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Unity makes strength

Policymakers and experts in Japan back increased US support for Taiwan, while those in South Korea and the Philippines want that support to remain as it is now, US and Japanese researchers found.

The report, which was completed in February and published online last month, was conducted by US-based think tank RAND Corp and Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

The report’s findings on Japan’s stance are not surprising as Japanese officials on several occasions over the past few years have said that a conflict in the Taiwan Strait would impact Japan. Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2021 called for the US to make it clear that it would defend Taiwan in such a conflict, and then-Japanese deputy prime minister Taro Aso said in the same year that Tokyo and Washington would defend Taiwan together.

Last year, Japan included provisions related to Taiwan in its annual defense white paper, and this year it appointed pro-Taiwan Minoru Kihara as its minister of defense.

RAND Corp researcher Jeffrey Hornung said that Japan’s views on Taiwan’s defense are informed by its concerns that, if China took over Taiwan, Beijing would set its sights on Japanese islands next. China and Japan have long had conflict over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which Taiwan also claims. China would likely seize those islands if it had control of Taiwan and might even seek to drive Japan out of Okinawa Prefecture, where the US has military bases.

This is all the more reason for the US and Japan to strengthen military support for, and cooperation with, Taiwan.

The report suggested that Philippine officials do not hope for the US to increase military support for Taiwan, and that they are more concerned over Chinese activity in the South China Sea. However, actions would suggest otherwise, since the Philippines has granted the US military access to a port in the Batanes Islands, which are less than 200km from Taiwan.

South Korea might be less directly affected by a potential annexation of Taiwan by China, but Seoul would inevitably feel the effects too, as shipping in the region would be greatly disrupted. Also, South Korea’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the US means that if the US is dragged into a conflict over Taiwan, South Korea would inevitably be involved too.

Ultimately, it is in the interest of all of Taipei’s neighbors to deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan, and Japan clearly understands that better than anyone. Last month Japan appointed a government official to act as a de facto defense representative in Taiwan, Reuters reported on Sept. 12.

The dispatching of that official was delayed for a year over concerns about China’s response, the report said.

Japanese officials have called on the US to take the lead in Taiwan-related defense matters, and Washington should be encouraged to appoint its own permanent defense attache to Taipei.

It is very likely that the US has defense or intelligence officials stationed in Taiwan, but if it does, it has not been vocal about it. As Abe said, the US should be clear about its resolve to defend Taiwan, particularly since Japanese officials have been so vocal. If there is any hesitancy on the issue, China would attempt to sow discord between politicians and parties in the US and Japan. Conversely, a show of unity in support of Taiwan’s defense would encourage politicians in the Philippines and South Korea to likewise voice support for such a position.

Taiwan is often said to be part of a first island chain defense strategy, but for such a strategy to be effective, there must be clear demonstrations of a pact among all of the countries in this island chain. China is less likely to pick a fight with any of those countries if a strong pact exists.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2023/10/14

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Police detain a protester who was sprayed with pepper spray during a protest in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay yesterday.
Photo: AP

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