A series of recent statements by American and Taiwanese officials have generated concern that China and Taiwan may be headed for conflict. The timing, intensity, and even inevitability of such a contingency, however, remains a matter of fierce debate.
On the one hand, predictions range from months to years. On January 26, Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping could launch an invasion of Taiwan in 2027 – when his administration is expected to begin its fourth term – as a means of securing his political achievements. Wu’s claim was similar to one made in March 2021, by former head of the United States’ Indo-Pacific Command Philip Davidson, who told Congress that “a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could occur by 2027.”
Then, on January 28, U.S. Air Force General Mike Minihan moved up the timeline. In an internal memo, Gen. Minihan warned that a Taiwan contingency could occur immediately after the 2024 presidential elections in Taiwan and the United States.
Other U.S. officials, meanwhile, are more optimistic that the status quo will prevail. In February, General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he sees no danger of a near-term invasion by China. Similarly, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner, speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on February 9, said he was also skeptical that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan was “imminent or inevitable.”
CIA Director William Burns summed up the internal debate this way: “[I’m] aware of intelligence that suggests Xi Jinping ordered the People’s Liberation Army to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027,” but that Chinese leaders themselves doubt their ability to do so.
Similar conversations are occuring in Japan.
Japanese leaders, aware that a Chinese invasion would have far-reaching regional implications, have committed to supporting Taiwan as an important democratic country. As Taro Aso, vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has noted, “a Taiwan contingency is Japan’s contingency as well.”
Given Japan’s proximity to Taiwan – only 110 kilometers separates Yonaguni Island, the westernmost Japanese territory, and the Taiwanese mainland – leaders in Tokyo are concerned about China’s rapid military expansion. This is especially worrying, given that U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa would likely be targeted by China in the early stages of a Taiwan invasion.
Beyond security considerations, it’s vital for Japan to protect its economic ties with Taiwan, which include a semiconductor supply chain, and its sociocultural relations with rich pro-Japanese narratives of Taiwanese. It’s understandable that many believe Japan should be actively involved in trying to pre-empt a Taiwan contingency before it happens, rather than after it’s underway.
To be sure, most Japanese researchers view the likelihood of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan as unlikely. Decades of posturing and threats by Beijing have always been followed by a return to the status quo – the idea that Taiwan, rhetorically recognized as part of China, is de facto independent.
There are scenarios in which China could promote a change to the status quo without using military force, thereby precluding military intervention by the U.S. One way to do that would be by manipulating Japanese public opinion to reject the presence of U.S. forces in Japan.
Still, Japanese policymakers must prepare for every eventuality, and political leaders must maintain an active “Taiwan contingency” discourse to guard against being unprepared. Efforts to formalize Japan’s counter-contingency strategy should include three elements:
- Strengthening defense capabilities and preparedness, bearing in mind that a Taiwan contingency would directly affect Japan’s defenses.
- Bolstering the Japan-U.S. alliance now, before any potential conflict.
- Supporting Taiwanese citizens in their right to self-determination.
1. Implications for Japan
Japanese leaders have long debated what a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would mean for Japan. On December 1, 2021, the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argued that if China uses force in Taiwan, the global economy, including China’s, would be strangled. Abe said Japan must show its “determination” by enhancing its economic and military capabilities while convincing China that peace with Taiwan is in its interests. In seeking to strike a balance between Washington and Beijing, Abe also encouraged the international community to urge restraint
Other leaders have been more explicit. On June 30, 2021, Vice-Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama called Taiwan “our brother and family,” a “democratic country” that needed Japan’s support. The following week, Japan’s deputy prime minister, Taro Aso, even anticipated how China might start a conflict: by provoking demonstrations in Taipei as a ruse to dispatch troops to address an “internal affair.” But if China ever did invade Taiwan, Aso said, it would threaten Japan’s very existence. The right of collective self-defense could be exercised, drawing Japan in.
Then, in November 2022, former administrative vice-minister of defense, Kazuhisa Shimada, who is currently a special advisor to the Cabinet, said that “the main subject of discussion is not whether a China-Taiwan dispute will occur, but when it will occur.” He added, ominously: “[I]f something happens between China and Taiwan, it is inevitable that Japan will be in the same war zone.”
