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Japan defense minister warns of Crimea-style invasion of Taiwan

  • October 23, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 11:54 p.m.
  • English Press
  • ,

ERI SUGIURA, Nikkei staff writer


TOKYO — In a veiled reference to China’s recent aggressive moves on Taiwan, Japan’s defense minister pointed to Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an example of how an invasion can begin without deploying troops.


Russia’s act was an “illegal annexation of Crimea,” Nobuo Kishi said on Friday in a video message to the 18th CSIS/Nikkei Symposium. “An invasion may begin without anyone realizing it, and a war may be fought without the use of military forces.”


Information control and cyberattacks became prominent before Russian troops took control of the Crimean region in 2014.


Kishi’s comments come as China ratchets up pressure on Taiwan. Earlier this month, Beijing flew a record number of warplanes near the island it claims but has never ruled, and Taiwan’s defense minister warned that China already has the ability to invade and will be capable of mounting a “full scale” invasion by 2025.


Kishi, the younger brother of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told the forum that freedom and democracy are threatened in Asia and other parts of the world due to attempts to “unilaterally change the status quo by force or coercion.”


He stressed the need to adopt new technologies in the cyberspace and outer space sectors to cope with threats from China and other powers.


On top of China deploying coast guard vessels near Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu, and its aerial incursions near Taiwan, North Korea is testing a wider range of missiles that are more difficult for intelligence agencies to monitor and detect.


“Powerful nations are continuing to strengthen their military power to gain dominance in space and cyberspace,” Kishi said. “North Korea has not only existing missiles but also advanced technology. Democracy is in danger everywhere in the world.”


Defense Minister Kishi’s warnings come as so-called hybrid warfare and gray zone tactics increasingly attract global attention. These include disinformation, economic manipulation, use of proxies and insurgencies and diplomatic pressure.


Competition in space is intensifying with China, Russia and the U.S. building space stations. The Financial Times reported this week that the Chinese military conducted two hypersonic weapons tests over the summer, with sources saying a rocket launched in July used a “fractional orbital bombardment” system to propel a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle around the earth for the first time.


Meanwhile, countries are competing to gain an edge in electronic warfare using the electromagnetic spectrum — the frequency bands of all electromagnetic waves, including radio waves, microwaves, X-rays and infrared, used in everything from GPS, to missile precision attacks and advanced radar.


“With regard to these new areas, [Japan’s] Self-Defense Forces are in a position to follow the world as we have just taken a step forward. We need to proactively embrace advanced technology,” Kishi said.


The minister, who highlighted the need to increase the country’s defense budget, also argued that Japan’s efforts in cyberspace, outer space and the electromagnetic spectrum would bolster the Japan-U.S. alliance.


“The U.S. is ahead of us in technology, and currently Japan may seem dependent on the U.S. But I hope Japan can make a contribution with its unique technology,” he said, noting that the country has foundations of cutting-edge science and technology.


Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, center, Joseph Nye, a former dean of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, right, and Michael Green, CSIS’s senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair, attend the 18th CSIS/Nikkei Symposium online. (Screenshot)

The forum, hosted each autumn by Nikkei and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, was held partially online this year because of the pandemic.


John Hamre, CSIS president, argued in his opening keynote speech that the U.S. should rejoin the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership as “foreign policy in Asia is about trade policy.”


The former deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton administration said that the Biden administration’s failure to take a forward leading position to rejoin the pact is “a mistake, especially when China is trying to join the pact.”

In a later session, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that China’s pressuring of Taiwan has resulted in having “more and more people rallying to the side of Taiwan.”


Japan this year mentioned Taiwan in its defense white paper for the first time in three decades, while France, the U.K. and Germany have increased their presence in the South China Sea. “What China has been doing is scoring its own goal,” Armitage said.


Speaking at the same session, Joseph Nye, a former dean of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, warned that if the U.S. was to drop its “One China” policy, “we would be stirring up a hornet’s nest.”


He said the key was to discourage the use of force without encouraging the temptation to de jure independence, adding that the Biden administration is “handling it well, trying to strengthening the deterrence while at the same time not precipitating to crises.”


In a panel discussion on the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, panelists argued for the need for Taiwan, Japan and other neighbors of China to increase deterrence against the Asian superpower.


Shinichi Kitaoka, emeritus professor of the University of Tokyo, said Japan should also aim to have 2% of its GDP as defense budget, similar to levels of NATO countries, as deterrence is a “way for safety.” His comments are in line with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s manifesto.


Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis said the U.S. and its allies need to ensure that Taiwan has defensive weapons systems that can create a sense of deterrence on the mainland.


But, James Steinberg, another former deputy secretary of state, alarmed that a mechanism to prevent collision is also needed. “We need to obviously be aware of specific flashpoints, but we need to have the kind of protections, and make sure we know how to manage these things right,” he said.


Rumi Aoyama, professor at Waseda University’s Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, said attention also needs to be paid to China’s domestic situation.


President Xi Jinping’s push for “common prosperity” will have “a huge impact on economic growth and social stability, which could turn China’s external behavior even tougher,” she said.

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