Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Beijing’s Sabre-Rattling Leading to Calls for Enhanced US-Japan Cooperation to Defend Taiwan

China’s increasingly aggressive behaviors and coercive actions—including ramped up air and naval maneuvers around Taiwan—are leading to growing calls among experts in Washington and Tokyo for expanded coordination among the two treaty allies and cooperation with Taipei to counteract the growing threat. Most notably, in a recent report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “The US-Japan Alliance in 2020,” co-chaired by Ambassador Richard Armitage and Dr. Joseph Nye—both senior Japan hands who served in senior positions in the US government—the study participants, which included other seasoned Asia hands—observed:

China’s so-called “grey zone” coercion has illuminated the importance that the United States and Japan place on the strategic integrity of the first island chain, which stretches from Japan through Taiwan and the Philippines to Malaysia. Japan does not have a legal or diplomatic obligation to support Taiwan’s security as the United States does through the Taiwan Relations Act, but there should be no doubt that Tokyo shares Washington’s concern over growing Chinese military and political pressure on Taiwan. This growing Chinese pressure calls for increased coordination between the United States and Japan on their respective political and economic engagement with Taiwan.

This unambiguous recognition of the shared concerns between Washington and Tokyo regarding China’s growing pressure campaign towards Taiwan follows a similar set of forward-leaning recommendations from another group of senior retired American and international military and civilian officials. This group, which includes a retired admiral and former director of national intelligence, called for stepped up military coordination among US allies with Taipei in order to better prepare for and respond to the possibility of a military crisis in the region. In a May 2020 report published by the US-based Sasakawa Peace Foundation—which organized a tabletop exercise involving hypothetical scenarios in the South China Sea—the participants specifically recommendedthat the United States:

Expand Japan’s and South Korea’s mechanisms to consult and coordinate with Taiwan so they resemble the robust connection between the United States and Taiwan.

And suggested that:

Planning associated with US military options in support of the TRA should recognize the requirement for a rapid expansion of consultative and cooperative mechanisms with Taipei.

While such voices in Washington have existed before, they have become louder in recent years, particularly on the need to better integrate Taiwan into US allied responses to regional contingencies. However, the challenges to deepening trilateral cooperation have traditionally been on the Japanese side due to Tokyo’s concerns about China’s reaction. Yet, even in Tokyo, there are signs that such conservative views are starting to change in the face of China’s increasing belligerence. Nobukatsu Kanehara, who served in a variety of high-level positions within the Japanese government, including as Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from 2012 to 2019, recently stated at a Project 2049 Institute webinar:

[…] whether we are ambiguous or not, China doesn’t care. They are preparing for war, the invasion of Taiwan […] under the screen of ambiguity. We have to have some communication among Washington-Taipei and Tokyo-Taipei […]. We have to be clear that we do not accept the status quo change in Taiwan.

What explains Tokyo’s apparent reversal in concerns about China’s intentions vis-à-vis Taiwan? Ian Easton, a senior director at the Project 2049 Institute, cited in his study The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia the PLA handbook Japanese Air Self Defense Force, which explicitly states the military advantages for China and costs to Japan if Taiwan were to unify with China:

As soon as Taiwan is reunified with Mainland China, Japan’s maritime lines of communication will fall completely within the striking ranges of China’s fighters and bombers. […] Our analysis shows that, by using blockades, if we can reduce Japan’s raw imports by 15-20%, it will be a heavy blow to Japan’s economy. After imports have been reduced by 30%, Japan’s economic activity and war-making potential will be basically destroyed. After imports have been reduced by 50%, even if they use rationing to limit consumption, Japan’s national economy and war-making potential will collapse entirely […] blockades can cause sea shipments to decrease and can even create a famine within the Japanese islands. [1]

The implications of Taiwan’s subjugation by China for Japan are even more bluntly called out by Tanner Greer at Scholar Stage:

Taiwan is the keystone of China’s naval containment. Lose Taiwan, and Japan loses the ability to keep the PLA Navy hemmed up against their own coast line. Lose Taiwan, and Japan loses control of its most important supply lanes. Lose Taiwan, and Japan loses the extended island chain defense system that protects its home waters.

In addition to Armitage and Nye, other prominent voices in Washington are similarly calling for increased security consultations between Washington, Tokyo, and Taipei. For instance, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs Randall Schriver wrote a recent memorandum published by the Project 2049 Institute in support of such cooperation. Specifically, the former top defense official for the Indo-Pacific during the Trump administration recommended:

The United States and its regional partners should work with Taipei in innovative ways to expand Taiwan’s international space in meaningful ways so that Taiwan can prove its value as a good regional and global citizen.

More specifically, he suggested:

The US should undertake bilateral military planning with regional allies (such as Japan, Australia, and the Republic of Korea) and associated training for a Taiwan Strait contingency.