Clearly, there’s a shared perception within both the government and ruling LDP that the possibility of a Taiwan contingency is increasing, and Japan cannot stay idle. There are various estimates of the timing of a Taiwan contingency, ranging from the short-term (2025-2027) to medium-term (leading up to 2049, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China).
But like in the U.S., there are many Japanese officials who argue that a Taiwan contingency will not occur in the foreseeable future. Many Japanese economists and analysts of U.S.-China relations believe that the Chinese leadership, especially Xi, whom Abe judged to be a “very realist leader,” is unlikely to resort to force because of the economic interdependence between China and Taiwan.
There’s also a sense that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine actually reduced the likelihood of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. That’s because the Ukraine crisis demonstrated the international community’s willingness to unite behind an invaded country and level sanctions against the invader. Moreover, many Chinese weapons systems are from the former Soviet Union and Russia, and Russia’s poor showing in the Ukraine war has given officials in Beijing pause.
Public opinion on a potential conflict is equally divided. For instance, an opinion poll conducted jointly by Japan’s “Genron NPO” think tank and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) in September 2022, found that 56.7 percent of Chinese expect a military conflict over Taiwan in the near future.
By contrast, 44.5 percent of Japanese respondents shared a similar view – suggesting that Beijing’s combative rhetoric is paying dividends at home, but that the Japanese don’t feel as threatened as LDP policymakers suggest they should.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revealed something else: Sometimes, short-term strategic goals outweigh expected future benefits of economic interdependence, as Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrated. In many ways, this is the most important lesson from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
It’s undeniable that Russia, which regards itself as a “nuclear superpower” and “the world’s second-largest military power,” prioritizes military strategy over relatively small-scale economic interests. China has a different strategic culture and leadership philosophy.
However, in the event of a miscalculation by China’s leadership, or in a situation that makes it impossible for the Chinese leader to save face, the possibility of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan cannot be ruled out. Thus, it’s impossible to assert that a Taiwan contingency will never occur. Equally, we cannot deny the possibility that China, faced with a rapidly aging society and declining birthrate, could seize an opportunity to carry out a military invasion of Taiwan before its national strength declines. For Japan, as the U.S., the only option is to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
2. Taiwan Contingency Scenarios
China’s occupation of Taiwan would result in a gradual decline of Taiwan’s democratic institutions, as has occurred in Hong Kong since 2019. Critical global supply lines of semiconductors – which Taiwan produces in abundance – would also come under Chinese control. While the seizure of chip production facilities wouldn’t mean that China could immediately produce state-of-the-art semiconductors, the shortage of chips caused by the takeover would not be covered by the European Union’s Chips Act alone.
Additionally, if Taiwan became China’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” it would seriously affect Japan’s defense strategy (including defense of the Ryukyu Islands), safeguards for Japan’s sea lines of communication, and America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
There are various scenarios for how a “Taiwan contingency” might unfold, and these differ depending on the actors involved, their strategic goals, and means of achieving them. In the following section we will explore three possible scenarios – categorized by whether armed force is used, and whether Japan is involved – to evaluate how they would affect Japan, neighboring countries, and the international community. It should be noted that China’s military actions might not fall into such clean-cut scenarios, and would likely be a combination of the scenarios that follow.
2.1.1.Complete blockade of Taiwan
In this scenario, the Chinese government unilaterally declares the waters and airspace around Taiwan as special maritime and airspace zones, and permits only ships and aircraft approved by the Chinese government to enter, effectively blockading Taiwan. If China threatens force in response to violations of these “borders,” the international community – and especially Japan, with its “exclusive defense-oriented” policy, which refers to a passive defense strategy in accordance with the spirit of the Japanese Constitution, such as using defensive force only when attacked by an opponent, limiting its use to the minimum necessary for self-defense, and limiting possession of the strength of self-defense to the minimum necessary level – will have a difficult time responding. For China, an ambiguous response from the international community would be desirable.
