Capacity lacking to relocate citizens in an attack, simulation finds
TOKYO — Japan’s preparedness to evacuate its own citizens is limited in the event of a military conflict breaking out between China and Taiwan, according to a think tank’s simulation involving lawmakers and former defense officials.
The war game held on Saturday and Sunday by the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies simulated a National Security Council meeting of nine cabinet members. Participants included sitting lawmakers, as well as former officials from the Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces.
In this scenario, Chinese propaganda efforts have provoked clashes in Taiwan between the pro-independence faction and the pro-unification camp in the year 2027. Taiwan’s president is attacked during the strife, and fishermen suspected of being Chinese special forces land on the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu.
The Chinese military follows up by launching ballistic missiles at Taiwan and the surrounding area. Japan has called on its own nationals to voluntarily leave China and Taiwan, but the deteriorating situation has kept evacuees from boarding aircraft and ships.
Now Japanese officials are faced with how to safely evacuate 1,500 Japanese stranded in Taiwan and the 110,000 Japanese remaining in China. This also leads to a dilemma on whether to officially recognize the landing on the Senkakus as an “armed-attack situation.”
If Japan takes that step, it would inevitably put the country in a state of conflict with China. If Japan attempts to evacuate its nationals on SDF aircraft leaving Taiwan, there would be the risk of China shooting down the planes.
Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, a member of the lower house, played the part of the prime minister in the tabletop simulation.
“Safe transport of Japanese is the top priority,” said Onodera, who pushed for an all-out effort to evacuate Japanese while continuing to monitor developments.
Lower house lawmaker Taku Otsuka, playing defense minister, said a delay in recognizing an armed attack by China would complicate matters.
During the simulated NSC meeting, information surfaced confirming that the Chinese fishermen who landed on the Senkakus were armed. Participants deemed the situation an armed attack.
The deficiency in transport capabilities became evident during the meeting. Taiwan and the area surrounding the Senkakus were assumed to have escalated into full-fledged armed conflicts.
In that scenario, the SDF would be used to evacuate Japanese living on the Sakishima Islands near Taiwan if necessary. Otsuka said defending the Sakishima and Senkaku islands is the highest priority. For evacuating citizens, officials explored using return routes for supplies transported to front-line personnel.
Another challenge is creating mechanisms to launch evacuation efforts on a faster time frame. Urging the use of civilian aircraft to relocate just before the outbreak of an emergency would not be enough.
“The evacuation of citizens was slightly delayed,” Onodera told reporters. “We need to consider amendments to the law or new frameworks so that we can evacuate people as quickly as possible,” he said.
The simulation also played out Japan’s response if China were to use small-yield nuclear weapons. It considered measures that increase the reliability of the U.S.’s extended deterrence that shields Japan.
On Thursday, China fired five ballistic missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone during live-fire military exercises conducted in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. Taiwanese government agencies also suffered cyberattacks. This weekend’s war game assumed that cross-strait conflict would immediately spill over to Japanese territory.