Japan Ignores China Warnings, Raises Alarm Over Taiwan in Defense Report

Japan has for the first time signaled the importance of Taiwan to its national security in an annual defense report, which also highlights an increasingly assertive China as its main threat.

The unprecedented move to include democratic Taiwan in Japan's Ministry of Defense white paper on Tuesday came after months of official and unofficial preludes hinting at Tokyo's growing concern over the future of the Chinese-claimed island.

The report presented by Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi noted the deteriorating security environment around Taiwan, which has come under more military and diplomatic pressure from Beijing in recent years.

"China has further intensified military activities around Taiwan including Chinese aircrafts' entering the southwestern airspace of Taiwan," the report said, adding that the U.S. has demonstrated deterrence in the Taiwan Strait through regular transits by U.S. Navy vessels as well as continued weapon sales.

"Stabilizing the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for Japan's security and the stability of the international community," the white paper said in rare and clear language. "Therefore, it is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever before."

In a foreword for the report, Kishi dedicated a full opening paragraph to the security threat posed by China's actions in the East and South China seas.

"China has continued its unilateral attempts to change the status quo," the defense minister said, including around the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, where China Coast Guard vessels "repeatedly intrude into Japan's territorial waters" in record numbers.

Kishi said North Korea's continued development of missiles—including those of the nuclear nature—"pose grave and imminent threats to Japan's security."

"In the midst of the changing global power balance, the importance of the region is further increasing. In order to counter these challenges in the security environment, it is essential not only to strengthen Japan's own defense capabilities and expand the roles we can fulfill, but also to closely cooperate with countries that share the same fundamental values," Kishi wrote.

"In particular, cooperation with the United States, our only ally, is of paramount importance," he added. "The Alliance is the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the region, and we will strive to further strengthen its deterrence and response capabilities in order to further solidify the unshakable bond of the Japan-U.S. Alliance."

The defense report gives the clearest indication yet that China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping is among the greatest challenges Japan has faced in recent memory, requiring both a consolidation of Tokyo's relations with Washington but also an increase of its own capabilities.

"Chinese military trends, combined with insufficient transparency about China's defense policies and military affairs, have become a matter of grave concern to the region including Japan and the international community," its chapter on China noted.

"In recent years, competition between the United States and China is becoming more prominent across the political, economic and military realms, with both countries making moves to keep each other in check. In particular, competition in technological fields is likely to become even more intense," said the document.

"As China rapidly enhances its military power, changes in the military power balance between the United States and China may possibly affect the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region," it added.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded to the report on Tuesday by calling Taiwan a matter of "China's internal affairs," while reiterating Beijing's claims over the Senkaku Islands.

"Japan's lying diplomacy and double standards must stop," he said.

Japan Troops Take Part In Joint Exercise
A Japan Self-Defense Force soldier takes part in a joint military drill between the Japan Self-Defense Force, the French Army and U.S. Marines at the Kirishima exercise area in Ebino, Miyazaki prefecture on May 15, 2021. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/POOL/AFP via Getty Images


Japan's Defense Ministry, which warned the military balance in the Taiwan Strait was "tilting to China's favor," first hinted at the inclusion of Taiwan in its annual white paper in a draft version two months prior.

Beijing offered an immediate response at the time, accusing Tokyo of exaggerating the threat posed by China while interfering in what it deems a domestic political matter.

"The Taiwan question is one of China's internal affairs. China will never allow any country to intervene in the Taiwan question in any way," the Chinese Foreign Ministry's chief spokesperson Hua Chunying said on May 14 in response to a question by Communist Party tabloid the Global Times.

Hua called Japan's descriptions of China "extremely wrong and irresponsible," adding that Beijing had lodged a diplomatic complaint with Tokyo over the contents of its upcoming report.

However, the appearance of Taiwan in Japan's Defense Ministry white paper may not surprise regular observers, who will have noted several months of deliberate endeavors—by both Japanese and U.S. officials—to underscore the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

U.S. and Japan Officials Meet In Tokyo
Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd L) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) meet with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (C), Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi (2nd R) and Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi (R) at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo on March 16, 2021. (Photo by / AFP) (Photo by KIM KYUNG-HOON/POOL/) KIM KYUNG-HOON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The topic was mentioned when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga became the first foreign head of state to visit President Joe Biden at the White House in April.

It was mentioned at subsequent "2+2" foreign and defense minister meetings involving Japan, and later appeared in communiques out of the G7 as well as Biden's summit with the European Union in June—drawing strong protests from Beijing on both occasions.

On July 5, Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso made headlines when he told a political fundraiser that a Chinese attack on Taiwan could be considered an "existential threat" to Tokyo. He suggested such a move would likely trigger a collective defense of the island with the U.S.

The remarks angered Beijing, which filed its third formal complaint through diplomatic channels in the space of four weeks. The two other protests related to respective comments by Prime Minister Suga and Deputy Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama.

Both senior officials had referred to Taiwan using the phrase "country," with the latter explicitly calling on Japan and the U.S. to defend Taiwan from China.

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