Such a scenario is not without precedent. In November 2013, China unilaterally declared the establishment of an “air defense identification zone” over the East China Sea, and demanded that aircraft flying in the airspace follow Chinese instructions, a restriction that commercial airlines and countries have adhered to in the past. Under Article 25 of the Coast Guard Law of the People’s Republic of China, which came into effect in February 2021, China’s Coast Guard has the authority to designate “temporary maritime security zones” and restrict or prohibit the passage or stay of vessels or personnel. Depending on the situation, China could even physically blockade Taiwan by deploying submarines and other naval vessels, launching ballistic missiles, laying mines, and patrolling by military aircraft.
Energy is one of Taiwan’s greatest vulnerabilities. Because Taiwan limits nuclear power generation and relies heavily (88 percent) on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, it imports 97.7 percent of its energy needs. Even with reserves of coal (39 days), crude oil (146 days), and natural gas (11 days), Taiwan couldn’t withstand a blockade for very long.
A blockade would also bring Taiwan’s economy to a standstill, especially if trading with countries other than China – which accounts for 33 percent of the island’s total trade balance – was interrupted.
Finally, supply chain disruptions to semiconductors – Taiwanese semiconductor foundry such as TSMC and UMC accounts for nearly 65 percent of global consignment production – would have a major impact on the global economy, and especially the European automobile industry.
2.1.2 Limited military operations against remote Taiwanese islands
China could apply pressure on Taiwanese society by occupying small remote islands belonging to Taiwan, such as Kinmen County near the Chinese coast, the Penghu Islands in the Taiwan Strait, or Pratas and Taiping islands in the South China Sea. In this scenario, China would be expected to use various forms of hybrid warfare (an Russia did during its annexation of Crimea in 2014) to occupy the islands quickly so as not to provoke a U.S. response.
Alternatively, China could conduct an all-out military campaign on one or several of the islands as a prelude to a full-scale landing on Taiwan. Although possible, this scenario is not likely since a counterattack by Taiwanese forces would cause damage to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and China has little to gain from such damage. In addition, as seen in the experience of Japanese forces during World War Two and the battle over Snake (Zmiinyi) Island in Ukraine last year, defending a small island is difficult due to the lack of strategic depth for its defenses and the difficulty of maintaining logistics for vital supplies such as drinking water, provisions, and ammunition.
Either way, Japan would have limited options in this scenario. Restricted by its Constitution, the traditional “exclusive defense” principle and “2015 military legislation,” which came into force in March 2016, Japan cannot exercise its right of individual self-defense for Taiwan unless there is a direct armed attack against Japan. An armed attack on a remote Taiwanese island would also be difficult to identify as a “situation threatening Japan’s survival (Sonritsu Kiki Jitai),” which allows the limited exercise of collective self-defense to support an ally even if Japan is not directly attacked.
Therefore, it’s unlikely that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) would directly participate in military operations to defend Taiwan’s islands without American involvement. And even if the U.S. did become directly involved in this scenario with military deployment, Japan would likely be asked to provide little more than logistical support to U.S. forces.
Still, if attacks on Taiwan’s islands were to occur, China would likely aim to disrupt the Japan-U.S. alliance, using hybrid warfare techniques (such as disinformation) to fuel public concern about Japan’s involvement. The PRC’s goal would be to push Japanese society to turn against the U.S. and reject America’s military presence in Japan.
2.1.3 Full-scale military operation against Taiwan
This scenario is one in which China decides to launch a full-scale military operation against Taiwan, including a landing operation launched on the pretext of the Taiwanese government crossing a “red line” set by the Chinese Politburo. This red line could be a declaration of Taiwan independence or another event that would cause the Chinese leadership to lose face.
Additionally, the possibility of a pro-China group being formed in Taiwan cannot be ruled out, with China claiming a need to protect supporters as justification for an invasion. In this case, Washington’s willingness to intervene militarily will be the most important factor that determines the outcome. However, once China closes the maritime zone and airspace around Taiwan, it will be isolated, and the U.S. won’t be able to move any significant forces there.
