arise from minor incidents, and thus prevent escalation of the situation.


In addition, for areas where China and Japan share common interests, cooperation should be actively promoted. For example, China should pay attention to Japan’s various practical operations in areas such as economic fields, regional cooperation, and climate change, do its best to expand practical mutual exchanges, and guide the development of bilateral relations in the right direction.


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Cite This Page

蔡亮 (Cai Liang). "The “Rally Round the Flag” Effect in Sino-Japanese Conflicts: Characteristics and Effects of Japan’s Involvement in the Taiwan Issue [中日矛盾中的“聚旗效应”:日本介入台湾问题的特征及影响]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Journal of Northeast Asia Studies [东北亚学刊], November 15, 2022

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