TOKYO — As tensions rise in the Taiwan Strait, the fact that there is discussion in Japan to significantly boost defense spending is “healthy” and a “very good idea,” veterans of the U.S. foreign policy and defense community said in a virtual event Friday.
Speaking at the 18th symposium co-hosted by Nikkei and the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that “it’s a very good idea to double, or even more, the defense budget.”
“The mere fact of a number is not the important thing, but it’s what is purchased with that number. I think the continuation of the defense minister and [Japanese Prime Minister Fumio] Kishida’s experience as foreign minister for [former Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe gives him enough knowledge to have an idea of where he wants to put that money.”
Joseph Nye, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and former dean of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, called the talk of increasing Japan’s defense budget to 2% of gross domestic product “healthy.”
“There’s also an increased willingness of Japanese politicians and leaders who acknowledge the seriousness of the issue of Taiwan,” he said.
Armitage, who visited Taiwan in April as part of a delegation sent by U.S. President Joe Biden, said Beijing’s stepped-up pressure on Taipei has meant that “more and more people have rallied, if you will, to the side of Taiwan.”
Japan featured Taiwan prominently in this year’s defense white paper, while France, the U.K. and Germany have increased their presence in the South China Sea. “What China’s been doing is scoring [its] own-goals,” Armitage said.
Meanwhile, Nye disagreed with abandoning Washington’s decades-old policy of “strategic ambiguity” under which Taiwan cannot be sure whether the U.S. will come to its defense in a Chinese invasion — and the Chinese cannot be sure that America won’t.
“What we’re trying to do is steer between two unpleasant alternatives,” Nye said. “Since the 1970s, we have said that … we will not recognize de jure independence of Taiwan. But we’ve also said that we do not want to see any use of force, and that relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should be managed by negotiations. I think if we were to drop the traditional policy — and this is what [National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator] Kurt Campbell said — we would be really stirring up a hornet’s nest.”
Armitage called AUKUS — the new three-way strategic partnership that would see the U.S. and the U.K. provide the Australia with technology for nuclear-powered submarines — a “brilliant move.”
“It’s going to be one that’s difficult for Australia because having eight nuclear submarines is one thing, but the life cycle O&M [operation and maintenance] cost and the crew training is quite another. But I think the real beneficiary of this, I think, is Japan,” he said. “The information that will be shared from those submarines to Japan, with the United States, is going to be, I think, of utmost importance to Japan.”
On the possibility of Japan joining AUKUS, Armitage said that “as far as I’m concerned, this citizen is concerned, if Japan wanted to join the AUKUS it would be perfectly acceptable and good from the United States’ point of view.”
Armitage also said the world is a “lesser place” without former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who died this week at age 84.
“We’ve lost a great statesman, military officer, leader, father, husband, grandfather, and a dear friend to not only me, but to Joe, to you, to many of us,” he told host Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at CSIS. “And I think we all, however, can be comforted in the sure knowledge that he’s now receiving his just reward. And thank God for that.”