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Japan should develop defense capabilities for Taiwan contingency

By Sakamoto Kazuya, Osaka University Professor Emeritus


There are concerns that a Taiwan contingency will arise. This is because China’s rapid military expansion has tilted the U.S.-China military balance around Taiwan to China’s favor. Chinese leader Xi Jinping does not hide his ambition to unify Taiwan even by resorting to military force.


Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo created a stir when he said that “a Taiwan contingency is Japan’s contingency” during an online forum hosted by a Taiwanese think tank on Dec. 1, 2021. A Taiwan contingency will lead to a response based on the Japan-U.S. alliance. This is because the Japan-U.S. alliance aims for bilateral cooperation with an eye to maintaining “international peace and security in the Far East,” as stated Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. One of the concrete issues in the alliance is the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, which was also discussed at the April 2021 Japan-U.S. summit meeting between former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and U.S. President Joe Biden. The two leaders emphasized the “importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and “encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues.” Thus, any Taiwan contingency should be dealt with through the Japan-U.S. alliance, and it is also a contingency for Japan.


Taiwan is located about 100 km from Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture, and is very close to the Japanese archipelago. It is highly possible that hostilities in Taiwan would have repercussions in Japan. The same level of preparations for a Taiwan contingency is required for a Japanese contingency. It will be necessary not only to prepare for  the evacuation of Japanese from Taiwan but also to develop a plan for the evacuation of people living in Japan to ensure their safety.


It is critical to strengthen the deterrence capabilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance to prevent a Taiwan contingency while also preparing for such a contingency. To that end, Japan and the U.S. need to strengthen their defense capabilities and their cooperation. Japan and the U.S. have already discussed how to respond to a Taiwan contingency. At the January 2022 Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (“2+2”) attended by the two nations’ ministers for foreign affairs and defense, Japan and the U.S. announced in their joint statement their “commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region” and their recognition that the Japan-U.S. Alliance plays a critical role as the “cornerstone of regional peace, security and prosperity.” The two countries expressed concern about China’s “coercive behavior” that “undermines regional peace and stability.”


According to media reports, the Japanese government is considering the development of a domestic long-range cruise missile, which can be launched from a submarine. Such a missile would strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities. If Japan finally decides to equip itself to attack enemy bases, it would show Japan’s clear determination to strengthen its defense capabilities, especially if they involve new domestically developed defense equipment. Such capabilities can be expected to improve Japan’s deterrence. I would like Japan to proactively move forward with this course of action.


In terms of new defense equipment, the Japanese government is also considering developing the capabilities to intercept hypersonic missiles, in cooperation with the U.S. The successful development of such equipment would prepare Japan to respond to North Korea, which has repeatedly provoked Japan. This would be a considerable blow to China, which is expanding its nuclear capabilities with sights set on rivaling the U.S. I hope Japan is successful in developing interception capabilities.

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