In a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wargame scenario released on January 9, 2023, the “basic assumptions” were that (1) Taiwan would strongly resist China; (2) the U.S. military would immediately enter the war; and (3) Japan would accept the U.S. military using its domestic bases. In two of the three games conducted under these assumptions, Chinese forces were unable to overrun Taiwan’s major cities, but supplies were cut off for 10 days. In the remaining exercise, Chinese forces landed in southern Taiwan and took control of a port in Tainan, but U.S. airstrikes rendered the port unusable, and the Chinese were unable to maintain their occupation for more than three weeks.
The conclusion drawn from these exercises was that Taiwanese forces, with the support of the U.S. military and Japan’s SDF, would be able to stop a Chinese invasion but with extensive damages on all sides.
Excluding the most optimistic and pessimistic forecasts of the CSIS wargame, the U.S. military would lose between seven and 20 ships, including two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and missile cruisers; incur approximately 3,000 casualties; lose a total of 10,000 people (including those missing); and sustain between 168 to 484 destroyed aircraft.
Taiwan’s military, meanwhile, would lose more than half of its aircraft and all 26 of its naval vessels. Japan’s SDF would lose 112 to 161 military aircraft and 26 naval vessels (almost half of its total fleet). The Chinese military would lose between 155 and 327 aircraft, 138 ships, and incur more than 7,000 casualties on the ground, plus another 7,500 during the sealift to Taiwan.
However, these figures don’t take into consideration the number of civilian victims in Taiwan, Japan’s Ryukyu Islands chain, or the Japanese mainland. Heavy missile attacks would also be expected on U.S. military facilities in Iwakuni, Yokota, and Misawa. Furthermore, if Russia or North Korea launched military operations in support of China’s military operations or diversionary tactics, the calculus would change dramatically.
Based on these results, CSIS concludes that a clear willingness of the U.S. military to be directly and actively involved would be an effective deterrent. Realistically, however, it’s entirely possible that the U.S. might choose not to become fully involved in a Taiwan contingency, calculating that military involvement would be too costly, and offer only Ukrainian-type support – such as providing arms, ammunition, and information.
In the case of an Iraq war-style military intervention, the military forces of the U.S., the U.K., and Australia (AUKUS) would be deployed under the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The deployment would likely not be based on resolutions from the UN Security Council, where China would be expected to invoke its veto power. Japan might recognize the situation as “threatening Japan’s survival” and exercise its right of collective self-defense to escort AUKUS forces. To prevent PLA landing operations on Taiwan, submarine attacks against approaching Chinese vessels, air defense against Chinese military aircraft, and missile attacks against Chinese missile launching sites would be required.
If the U.S. decided not to intervene militarily against a nuclear power and instead support Taiwan as it has in Ukraine, Japan would be forced to play the role of a supply depot, as Poland is currently doing for Ukraine. Furthermore, Japan may be asked to supply Taiwan with equipment, ammunition, and other supplies, and to transport international relief supplies to Taiwan. However, due to China’s tough Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities, the CSIS wargame concludes that Taiwan would be isolated, preventing the U.S. or Japan from moving any significant forces there. In this context, Taiwan’s prepositioning and stockpiling should be strengthened.
2.2 Anticipated effects
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine serves as a model for what could be anticipated in the event of a Taiwan contingency. But unlike Ukraine and European countries, which are connected by land borders, Taiwan is surrounded by the sea. Therefore, most of the fighting leading up to landing would take place in the maritime sphere, and the battle for control of the seas and airspace would be decisive. In addition, since access and transport of supplies would also occur at sea, securing maritime transport routes will be vital in assisting Taiwan. It’s important to note that neither a collective defense organization like NATO nor a regional integration organization like the EU exists in Asia. So, consolidating the international community’s cooperative posture in the event of a contingency would also pose a challenge.
For Japan, the first order of business would be evacuating Japanese tourists and citizens from Taiwan (according to the statistics published by Japanese Foreign Ministry in October 2022, there were 20,345 Japanese living in Taiwan). If the situation escalated gradually, evacuations would be easier. However, if the situation escalated quickly, many Japanese and foreign citizens would be stranded in Taiwan.
