Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told the Financial Times that broad international pressure was crucial to prevent Taiwan’s future from being decided by military confrontation.
His comments marked a new step in rhetoric after Japan broke with years of precedent and directly linked Taiwan’s security to its own in a recent defense white paper, with explicit reference to the need to a greater “sense of crisis”.
The same report, whose cover illustration of a samurai adorns Kishi’s office, warned that the overall military balance between China and Taiwan “is now tilted in favor of China” – a repeated warning by the minister.
“We are seeing various movements from China that are working to envelop Taiwan,” Kishi said. Chinese military planes have entered the air defense identification zone off the southwest coast of Taiwan on a regular basis since last year.
Beijing also began flying around the southern tip of the island in the airspace off its southeast coast, and Chinese military planes flew parallel to the northern half of Taiwan’s east coast earlier this year. Chinese Navy ships have increasingly been spotted in the waters off the east coast of Taiwan.
Kishi is known for his close connections with politicians in Taipei and is seen as both a conservative and a hawk of China. It was recently photographed looking across the 110-kilometer strait that separates Taiwan from Yonaguni, Japan’s westernmost island.
Japan’s strong message, Kishi said, was that peace in the Taiwan Strait would only be secured if the international community demanded it. “Rather than a direct military collision between China and Taiwan, international society should pay more attention to Taiwan’s survival,” he said.
U.S. and Japanese military officials have started serious planning for a possible conflict between China and Taiwan, including top-secret tabletop war games and joint exercises, six officials told the FT in late June.
Taro Aso, Japanese vice premier, said a crisis in Taiwan could pose an existential threat to Japan, in remarks during a private fundraiser that were reported by local media. The comments were significant because it is the constitutional obstacle to using the Japanese military to support American forces.
But despite its growing concern, Tokyo does not intend to forge a direct military relationship with Taipei, Kishi said, and would maintain the status quo in which the two nations do not have formal diplomatic relations.
“While maintaining the existing framework, we want to achieve mutual understanding through various initiatives, or through the exchange of views between Japan and the United States,” he said.
Although the gap in military power between China and Taiwan is widening every year, Kishi said he believes in Taipei’s ability to defend itself. He said the island combines “asymmetric military capabilities”, which use cheaper weapons to compensate for an opponent’s strength, into a “tiered defense system”.
As part of Japan’s efforts for greater international attention on the issue, Kishi said Tokyo welcomed a greater role for European countries in the region, including the upcoming visit of the British attack group of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.
“Many countries have shown their sympathy for our idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. By showing their presence in the region, “together we can send a strong message on regional peace and stability.”
Additional reporting by Kathrin Hille in Taipei