Relations with Beijing are crucial for regional trade, but is Tokyo ready to risk everything at the expense of Taiwan and Washington?
By Timur Fomenkopolitical analyst
A recent report suggests the Japanese government is considering positioning more than 1,000 ballistic missiles aimed at China, a move that would mark a major escalation in tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.
Whether this will ever materialize is unknown, given the threat to regional stability it would entail, as well as the limitations imposed by Japan’s own constitution, but at this point it is undeniable that the geostrategic competition between Japan and China is a new reality.
The two countries may be largely integrated economically, but they are old enemies at heart, and their geopolitical ambitions increasingly clash at all levels.
China’s rise threatens Japan’s once-dominant position in Asia, especially in terms of disputed territories, which, if Beijing succeeds in retaking, would strategically crush Tokyo. While the East China Sea and the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands are one thing, the biggest and most pressing hotspot is actually a hot topic lately: the island of Taiwan.
Japan is now making it public that maintaining Taiwan’s autonomy is essential to its own survival. Why? Because a reunification of the island with mainland China would result in Beijing’s maritime dominance over the entire southwestern periphery of Japan.
As a result, Japan is raising its own stakes regarding Taiwan. Before and during the current round of legislator visits to the island, parliamentary delegations from Japan have made similar trips of their own. The recently assassinated Abe Shinzo, architect of Japan’s current revisionist foreign policy, was a big supporter of Taiwan and was due to visit the island himself.
Similarly, Taiwan, once under colonial rule by Japan, which annexed it to China, has also greatly increased its pro-Japanese sentiment. The extent of the public mourning he prompted over Abe’s murder was very telling.
Then there is growing speculation as to whether Japan would actually defend Taiwan militarily if China invaded, given the limitations imposed by the Japanese constitution.
If it wasn’t already obvious, Japan cannot afford to lose Taiwan, although the one-China policy was a key condition for the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1976.
This has put Tokyo in a race against time to try to find loopholes in its current peace-oriented constitution to increase defense spending and try to counterbalance China’s growing military might.
In doing so, he finds support from the other members of the “Quad” group, especially the United States and Australia, who are coordinating to try to contain China.
India is also an essential partner. While New Delhi has distanced itself from the Taiwan question to avoid aggravating tensions with China around the disputed border, it nevertheless sees Japan as a long-term strategic partner for Beijing.
Japan is also looking to woo South Korea in this game, a move encouraged by the United States. While right-wing new President Yoon Suk Yeol is more willing to cooperate with Japan on the North Korea issue, expectations that he would be an ultra-hawk on China have actually faded, and he has continued. the cautious approach of its predecessors. . When Nancy Pelosi arrived in town after her notorious trip to Taiwan, the Korean president avoided meeting her, although Japan nevertheless fully accepted her visit.
Japan is undoubtedly the number one and most advanced country in support of the United States in Asia.
Yet despite all of this, there are limits to the extent to which it can rock the boat with Beijing, which remains a neighbor, as well as a key trade and investment partner. Despite the historical enmity between the two, their trade ties run very deep. Any blow to the Chinese economy also harms Japan. Japan also cannot afford to lose the Chinese market, especially when it comes to exporting cars, electronics and other consumer goods.
The Chinese government can be devastatingly effective in whipping up anti-Japanese sentiment on a whim, which can lead to mass boycotts and even the destruction of property. Such protests last occurred in 2012 on the Senkaku Islands.
It reminds us that despite the support of the United States, Japan is in a bit of an awkward position. The Chinese economy has long since passed it; the continued expansion of its military capabilities is unprecedented.
Chinese nationalist commentator Hu Xijin, a former editor of the Global Times, said if Japan dared point 1,000 missiles at China, China would point 5,000 and target US bases on Japanese soil.
Yet despite this, he said China-Japan relations should above all remain friendly. It is not China that chooses despite everything to pursue the antagonism in this way.
This begs the question: can Japan continue to attempt to protect Taiwan and push back against China as a whole? This is no simple task, which is why relations between the two countries will continue to be torn between long-standing rivalry and historical grievances on the one hand, and restraint and interdependence on the other.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.