TCSS Security Commentaries #023

Japan’s new Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, is likely to continue the ‘status quo’ when it comes to Japanese-Taiwanese relations. As the 2012-2017 foreign minister under former Prime Minister Abe, Kishida is expected to continue the policies of his predecessors.

Jessica Penn, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

Fumio Kishida, the newly appointed Prime Minister of Japan has outlined a foreign policy plan that is close to that of former PM Abe, which pushes Japan to fortify ties with ‘like-minded democracies,’ such as the US, in hedging against China’s rise and growing threat. So, what does this mean for Taiwan? We should expect PM Kishida to continue Japan’s monitoring of Taiwan’s and China’s situation. Even though he is not expected to make any major changes, Japanese officials have recently publicly stated their support for Taiwan.

This past June in a conference, Japan’s deputy defense minister, Yasuhide Nakayama, declared that they must protect Taiwan as a democratic nation. Other top Japanese officials have likewise stated that if China attacks Taiwan, Japan should join the US in defending Taiwan. However, in early-July of this year, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso made a less radical statement, clarifying that any conflict between Taiwan and China should be resolved in dialogue.

Given Fumio Kishida’s more moderate ideology and tendency to abide by the status quo, he would be hard pressed in mobilizing Japan’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) to defend Taiwan’s autonomy. Kishida would be more inclined to fall in line with Aso’s statement and attempt to resolve any conflict through dialogue. However, if China were to invade or otherwise take military action against Taiwan and the US comes to Taiwan’s aid, then Japan would likely follow suit as the US’ closest ally in East Asia.

Nevertheless, acts of kinetic warfare aside, Kashida is likely to continue Japan’s support of Taiwan as a means to counter China’s regional power. He has expressed support for Taiwan’s application to join the Tokyo-led trade bloc, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Kishida has also expressed that Taiwan and Japan should strengthen their bilateral collaborations, especially on security-related issues. Kashida has adopted a harder stance on security than his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, emphasizing that contending with China would be his administration’s top priority. He stated that the clash between authoritarianism and democracy’s frontline is in Asia, particularly Taiwan.

On August 12th, 2021, senior officials from Quad countries (US, Japan, India and Australia) met in D.C. to discuss the importance of preserving peace and security in the Taiwan Strait. Quad senior officials discussed the significance of “supporting countries vulnerable to coercive actions in the Indo-Pacific region.” The Biden administration is specifically interested in the Taiwan Strait as a site to confront China’s growing maritime and aerial incursions.  Even though both Quad officials and the Biden Administration have not explicitly stated their support of Taiwan, both sentiments indicate that the Quad will assist Taiwan in hindering China’s power grabs.

Besides strengthening economic relations with Taiwan, it is still premature to determine exactly how other channels of Japanese support would look like in practice. Kashida has said that Taipei and Tokyo should fortify bilateral collaborations on security issues but given China’s increased military presence in Taiwanese airspace and waters, China will not take kindly to Japanese “interventions” regarding the Taiwan question.

If Japan were to strengthen security with Taiwan, it would have to be practical and in areas that are less sensitive and publicized, thereby reducing risk of Chinese retribution or other types of retaliation towards either Taiwan or Japan. Overall, Japan’s new Prime Minister currently seems unlikely to announce anything drastically different than previous administrations; abiding by what Japan has always done, providing for the most part, economic and increasingly political support of Taiwan.