YUKIHIRO SAKAGUCHI, Nikkei staff writer
WASHINGTON — In the event of a conflict in Taiwan, Japan could serve an important logistical role for the U.S., former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Nikkei.
“I think, if there were a Taiwan emergency, that we’d want to be able to store weapons and supplies in Japan in order to ship them to Taiwan,” said Armitage, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia and Pacific affairs during the Reagan administration and later as deputy secretary of state under then-President George W. Bush.
The Department of Defense said recently that American logistics capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region are “inadequate to support operations specifically in a contested environment.” As Russia’s struggles in its war in Ukraine illustrate the consequences of insufficient logistical planning, the U.S. should bolster its ability to respond promptly to emergencies, the thinking goes.
President Joe Biden has signaled that America would get involved militarily if China were to invade Taiwan. The Okinawan island of Yonaguni, Japan’s westernmost inhabited point, sits only about 110 km away from Taiwan — a position that could put Okinawa on the front line of a cross-strait conflict.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. has for decades sold Taiwan weapons to bolster its self-defense capabilities, with recent deals including F-16 fighter jets, military drones, self-propelled artillery and rocket systems. Meanwhile, it has officially maintained “strategic ambiguity” regarding whether it would get directly involved in a conflict.
While Washington’s policy on Taipei is unchanged, “there are some changes, not to the policy but to the way we deal with Taiwan, and the trade talks are in that vein,” Armitage said, referring to the new framework announced June 1 for negotiations on such issues as digital trade.
On the Japanese government’s role in a hypothetical emergency in Taiwan, Armitage declined to discuss a more direct role for Tokyo beyond supply support. “I’m not going to make any comments about whether the Self-Defense Forces would be involved,” he said. “That’s a decision that the Japanese government would make.”
Asked about a Nikkei analysis indicating that China has set up an object modeled on an SDF Airborne Warning and Control System plane in Xinjiang, possibly as a training target, Armitage viewed it as part of “a game that China is playing with Japan.”
“The Chinese government knows that Japan is going to see this,” he said, soon adding that Beijing is trying to “intimidate your population, to intimidate your leadership. And I think they will be unsuccessful.”
Armitage welcomed the decision by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government to ramp up defense spending. “The vision I have is of U.S. and Japan bases all being together, with a Japan flag on top [and] a U.S. flag right below it, so they’re truly joint bases,” he said. “I think we’re moving generally in that direction.”
In 2003, Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, reportedly pushed Japan to deploy SDF troops to Iraq to put “boots on the ground.” Tokyo ultimately agreed to do so.
Armitage agreed with Kishida’s comments on the importance of dialogue to maintaining stable and constructive relations with China. “On the one hand, talk about dialogue, and on the other hand do what you need to do to protect the lives and the livelihood of Japanese people,” he said.
With Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand set to attend this month’s NATO summit in Spain, Armitage acknowledged the significance of their participation while stressing that an “Asian NATO” is “not going to happen.”
Asked about the possibility of NATO forces being stationed in the Indo-Pacific, he said he expects activity to mainly focus on areas like the Black Sea, given the conflict in Ukraine. But he emphasized Japan’s joint military exercises with Germany, the U.K., France, Australia, India and the U.S., adding that “I think that that kind of exposure is going to continue.”
The relationship between NATO and Asia is an “evolving situation,” he said.
As for North Korea, Armitage sees the appointment of Choe Son Hui as foreign minister as a possible positive sign, saying: “She’s very smart, she knows the United States very well, and she knows the nuclear issue completely. … We’ve shuffled the cards.”