It might also be necessary to evacuate and protect Japanese nationals living in China (102,066 as of October 2022). In July 2010, when China’s National Defense Mobilization Law went into effect, obligating all Chinese citizens both in and outside of China to cooperate in national defense, the head of China’s General Office of the National Defense Mobilization Commission stated clearly that “foreign capital and joint venture companies in China, including Japanese, would be subject to the law.” The provisions of the law state that “all private companies have obligations and responsibilities for the preparation and requisition of strategic materials for Chinese authorities.” Some Japanese lawmakers also point to other concerns. There are the 744,551 registered Chinese nationals in Japan, some of whom have acquired Japanese citizenship. They might be involved in various conspiratorial activities under the law in a case of the contingency. Preparations must be made to counter this possibility.
Furthermore, the question arises whether neighboring countries would implement economic sanctions against China at the first sign of a blockade or military operations against Taiwan, and whether European countries would join them. This might mean completely decoupling from the Chinese economy and supply chains that many countries depend on, not only for advanced technology but also consumer goods. Once the war began in Ukraine, many Western companies decided to suspend or withdraw from activities in the Russian market not only because of the economic sanctions, but also to avoid “reputational risk.” Similarly, the Japanese and foreign companies in China need to prepare for potential withdrawal from the Chinese market and the possibility of asset abandonment.
In addition, just as Russia has attempted to prevent or obstruct European countries from supporting Ukraine by using energy as a weapon, China would be expected to prevent or obstruct Japanese support for Taiwan by restricting trade (which accounted for 21.6 percent of Japan’s exports and 24.1 percent of its imports in 2021 according to JETRO report of bilateral trade in March 2022). This would include rare metals, components, consumer goods, processed food, and other items. Unlike the substitutions European countries have been able to arrange for Russian gas, for Japan, economic relations with China are not something that can be quickly replaced with alternatives. And if China, which is a logistics hub not only for Asia but also for the world, became the target of widespread economic sanctions, the level of disruption in global logistics would be far worse than experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Three Aspects of the “Taiwan Contingency” Narrative for Japan
The idea that “a Taiwan contingency is Japan’s contingency as well” is supported by three concepts. First, because a Taiwan contingency would directly affect Japan’s security, Japanese society would need to support the strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities and preparedness. Second, the Japan-U.S. alliance would also need bolstering to ensure America’s commitment to Japan’s defense. Third, international unity and strategic intent would be essential to reassure and support Taiwanese citizens that they could resist China’s hybrid warfare.
3.1 Strengthening Japan’s defense capability and readiness
In January 2023, LDP Vice President Aso called for a drastic strengthening of defense capabilities, noting that if China invaded Taiwan, the result could be a military conflict on Japanese territory, including Okinawa. Aso cautioned the typically pacificist Japanese public, which tends to perceive its national defense as America’s problem, to recognize that “one must defend one’s own country.” Aso pointed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a prime example. Thus, the Taiwan contingency narrative is often discussed in the context of strengthening Japan’s own defense capabilities and preparedness and in convincing the public that national defense is in Japan’s own interests.
The form of U.S. involvement in the defense of Japan, which the Japanese government has described as “the cornerstone of Japan’s defense,” and the division of roles between Japan and the U.S. in Japan’s defense, has been changing in response to this shift in perception. What’s important here is that the “perception of inferiority” toward China’s military build-up in the Western Pacific by Washington and Tokyo is the starting point for preparation of a defense posture for the U.S. and Japan. In other words, it’s necessary to prepare in a way that doesn’t presuppose the establishment of sea and air superiority. There’s no doubt that the U.S. global military power and military network is still superior to China. However, U.S. naval and air forces deployed in the Western Pacific account for just 10 to 15 percent of the total U.S. forces, leaving the U.S. outnumbered regional amid a recent Chinese military buildup (which includes space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors.
Previous wargame scenarios have assumed that as China’s A2/AD capabilities increased, the U.S. would temporarily evacuate most of its troops stationed in Japan to Guam, Hawaii, and Darwin to conserve its strength. Until the U.S. was prepared to mount a counterattack, Japan would have to fight against China alone.
