The National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), the core policy research arm of Japan’s Ministry of Defense, recently issued its annual China security report. Previous iterations had focused on topics related to the rising assertiveness of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the modernization and expanded scope of activities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and related topics. This year’s report broke with past precedent by focusing on China and Taiwan. Having previously predicted that Japan-Taiwan relations would rebound from the nadir they had reached under the administration of Ma Ying-jeou, this author approached the report with great anticipation, and was disappointed.
The first chapter should have been titled, “Chinese-Taiwan relations from Beijing’s point of view,” but was not. The chapter’s author, Shinji Yamaguchi, repeatedly refers to “re”unification, the “re” not being in Chinese usage and moreover giving the misimpression that Taiwan was once a part of the PRC. In addition, to say that “the two sides arrived at the 1992 Consensus” (11) as a basis for conducting a government dialogue leaves the impression that an agreement was reached between the two sides rather than, as was the case, between two political parties, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Non-KMT opponents of the talks, who were excluded from the discussions, attempted to demonstrate outside the meeting venue in Singapore, but were arrested by Singaporean police. Also crucially important but unmentioned by Yamaguchi is the fact that then-KMT official Su Chi (蘇起) later admitted he had fabricated the term without the knowledge of then-President Lee Teng-hui.
Yamaguchi’s analysis concentrates only on the top leadership, and overlooks how public opinion in Taiwan plays an important part in framing the policymakers’ choices. Yet another problem is that the author does not clarify what he means by “independence.” When he speaks of “the path to independence” (18), is this just the desire to remain autonomous from China to avoid provoking a kinetic response, or a formal declaration of de jure independence? What does it mean to say that Hu Jintao “blocked Taiwan’s independence”? (22). Then-President Chen Shui-bian had already pledged in his inaugural address not to declare independence as long as Beijing did not resort to the use of force.
Another interesting lacuna is in the narrative of the Taiwan Strait tension of 1995-1996, occasioned by Beijing’s anger over the United States allowing Lee to visit his alma mater, Cornell University, to receive its Distinguished Alumnus Award. This would have been the appropriate place to mention that anxiety over PLA war games directed against Taiwan and missile firings into the Taiwan Strait, as well as the nuclear weapons test from May 1995 to July 1996, prompted the Japanese government to seek out, and receive, a closer security relationship with the United States. Included in these activities was a Japanese statement that it would aid in the defense of shuhen jitai (週辺事態) in the surrounding waters, prompting Beijing to demand, but not get, Tokyo’s assurance that this did not entail Japanese cooperation with the United States against an invasion of Taiwan.
Further, when mentioning Chen Shui-bian’s “more radical stance” as epitomized in his August 2002 statement that there was a separate country on either side of the Taiwan Strait —yibian yiguo （一邊一國)—it should have been mentioned that Chen was essentially restating his predecessor Lee Teng-hui’s pronouncement that the cross-Strait formulation should be state-to-state or at least “special state-to-state”—teshu guoyuguo (特殊國與國). Curiously, the section titled “The Xi Jinping Years: Stressing the 1992 Consensus,” which credits Xi with “the audacious step” of meeting with Ma Ying-jeou, does not mention that all Chinese television channels were blacked out when Ma began to speak. And that, where his photo appeared, the small Republic of China lapel pin Ma wore was blacked out, appearing instead as an odd discoloration on the lapel of his suit.
Happily, the remaining chapters, two of them by Momma Rira and one by the aforementioned Yamaguchi, are more straightforward. A couple of minor points: the split between Lee Teng-hui and James Soong was over more than Lee’s freezing the functions of the Taiwan provincial government (32), since Lee was trying to undercut the power of the more popular Soong in order the advance the electoral prospects of his chosen successor, Lien Chan. On page 46, it should be noted that President George W. Bush offered to sell a weapons package to Taiwan only after the collision between a US reconnaissance plane and a Chinese J-8 fighter, which occurred on April 1, 2001. While it may be true that there were no major problems between China and Taiwan while President Obama was in office, supporters of Taiwan’s continued autonomy would dispute the author Shinji Yamaguchi’s judgment that there were no remarkable developments during that time, instead believing that the many cross-Strait agreements contributed to an increased dependence of Taiwan on the PRC, eroding Taiwan’s fragile claims to sovereignty
The report should also have mentioned that the decline in the number of tourists from China that followed Tsai Ing-wen’s election in 2016 (58) was not widely mourned in Taiwan, though perhaps some tour operators might demur. Given the perceived rude behavior and poor manners of PRC tourists, many Taiwanese expressed relief at their diminished numbers. he nation’s tourism bureau has also made good progress in bringing in tourists from other countries.
Rira Momma’s section on the status of Taiwan’s military response provides a sober, and sobering analysis of the state of the country’s armed forces, and cites frequently-occurring scandals in the ranks, weakening military discipline, insufficient training for war, an inadequate sense of crisis, and an environment in which little emphasis is given to the question of why military forces fight (67). There is an unfortunate mistranslation on page 71: the Hsiung Feng III is a supersonic missile, not a hypersonic missile. Were it the latter, Taiwan would have achieved what the United States, China, and Russia are currently still trying to develop.
In conclusion, Rira notes that, since Xi Jinping’s government has not yet subjected Tsai Ing-wen to the kind of personal criticism it once directed at Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, and because Tsai is trying to avoid any actions that might trigger escalation, some leeway exists for negotiations. As a majority of Taiwanese voters have indicated that they favor maintaining the status quo, to either a formal declaration of independence or unification with China, the Tsai administration will likely adopt policies aimed at consolidating that position (82).
Despite the report’s evident efforts to avoid upsetting the PRC, Beijing’s reaction was predictably negative. The Chinese Foreign Ministry immediately sent a representative to the Japanese government, urging Tokyo “to be cautious in its words and deeds regarding Taiwan-related issues.” A particularly nettlesome point appears to have been the report’s tacit acceptance that Taiwan and China are two separate entities rather the former being an inalienable part of the latter, as Beijing insists in its own definition of the “One–China” policy.
The main point: The National Institute for Defense Studies’ (NIDS) 2017 annual China report broke with past precedent by focusing on China and Taiwan but was disappointing due to its number of assumptions favoring the PRC narrative of cross-Strait relations and a lack of nuance in its assessment of Taiwan’s domestic concerns.
 Richard Bush, The Perils of Proximity: China-Japan Security Relations (Brookings Institution Press, 2010), 17.