Behind the scenes in Japan, a welcome to Biden’s defense of Taiwan

Biden’s remark on Monday – on his first visit to Asia since taking office – seemed to stretch the boundaries of U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward autonomous Taiwan, to China’s anger.

Although the United States has committed under its Taiwan Relations Act to “help Taiwan provide the means to defend itself,” it has long refused to clarify how it would react in the event of a Chinese attack on the island.

An aide to Biden later said his comment did not mark any change in the United States’ position on the island, which China claims to be its own.

Officially, Japan took a similar stance. Hirokazu Matsuno, chief of staff, said on Tuesday that there had been no change in Allied positions on Taiwan, although he declined to comment on Biden’s comment.

But some senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) welcomed the comment, which was seen as dispelling doubts about whether the United States would really act in a time of crisis.

“The comment goes far beyond the ambiguous strategy of previous governments. This will contribute to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Masahisa Sato, a former deputy secretary and well-known hawk from the LDP, said in a blog post.

“There is a lot of praise for this in the party.”

Keisuke Suzuki, a former deputy foreign minister, praised Biden’s comment as “very important and appropriate” in a tweet.

For Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was standing next to Biden when he spoke, Taiwan’s security is crucial. Taiwan and Japan are part of a chain of islands that encircles the Chinese armed forces. Losing Taiwan would break that line and be seen as a threat to Japan.

“Preventing China from taking adventurous military action must remain the most important task,” said Tomohiko Taniguchi, a former adviser to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Biden’s comments were “welcome to Japan, Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Addressing China’s growing military and economic influence in the Indo-Pacific region has been the overarching theme of Biden’s visit.

The president, advisers and analysts have said, has come to Asia with a clear message to China: Try nowhere in Asia, especially Taiwan, to do what Russia has done to Ukraine.

“Getting the United States to say it would act in an emergency is not a bad thing for us,” an LDP official working for an influential lawmaker told Reuters on condition that he was not identified.

IT’S COMPLICATED

Japan has a complicated relationship with China, which is both its largest export market and its largest source of imports. For years, Japanese companies have been building deep supply chains in China, although the Japanese government now wants them to bring some of the production home.

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan could also disrupt the shipping routes that Japan uses to transport goods to large parts of the rest of the world, as well as supply the oil from the Middle East that supplies the world’s number three economy.

“If Taiwan was occupied, Japan could suffer serious damage because our tidal inlet is close to Taiwan,” said retired Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, who served as chief of staff of the Japanese self-defense force for five years until 2019.

The bite’s comment would help deter China from attacking Taiwan, he said.

Japan has expressed concern over Taiwan in its latest annual White Paper on Defense, citing a “sense of crisis” over Taiwan and the threat China’s armed forces pose to the country.

In the weeks following the attack on Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special operation”, Kishida has also warned of increasingly fragile security in East Asia.

China has described its maneuvers around Taiwan, including regular raids from its planes into Taiwan’s air defense zone, as normal military activity.

On Friday, Taiwan’s air force eased planes to scare 18 Chinese planes away, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said, as part of what has become a regular pattern that has angered the Taipei government.

As the number of Chinese planes and ships around Japan also increases, Japan is increasing defense spending, with Kishida’s party pushing for a doubling to 2% of gross domestic product.

But even that will not offset the pace of China’s rising military spending, which is already nearly five times higher. Japan has limited itself to short-range weapons for decades because its pacifist constitution prohibits the country from waging foreign wars.

These restrictions mean that Japan is likely to rely on its American ally to fight in Taiwan while absorbing and supporting the tidal wave of troops, planes and ships that would be needed to defeat China.

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