As China ramps up military pressure on Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taipei, Japan is in a rush to prepare for an eventuality in Taiwan. Many experts disagree on how the Japanese government should react and what the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) can actually do in such a scenario. However, given the harsh reality of its security environment, it becomes apparent that Japan’s national preparedness for an emergency in Taiwan has fallen far short of what is necessary.
It was a simulation of a think tank’s war games that highlighted the vulnerability of Japan’s security framework to a crisis in Taiwan. The exercise, held in Tokyo on August 6-7 by the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, involved lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and former defense officials.
They considered several scenarios for how the Japanese government should respond as the situation shifts from peacetime to a possible crisis in the region. The simulation took place in August 2027, which marks the centenary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army. The exercise also assumed that an emergency in Taiwan and a contingency involving the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which Japan administers but China claims, would occur at the same time, requiring the Japanese government to conduct a two-pronged operation.
The first challenge they faced was how to recognize the situation. In the event of a cross-strait contingency, the Japanese government is supposed to immediately assess the status quo and place it in one of three categories: (1) a situation “that will have a significant influence” on peace and security of Japan, including situations which, if left unaddressed, could lead to a direct armed attack on Japan; (2) a “survival-threatening situation”, where an armed attack against a foreign country that has close relations with Japan occurs, which in turn poses a clear risk of threatening the survival of Japan; or (3) an “armed attack situation and anticipated armed attack situation”, when an armed attack against Japan has occurred or there is an imminent and clear danger of such an attack.
The category, as determined by the government, is very important, as the government’s response by law differs depending on the situation invoked.
For example, under Japan’s civil protection law, the government cannot require prefectural and municipal governments to develop civil protection plans and authorize the central government to use FDS to evacuate citizens. In other words, even if a contingency in Taiwan occurs, Japan’s civil defense law cannot be applied if the crisis is officially considered a “situation of significant influence” or a “situation threatening survival”. .
During the tabletop exercise, it was decided that the Taiwan emergency would be recognized as a “survival threatening situation” that poses a clear threat to the survival of Japan, and that the Senkaku/Diaoyu contingency would be recognized as a “situation of armed attack”. in which Japan was attacked.
Japanese lawmakers and former senior SDF officers who attended the tabletop exercise were faced with the question of how to safely evacuate around 100,000 Okinawans to the Sakishima Islands, located at the southern end of the archipelago. Japanese, 1,500 Japanese stranded in Taiwan, and 110,000 Japanese remaining in China.
On the one hand, as Morimoto Satoshi, a former Japanese defense minister, pointed out in an interview with The Diplomat earlier this year, there is the SDF’s transport capability deficit, which has again become evident. during the simulation. Due to a lack of capabilities and capabilities of the SDF, participants found it difficult for the SDF to defend the inhabited Senkaku Islands and evacuate 100,000 citizens from the Sakishima Islands at the same time. The SDF has only about 10,000 members in total on the Nansei Islands chain in southwestern Japan, which stretches for about 1,200 kilometers.
On the other hand, participants were hesitant to consider the Taiwan emergency and the Senkaku contingency as a “survival-threatening situation” and an “armed attack situation”, respectively. In doing so, they feared a deterioration of relations with Beijing, which could negatively affect the security and evacuation of Japanese citizens who remained in China. In the simulation, incredibly, it took the government two whole months to officially categorize the two eventualities. As a responsible state, Japan should protect its citizens from anywhere and at all times, regardless of which category the contingency belongs to.
The second biggest challenge Japan faces in a Taiwan event is how well the SDF can support US forces.
In the event of a “situation that will have a significant influence” on Japan’s peace and security, the SDF is authorized to provide logistical support to US armed forces in rear areas.
In the case of “armed attack situation and anticipatory armed attack situation”, since it is a direct attack against Japan, Japan will undoubtedly fight in support of the troops Americans. There is also no obstacle to cooperation between the SDF and US forces in this matter.
The trickiest is a “survival threatening situation.” An important question arises when recognizing this situation, whether US military operations are for the defense of Japan or the defense of Taiwan. According to Morimoto, under current Japanese laws, the government can only recognize a situation threatening its survival when US forces act to defend Japan, thereby allowing the SDF to support US troops. It is unclear whether the SDF can legally support US troops to defend Taiwan in this situation, he said.
However, former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who was assassinated in July, once said, “A contingency in Taiwan is a contingency in Japan. In other words, it is also a possibility for the Japanese-American alliance. People in Beijing, especially President Xi Jinping, should not misunderstand this. »
Abe was right. As soon as US forces move to defend Taiwan, China could launch missile attacks on US military bases in Japan. Therefore, Japan is expected to be directly and inseparably affected by an emergency in Taiwan almost immediately. This will lead to a life-threatening situation and Japan’s full support for US military activities.
However, under Japanese law, this whole process is reactive. If the Japanese government judges that an emergency in Taiwan is not an emergency in Japan, it will not be considered a “survival-threatening situation” – and the SDF cannot assist the US military in defense operations from Taiwan.
In any case, it must be remembered that if China were to invade Taiwan, the Japanese government would not have much time – certainly not two full months, as it took in the simulation – to make a decision, especially considering taking into account the emergency evacuation procedure for citizens. There is a need for Tokyo to review national laws, such as Japan’s 2015 security legislation, which Abe and the LDP promoted and the Diet passed.