Taiwan is rapidly gaining prominence in Japan’s political ecosystem, as Taipei looms larger in Tokyo’s foreign security policy and strategy for East Asia.
This was brought to light when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remarked that “any emergency regarding Taiwan would also mean an emergency for Tokyo”. The declaration of December 14, 2021 caused a stir in the region.
RELATED: The urgency of direct security talks between Japan and Taiwan
Abe urged China not to “provoke, intimidate its neighbors or pursue territorial expansion”, adding that “an adventure in military affairs, if pursued by a huge economy like China, could be suicidal to say the least. “.
In a virtual address at the 2021 Taiwan-U.S.-Japan Indo-Pacific Trilateral Security Dialogue, a Taiwan-hosted security event, Abe voiced his support for bringing Taipei into the fold of international organizations. , saying it had universal relevance.
Among the organizations are a regional trade pact called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Chinese competition in the electrical corridors of Tokyo
Abe resigned as prime minister in 2020, citing health reasons. However, he made a strong comeback in 2021 by becoming the leader of the largest faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), after a nine-year absence since leaving the faction in 2012.
After the official announcement that he would lead the Seiwaken faction, Abe pledged to “pass on to the next generation a Japan we can be proud of”. It is also a manifestation of Abe’s continued power to wield significant influence in Japan’s political corridors, particularly the LDP.
From this prism, his warning that “military adventure would lead to economic suicide”, referring to any preventive Chinese military action against Taiwan, is compelling and must be carefully assessed.
Abe’s statements about the evolving security situation around Taiwan are a much-needed backlash to Beijing’s bullying campaign to seize the island by force. However, another aspect emerges from the impact of his comments, which revolves around Tokyo’s domestic political scene.
As the leader of the largest LDP faction, his remarks can also be taken as a serious message to the Kochikai faction led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. By reiterating his support for Taiwan, Abe appears to be pressuring Tokyo to continue its hardline approach to China, continuing the policy he pursued during his long tenure as Japanese prime minister.
Kishida, by contrast, appeared to lean toward a more accommodating approach to China issues, in open divergence from the practice of a decade of successive administrations that preceded him. The existential differences between Kishida and Abe, especially in foreign and fiscal policy, are beginning to come to light.
RELATED: US wary of China’s political operations through ‘friendship’ group with Japanese lawmakers
Abe also began urging Kishida to maintain his “Abenomics” stimulus economic policy and not stray far from it.
The Kishida faction should surely bear in mind that Abe not only now leads the largest faction in the LDP, but has also maintained a powerful influence over the LDP’s conservative support base. Moreover, Abe’s apparent return to the front line of Japanese politics has raised speculation of a comeback among some observers.
Taiwan’s Strategic Reality
Overall, Taiwan is becoming an essential component of Japan’s parliamentary goals and politics.
The current vice-president of the Liberal Democratic Party, Taro Aso, who leads another faction of the LDP, the shikokaiechoed Abe’s position when he previously described an attack on Taiwan as an “existential threat” requiring Japan and the United States to “defend Taiwan together”.
Consistent with Aso’s comment, Abe also remarked in December 2021 that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would pose a significant threat to Japan and therefore “an emergency for the Japanese-American alliance”.
Japan’s relationship with Taiwan is grounded in historical context, strategic calculations and, above all, the contemporary graph of bilateral relations forged most vigorously under the tenures of Shinzo Abe and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Notably, Taiwan features more prominently than ever in Japan’s 2021 Defense White Paper.
Overall, this change signals a significant shift in Japan’s regional outlook, as well as Cabinet approval of a visible increase in Tokyo’s defense spending. This can be attributed to the strategic reality of the Taiwanese city of Hualien located just 111 km from the Japanese island of Yonaguni.
Any event or possible attack in the waters between Taiwan and the Sakishima Islands in southwestern Japan, or any attempt to absorb Taiwan into mainland China, would bring the territorial waters of Japan and China into an uncomfortable proximity. This realization has increased the malaise in Tokyo and the region. For these factors, Japan must adopt a cautious, realistic and proactive security posture in East Asia.
Author: Dr. Monika Chansoria
Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the JIIA or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria. Find more articles from Dr. Chansoria here on JAPAN Striker.