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U.S. should abandon ambiguity on Taiwan defense: Japan’s Abe

KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei staff writer


TOKYO — Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday that it is time for the U.S. to make clear that it would defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion and ditch its longstanding strategic ambiguity.


“The U.S. takes a strategy of ambiguity, meaning it may or may not intervene militarily if Taiwan is attacked,” Abe said on a Fuji TV morning talk show. “By showing it may intervene, it keeps China in check, but by leaving the possibility that it may not intervene, it makes sure that the [Taiwanese] forces for independence do not run out of control,” he said.


“It is time to abandon this ambiguity strategy. The people of Taiwan share our universal values, so I think the U.S. should firmly abandon its ambiguity,” he said.


Abe added that “a Taiwan contingency is a Japan contingency,” explaining that Japan’s westernmost inhabited island of Yonaguni is just 110 km from Taiwan’s main island. If China were to conduct an operation, it would first seek to establish air and sea superiority around Taiwan, he said.


“If it were to secure wide air superiority, it would also cover Japan’s airspace. [China] would conduct operations in and above the waters too, so this would affect Japan’s territorial waters, or at least our exclusive economic zone.”


The former prime minister also floated the possibility of hosting U.S. nuclear weapons in Japan. “In NATO, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy take part in nuclear sharing, hosting American nuclear weapons,” he said. “We need to understand how security is maintained around the world and not consider it taboo to have an open discussion.”


Japan, the victim of nuclear attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has for decades adhered to “three non-nuclear principles” — vowing that it will neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons, nor permit their introduction into Japanese territory. A nuclear-sharing agreement with the U.S. would be a major policy shift and could face significant domestic pushback.


Abe’s words come amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as countries in the Indo-Pacific ponder whether current deterrence measures are enough to prevent China from taking action in the Taiwan Strait.


Prominent American foreign policy experts such as Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass have called for a shift to “strategic clarity” on Taiwan, as have several members of Congress.


But senior figures in the administration of President Joe Biden have repeatedly said that they are sticking with strategic ambiguity. In his confirmation hearing, U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said, “The smartest and effective way for us to help deter aggressive actions by [China] across the Taiwan Strait will be to stay with a policy that’s been in place.”


Abe said that a switch to strategic clarity would not mean a change to the current “One China” policy implemented by the U.S., Japan and many other countries.


“The Western countries take the position that they respect the Chinese stance that Taiwan is a part of China. If things are kept as they are, that is the status quo,” he said. But he added: “We should make clear that we will not allow the status quo to be altered by force.”


When asked if that means that the “One China” policy will be respected as long as the status quo is preserved, he agreed. “It means we will respect it,” he said.


Under the “One China” policy, which the U.S. has maintained for over four decades, Washington “acknowledges the Chinese position” that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of it. The U.S. recognizes the government of the People’s Republic of China as the “sole legal government of China” but does not explicitly recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. This is distinct from Beijing’s “One China” principle, which considers Taiwan a Chinese province and part of its sovereign claim.


On the situation in Ukraine, Abe said: “Japan’s stance is clear in that Russia’s violent actions cannot be tolerated. Together with the U.S. and G-7, we need to assist Ukraine in various ways.”

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