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Commentary: Japan should prepare for “information warfare” among U.S., China, and Taiwan

  • December 24, 2021
  • , Sankei , p. 7
  • JMH Translation
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Former GSDF Maj. Gen. Watanabe Kinzo

By former GSDF Maj. Gen. Watanabe Kinzo


Former Ground Self-Defense Force Maj. Gen. Watanabe Kinzo served as the chief of security affairs, which is equivalent to defense attaché, at the Taipei Office of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association. In this article contributed to the Sankei Shimbun, Maj. Gen. Watanabe points out the possibility of China, Taiwan, and the U.S. waging information warfare (cognitive warfare) over intrusions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and calls for Japan to establish an information exchange system with Taiwan to be able to fully ascertain the situation.


Chinese military aircraft began to intrude into the southwestern part of Taiwan’s ADIZ around the summer of 2019. They are now doing so almost daily, prompting repeated protests from Taiwan’s Office of the President and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. China does not deny its desire for “military unification” with Taiwan. China has approximately 14 times the defense budget of Taiwan, leaving no doubt that there are disparities in military strength between the two. But this gives rise to doubts about the reports that China’s intrusions into Taiwan’s ADIZ are intended to intimidate Taiwan.


Chinese military’s intention


Chinese military aircraft could be expected to fly toward Taiwan’s mainland if they intended to threaten Taiwan. But they actually fly straight toward the Bashi Channel (located between Taiwan and the Philippines) through airspace that is more than 300 km away from Taiwan’s mainland and they return via the same route. Many of the aircraft are not fighters or bombers but are various kinds of supporting aircraft, which are revamped Y-8s, Y-9s, and other low-speed propeller-driven transport aircraft. This raises the question of what China’s intentions are.


Chinese military aircraft began to advance into the Pacific Ocean around 2015 and this move intensified around 2017. Many bombers and supporting aircraft crossed the Bashi Channel and the East China Sea and flew over the Miyako Strait, which is located near the U.S. military bases in Okinawa. The Chinese aircraft even forayed into an area from which they could carry out a missile strike against the U.S. territory of Guam. 


In 2017, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump, “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for China and the U.S,” thus hinting at China’s intention to control the western Pacific Ocean. This may have prompted the Chinese military to advance to the Pacific Ocean.


But recently, Chinese military aircraft have changed their flight route and began to return back shortly after passing areas near the Bashi Channel. Moreover, the Chinese air force has shifted its focus from the Pacific Ocean to the area near the Bashi Channel, a gateway to the South China Sea, to intercept missiles. In other words, it has shifted from an offensive posture to a defensive posture.


When looking at Chinese military aircraft’s intrusions into Taiwan’s ADIZ from this perspective, the southwestern part of Taiwan’s ADIZ prevents Chinese military aircraft taking off from many bases from speedily reaching the Bashi Channel. Therefore, China may be trying to bring the airspace under its de facto influence by frequently sending military aircraft there. This would explain why China sends military aircraft to the Bashi Channel and uses low-speed aircraft. We should see the main aim of these Chinese military aircraft flights is not to intimidate Taiwan but to establish a system to prevent the U.S. military from entering the South China Sea around the Bashi Channel.


Sometimes China says its intrusions into Taiwan’s ADIZ are intended to threaten Taiwan. But we should see it as information warfare targeting both Taiwanese and Chinese audiences. In other words, the Chinese government is touting to its public that it is trying to unify Taiwan while intimidating Taiwanese people.


ADIZs are defined independently by countries out of their need to defend their airspace, and they have no basis in international law. So countries can’t accuse foreign aircraft of intruding. This means that Taiwan is accusing Chinese military aircraft flying in international airspace of intruding into the ADIZ Taiwan set over the high seas at its own discretion. In other words, it is Taiwan, not China, that is not conforming to international law. From a certain perspective, it can be said China is waging “legal warfare” because the country can insist that it cannot be accused under international law even if it intimidates Taiwan.


True intentions of U.S. and Taiwan


It is also clear that Taiwan is waging information warfare by intentionally criticizing China. Taiwan may be trying to raise anti-China sentiment and pro-Taiwan feelings in the international community.


In the Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific drawn up in February 2018, the U.S. mapped out an offensive posture, namely, to push back the Chinese military to the inside of the First Island Chain (which stretches from Okinawa Prefecture through Taiwan and the Philippines). This is believed to have prompted the Chinese military to adopt a defensive posture. But the U.S. criticizes [China’s] intrusions into [Taiwan’s] ADIZ, describing them as constituting a “heightened Chinese military threat.” It is safe to say this is information war waged by the U.S. Currently, the U.S. has greater military strength than China. But the U.S. needs to beef up its military by increasing its national defense budget in order to counter China’s rapid military buildup, and thereby let the international community know of the threat posed by the Chinse military.


Seen from this perspective, it is clear that Chinese military aircraft intrusions into Taiwan’s ADIZ are part of the information warfare waged among China, Taiwan, and the U.S., based on U.S. and Chinese motives amid the changes in their western Pacific strategies. Information warfare is waged even in peacetime, so it is difficult for Japan to understand the situation in the Taiwan Strait, which will seriously affect Japan’s security, by just accepting news reports without questioning them. Japan should quickly establish a permanent information exchange system with the Taiwanese military to accurately understand what is happening near the Taiwan Strait.

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