In recent years, however, Japan’s approach has shifted. Now, defense preparedness is split into two areas: “Inside forces” – forces with new smaller platforms located inside firing range of China’s missiles – and “outside forces,” bigger platforms located outside of firing range of China’s missiles. This realignment was done in recognition that destroying Chinese A2/AD capabilities in the early stages of a battle would be difficult, especially given that it would take time for U.S. military reinforcements to arrive Japan.
The new approach is similar to operational concepts such as the U.S. Army’s Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), the U.S. Air Force’s Agile Combat Operations (ACE), the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE), the U.S. Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), and the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO), all of which are predicated on operations inside an enemy’s threat sphere.
In this new concept, Japan’s SDF must be transformed into “inside forces” with the following characteristics: (1) high mobility and high survivability, (2) high lethal strike capability with precision anti-ship and anti-air missiles, (3) the ability to provide intelligence and reconnaissance information to outside forces, and (4) smaller and less expensive units that utilize unmanned platforms.
In other words, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are expected to play an important role in the new concept of combat based on the “integrated deterrence” approach mentioned in America’s 2022 National Defense Strategy (2022NDS). The sense of crisis in the Japanese government that prompted three new security documents reflects the realization that Japan might have to transform its defense capabilities to match new strategic requirements.
Ukraine, which does not possess long-range weapons, is being attacked by cruise missiles launched from Russian strategic bombers and naval vessels at distances that Ukrainian forces cannot reach. Furthermore, given the current situation in which the Ukrainian government is constantly begging Western countries to supply weaponry and artillery shells, and is fighting under their aegis, it’s natural that Japan recognizes the need to secure its own long-range strike capability to fully exercise its right of individual self-defense.
Therefore, securing “counterattack capability” is a focus of attention in the three security documents. It should be noted that some experts view the securing of Japan’s long-range strike capability as a way to avoid possible deployment of U.S. intermediate-range missiles – such as LRHW – to Japan.
Along with ensuring counterattack capability, the Japanese government will conduct a table exercise in March 2023 for the first time to verify evacuation procedures for residents of five municipalities in the Nansei Islands (Ishigaki city, Miyakojima city, Yonaguni town, Taketomi town, and Tarama village) in preparation for a possible Taiwan contingency. In the exercise, the government plans to facilitate the quick evacuation of residents by using civilian aircraft and ships. In this context, the three security documents also call for enhancing transportation capacity between the mainland and the Nansei Islands by introducing eight medium- and small-size landing vessels (Landing Support Vessel: LSV and Landing Craft Utility: LCU) that will be operated by ground SDF (not maritime SDF). C2 transport aircrafts and airborne refueling aircrafts will also be purchased in the next five years. But it remains unclear how Japanese naval vessels and aircraft could evacuate civilians in a situation where China gains quick control of the sea and airspace.
3.2 Strengthening ties with the U.S.
On December 1, 2021, former Prime Minister Abe stated, “A Taiwan contingency means both Japan’s contingency and a contingency for the Japan-U.S. alliance as well.” He emphasized that “Xi Jinping should never fail to recognize this perception shared by Japanese and American leaders.”
It’s vitally important for Japan to not only defend Japan, but also to ensure the military involvement of the U.S. in any contingency that threatens Japan. To this end, based on the concept of “integrated deterrence” that the U.S. put forth in its “2022 National Security Strategy” and 2022 NDS, Tokyo is taking steps to contribute to the strengthening of deterrence and formulate a Japan-U.S. Joint Operation Plan that would effectively deal with the contingency and define the division of roles between Tokyo and Washington.
Although the Japanese government hasn’t disclosed details of this joint operation plan, according to a Kyodo News report, the U.S. Marines, with support from the SDF, would establish temporary military bases from Kagoshima Prefecture to the Nansei Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. This would be done only in the event that the Japanese government declares “a situation that seriously affects Japan’s security (Juyo Eikyo Jitai).”
In such a situation, Tokyo would support U.S. military operations logistically. There are about 40 possible locations for these bases, including Amami Oshima and Miyakojima Island, where ground SDF deploys missile units, and Ishigakijima Island, where the units are scheduled to be deployed. It’s believed that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps would deploy Navy Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), with the SDF providing logistical support to eliminate Chinese naval vessels. This is based on the U.S. Marine Corps’ new operating concept, Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO), which focuses on small and dispersed deployment of forces.
