Large-scale Chinese and Russian naval forces carried out their first joint sea patrol and exercise October 17-23, 2021. It included maneuvers and live-fire drills in the Sea of Japan and Western Pacific. It had a joint naval ship formation that included 10 Chinese and Russian warships and six carrier-based helicopters. They navigated more than 1,700 nautical miles around Japan from north to south through two Japanese straits. It seemed to declare the Free and Open Japanese Straits and the West Pacific via the Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
Chinese maneuvers forced Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces (Air-SDF) to scramble more than one hundred times in October, an indication of how closely the Taiwan crises are related security of Japan.
Taiwan and Japan
Taiwan is Japan’s nearest neighbor both geographically and psychologically, and the increasing pressure by Beijing on Taiwan is influencing critical areas of Japanese national security thinking. The Taiwan Strait is 81 miles (130 km) wide. However, the westernmost inhabited island of Japan, the Yonaguni Island, is located only 67 miles (108 km) off the east coast of Taiwan. In Beijing’s attempt to attack Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army (PLAA) would likely pass through Japanese international waters such as the channel of the Yonaguni Island and the Miyako Strait between Okinawa and Miyako Island to besiege Taiwan.
Furthermore, China would need to try to secure its command of the sea and air in those straits to attack Taiwan from its east coast side to block relief. Even today, the PLA’s fleets, including its aircraft carrier Liaoning and several fighters, bombers, and ISR aircraft, constantly pass the Miyako Strait – like lobbyists passing up and down K Street in Washington – just under the nose of U.S. forces in Okinawa. They also navigate often through the international water between Taiwan and Yonaguni Island.
Japan supports Taiwan as much as possible on the civilian side, including having sent a more than 4.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines on six air transports. Taiwan repaid the gift with 1,000 oxygen enrichers and 10,000 pulse oximeters to Japan. The President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Tsai Ing-wen, called it, “The circulation of goodwill between Taiwan and Japan.” In addition, the Japanese government has said it would fully support Taiwan’s application for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Beijing is also trying to enter. Believing Taiwan should also be a member of international organizations, the Japanese House of Councilors unanimously passed the resolution to support Taiwan participating in World Health Organization (WHO) in June 2021.
Crisis of the Alliance
The wavering of the U.S. administration on the issue of Taiwan is creating confusion in this growing alliance, however, and more critically, sending the wrong message to Beijing. Japanese security policy on the emergency of Taiwan assumes the operation of U.S. Forces protecting Taiwan. Since Japanese Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) are not permitted to engage in acts of war under the Constitution of Japan, the JSDF’s function at the crisis will be focused on logistics, ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance), and relief/rescue support of U.S. operations.
The question of increasing Japan’s defense budget is perpetual, as it is in most democratic countries, and is generally under pressure from the U.S. to purchase more American equipment. Clearly, a well-equipped JSDF will be a deterrent to the PLA, but it is deterrence without rights of belligerency, an odd concept for Americans. The Japanese Constitution says, “No army, navy, air force, or another war potential will ever be authorized, and no rights of belligerency will ever be conferred upon the States.” It follows, then, that the Japanese defense budget is a pledged cost of the alliance with the U.S. Even so, Japan-JSDF shouldn’t hesitate to suggest activities to the U.S. regarding what roles and operations they can undertake.
It is estimated that 70 percent of the people would be evacuated from Taiwan if Beijing attacked the island. It would be critical for Japan to receive some of them, including their business, industries, and financial institutions, to allow them to continue their lives and business activities. One of Japan’s considerations would be the establishment of an ROC provisional government in Japan. The National Palace Museum, located in Taipei, has a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest of its type in the world. The collection encompasses thousands of years of Chinese art history from the Neolithic Age to the modern. As Chiang Kai-shek did when he escaped to Taiwan in 1949, those collections should be under shelter outside Taiwan, protected from Beijing’s violence – in Japan.
Beijing’s Two Aims – Taiwan and the Western Pacific
There are two reasons for Beijing’s determination to unify Taiwan with the mainland. First, to complete the revolution of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), ending the fight against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party of China (NPC), that has been militarily dormant since 1949.
Theoretically, the PRC is under the guidance of the CCP. Therefore, what Beijing’s Constitution called “One country, two systems” should be understood by other countries as “One party, two systems.” However, today, almost seventy-three years after the ceasefire, ROC is an independent and undoubtedly democratic state. It is conceptually a part of China but not part of the CCP or the mainland of China’s superordinate concept of Beijing. The people of Taiwan do not belong to Beijing or the CCP. Even so, Beijing is enormously annoying to it.
Second, Beijing might seek to control the Western Pacific. This is the more critical issue for Japan. Beijing will seek hegemony in the Pacific west of Hawaii, so-called the Third island chain. The CCP’s dream is to divide west and east of the Pacific between China and the U.S.
Dividing the Seas
Beijing’s three fleets, the North Sea Fleet (NSF) in Qingdao, East Sea Fleet (ESF) in Ningbo, and South Sea Fleet (SSF) in Zhanjiang, are best understood by looking at the island chains. The First Island Chain is principally comprised of the Kuril Islands, the Japanese Archipelago, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the northern Philippines, and Borneo, and those include the South China Sea, within the Nine-Dash Line, as well as the East China Sea west of the Okinawa Trough. The First Island Chain is the Great Wall against Chinese sea power.
The defense of Taiwan does not only support Taiwan’s security from Beijing. If we lose Taiwan, it means a possibility that the U.S. will lose the West Pacific. It should be recognized as one of the more critical strategic meanings of Taiwan. If Beijing takes Taiwan, it will get free access to the West Pacific from the east coast of Taiwan. It will have a mega impact on the strategy of the U.S. and its alliance. One of the core interests of Beijing is to open the great wall to the NSF and the ESF to control the West Pacific.
Even now, there are some Chinese activities in Okinawa and Beijing’s unlimited expansionism might actually claim the island one day. It would want to run the US Fleet out of Okinawa to complete its command of sea and air at the Miyako Strait for free access to the Western Pacific.
History of ROC
Taiwan has been tossed about between China and Japan for several centuries. With the treaty after the First Sino-Japanese War, the island became a dependency of Japan. The Republic of China was initially founded on the mainland on January 1, 1912, by Sun Yat-sen, following the Xinhai Revolution. The Nationalist Party of China (NPC) has been in existence since 1921, longer than the CCP. Sun Yat-sen became the first leader of the NPC in 1919 and was the provisional first president of the ROC and the first leader of the Kuomintang.
Therefore, he was the “Father of the Nation” in both ROC and PRC, especially the “Forerunner of the Revolution” in PRC for his instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing dynasty during the Xinhai Revolution. Sun is unique among 20th-century Chinese leaders for being widely revered in both mainland China and Taiwan.
In 1945, Taiwan was placed under the Republic of China (ROC) and in 1949 the ROC government moved there when Mao Zedong captured the mainland.
Grand Wisdom and Virtue
Grand Wisdom (the Goddess Sophia) and Virtue as moral excellence are the most strongly emphasized principles of innate disposition as a sovereign in the Orient, and Chinese Emperors and leaders have been required to have those senses since ancient times. Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, seems to be an outstanding and capable apparatchik of the CCP and a crafty schemer. However, he appears to lack the disposition of a great leader like Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong, and even Deng Xiao Ping.
Xi Jinping seems to be the contemporary “Father of the Nation” with attaining the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” or “the Chinese Dream” as he said in 2012, taking solid measures in many directions both internally and externally, on land and at sea. But it appears he doesn’t have the philosophical leanings and virtues of Sun or Mao. Expansionism without philosophy is just “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.”
The CCP approved a resolution on its history and achievements by the 6th General Secretary of the CCP’s 19th Central Committee (6th General Secretary) on November 11, 2021. It appears to be a further consolidation of the authority of Xi Jinping with the cult of personality. And it looks like a self-affirmation that is far from a summary of the party’s 100-year history.
Reflecting on the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) due to the excessive concentration of power in Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping stipulated in a historic resolution of 1981 that “any form of the cult of personality is prohibited” in the party code. However, at a press conference on November 12, 2021, CCP officials justified the “cult of personality” and added, “General Secretary Xi gives a lot of people hope, and has not embarrassed the core of the party. ‘The People’s Leader,’ has become the supreme commander of the PLA, the era has requested him, history has chosen him.”
Even before that, in 2019, Chun Han Wong, a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, wrote, “In party parlance, honorifics are tokens of power and the title of lingxiu, or ‘leader,’ is most closely associated with Mao, who was known as the ‘great leader.’”
Xi emphasized at a roundtable discussion on November 12, 2021, “The world faces the emergency that has not experienced past one 100 years. We meet the key period to realize the great revival of people of China.” It is normal for a leader to stir up crises to help him lead the people, but Xi in fact faces difficult situations in every respect, including party politics.
There is no absolute monarch in the CCP. If Xi seeks to be such a monarch, the CCP might face the same fate as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1991. The history of China has always been vicissitudes with endless intra-party strife and infighting. And leadership without virtue is barbarous. The West should be considering life post-Xi Jinping and post-the CCP. The misfortune of Xi Jinping will be he has not a prominent partner like Zhou Enlai”
Beijing is escalating its tone of crisis more emotionally, nervously, and runs the risk of overreaction. Our “breath of air” vague messages that make the candle flicker will simply send the wrong message to them. The allies – Japan, the United States, and others – should send a clear message to Beijing that the critical situation on Taiwan and in the West Pacific that the CCP has caused will, in turn, cause catastrophic damage to the CCP regime.
Steps for the Future
In Northeast Asia, there are three military giants: the U.S., Russia, and China; and three economic giants: the U.S., China, and Japan. There are, however, sometimes considerable differences in perception between the U.S. and Asia, such as Japan, Taiwan, China, and even North Korea, which was not so during the era of the Pax Americana. At present, Northeast Asia faces difficulties with its security as China expands its influence, and intertwined relations in the region. It is essential to the region’s security and stability to consider its economic development by establishing a regional economic development institution, including Mongolia, Russian Far East, and North Korea.
Japan should take the initiative and take more of its role and responsibility for resolving the differences in perception among the allies, perhaps holding a practical tabletop exercise between the U.S. Forces, JSDF, and Taiwan Forces. And it will also be an essential work of Japan to mediate between the U.S. and North Korea, a separate subject, but critically important to American security as well. Japanese diplomacy shouldn’t be an accompaniment to U.S. policy, but an independent, complementary position. It will be required of Japan to strengthen its diplomacy.
Jun Isomura is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.