In March 2022, the 3rd Marine Regiment, based in Hawaii, was reorganized as the Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) and will be followed by the 12th Marine Regiment and the 4th Marine Regiment of U.S. Force Japan (USFJ) in Okinawa (which will subsequently be reorganized as the 12th MLR and the 4th MLR, respectively, under the concept of EABO). In the “Japan-U.S. 2+2” meeting on January 12, 2023, it was revealed that the U.S. 12th Marine Regiment currently deployed in Okinawa would be converted to MLR by 2025 and deployed to the Sakishima Islands, where currently only ground SDF units are stationed.
In other words, until reinforcements arrive from the U.S. mainland, the SDF and U.S. forces must counter a possible large-scale attack by Chinese forces using “inside forces,” consisting of dispersed small platforms of SDF and USFJ.
In addition, 280 personnel will be stationed at the U.S. Army Yokohama North Dock, where 13 LCU boats of the U.S. Army Prepositioned Stock 4 (APS-4) are deployed (previously, military personnel from California came to Japan once a year for training and maintenance of the boats). In the event of a contingency, it’s expected that the boats would be deployed to evacuate U.S. civilians from Taiwan to Miyakojima Island.
3.3 Means to support Taiwan
In China’s “Unified Front Work” strategy, promulgated on January 5, 2021, the target for securing unification was changed from Taiwanese authorities (as indicated in the 2015 Unification Front Work Ordinance) to “patriotic unification” groups – Taiwanese companies and individuals who want unification with China. To achieve this, China will likely grant economic preferences and other favors to these groups to gain support for unification.
The new strategy also indicates a shift to integrating Taiwan into China’s economic development by encouraging regional integration between Fujian and Taiwan, rather than overall Sino-Taiwanese exchanges.
On top of this, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense projects that at the rate China is currently strengthening its military, it expects to have enough power to unify Taiwan militarily by 2025. In the meantime, China might be working to create support groups in Taiwan through gray zone infiltration, cognitive warfare, and economic coercion.
In the run-up to the next Taiwanese presidential election, scheduled for early 2024, China will use all possible means – including launching cyber-attacks, sending agents, distributing money, and waging disinformation warfare – to ensure the next Taiwanese president will do China’s bidding and it might be the ideal way to achieve Beijing’s goal, unification with Taiwan without a fight. In response, the U.S. and other countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia will need to help Taiwanese citizens avoid being swayed by China’s hybrid warfare by demonstrating their solid support for Taiwan through concrete actions.
In other words, like-minded countries need to show Chinese leadership that they won’t allow a change to the status quo by force. To ensure integrated deterrence, Taiwan’s allies can do this most effectively by sharing values and strengthening economic ties with Taiwan.
Possible kinetic challenges by China on Taiwan would cause serious damage not only to soldiers but also civilians on both sides of the Strait. The disruption of trade relations, especially supply chains, along with the aftermath of economic sanctions would inflict irreversible damage not only on the economies of Taiwan, Japan, China, and neighboring countries, but also on the global economy, including Europe. Therefore, a Taiwan contingency is an event that must be avoided at all costs.
With Japan expected to build an integrated deterrence with the U.S., Australia, and like-minded countries, including in Europe, it’s necessary to consider whether stronger deterrence and a hardened stance toward China could lead to a “security dilemma” and fuel an arms race. As such, the world needs to engage China and build mechanisms to manage tensions and maintain regional stability in a multifaceted manner countries an inclusive “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” vision.
To this end, the international community must work to (1) persuade Chinese leaders to maintain the status quo through ongoing dialogue and continued interdependence, including Track 2 diplomacy; (2) develop integrated deterrence among like-minded countries to prevent challenges by Beijing; (3) strengthen dialogue and cooperation with Taiwan to encourage its leaders to maintain the status quo; and (4) prepare for the worst-case scenario with sufficient measures designed to prevent an attempt by China to change the status quo by force.
In this context, recognizing the connection between Asian and European security, and promoting practical cooperation and preparation with European countries, are essential to mitigate the anticipated disruption and damage that would be caused by China’s invasion of Taiwan.