Despite these growing calls from experts for increased cooperation between the United States, Japan, and Taiwan, officials in Washington and Tokyo have remained relatively quiet about the extent of security cooperation over Taiwan. In response to a question about security cooperation between Taipei and Tokyo at a webinar hosted by GTI earlier this year, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Heino Klinck stated:

We certainly encourage any of our allies to enhance their security dialogue with Taiwan. We believe that giving Taiwan as much international space as possible is in the interest of like-minded democracies, in the region and globally, quite frankly. So, if Tokyo and Taipei are able to enhance the types of relationships that already currently exist, Washington is certainly in favor of that.

While official documents released by the two governments, such as the US-Japan Defense Guidelines, have pointed towards greater alignment on the role that Japan would play in a potential Taiwan contingency—as well as emphasizing Japanese interests in counteracting Chinese coercion of Taiwan—planning for such contingencies appears limited. For its part, Taipei has continuously called for security cooperation between Taipei and Tokyo. As Kanehara bluntly admitted: “Being ambiguous is one thing; preparing quietly is quite another. China is doing that, we are not doing this […]. We don’t have a plan, we don’t have an exercise. Can we do that?”

The main point: China’s increasingly aggressive behaviors and coercive actions are leading to growing calls among experts in Washington and Tokyo for better coordination among the two treaty allies and cooperation with Taipei to counteract the growing threat.

(The author would like to thank Marshall Reid for his research assistance.)

[1] Ian Easton, The China Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in East Asia (Washington DC: Project 2049 Institute, 2017), 27-28.

Record Number of Hong Kongers Obtain Residence Permits in Taiwan in 2020 as Beijing Clamps Down on Dissent

As Beijing clamps down even harder on political dissent in Hong Kong—demonstrated by the recent chilling charges and convictions of prominent pro-democracy activists under the draconian Hong Kong National Security Law (香港國家安全法)—Taiwan revealed that it has issued increasing numbers of residence permits to people from Hong Kong. According to Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正), the deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC, 大陸委員會)—the cabinet level agency in charge of implementing cross-Strait policy—from January to October of this year, Taiwan has already issued 7,474 resident permits (居留許可) to Hong Kong residents (for work, study, etc.) and 1,272 Hong Kong residents obtained permanent residency permits (定居許可). The 2020 count already exceeds the 5,858 residency permits that Taiwan issued in 2019 and the 4,148 it issued in 2018.

Specifically, the numbers from July to October of this year were reportedly 4,313 and 550, for resident permits and permanent residency permits, respectively. Among the former group, 1,974 Hong Kong residents obtained residence permits in Taiwan in October alone, a record number for a single month.

Critics of the Taiwan government’s approach to Hong Kong have argued that the current administration is not going far enough to proactively help the people of Hong Kong. Specifically, they are calling for Taiwan’s Legislature to pass a law in order to provide asylum for Hong Kong persons fleeing the SAR and entering Taiwan through extrajudicial means. There have been several recent incidents in which Hong Kong political activists have fled to Taiwan by speedboat, which have put Taiwanese aid agencies and organizations in a bind over how to offer support, since Taiwan bans illegal entry and offers no explicit, legal guarantee of asylum.

To this end, MAC announced the Hong Kong Humanitarian Aid Project (香港人道援助關懷行動專案) in June, which is intended to assist “Hong Kong or Macau residents whose safety and freedom are urgently endangered due to political factors” with immigration, settlement, investment, employment, schooling, and other matters in Taiwan, or to provide necessary assistance in compliance with Article 18 of Taiwan’s Hong Kong and Macau Regulations. Subsequently, MAC inaugurated the “Taiwan-Hong Kong Service Exchange Office” (臺港服務交流辦公室) on July 1 of this year.

The recent surge of Hong Kong residents ostensibly moving to Taiwan is consistent with the uptick in new immigrants from the SAR during the first half of 2020. Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior (內政部)—which is responsible for homeland affairs—released statistics showing that the number of Hong Kong residents who had received resident permits in the first half of 2020 reached 3,161, which marked a 116 percent increase from the 1,464 who received permits during the same period last year. Immigration officials pointed out that the number of Hong Kong residents staying and settling in Taiwan is on the increase. “Of course, it is mainly related to the turmoil in Hong Kong,” according to local officials.

At a recent forum organized in Taipei called the “2020 Taiwan-Hong Kong Cultural Cooperation Forum” (2020台港文化合作論壇), MAC Deputy Minister Chiu said that Taiwan and Hong Kong should join hands to protect freedom, democracy, and human rights.

The main point: Amid Beijing’s hardening clampdown on political dissent in Hong Kong, Taiwan has granted record numbers of residence permits to people from Hong Kong. Still, critics argue that the current administration is not going far enough to help the people of Hong Kong.

Errata: USG Records Highest Authorized FMS to Taiwan in 2020

A previous Global Taiwan Brief entitled “US Authorizes Record Amount of Arms Sales to Taiwan as Tensions Mount” appearing in Volume 5, Issue 23 had mistakenly claimed that the United States made the largest number of arms sales to Taiwan in terms of dollar amount in 2019. In fact, according to the most recent official data released on December 4 by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on authorized foreign military sales (FMS), the United States Government (USG) authorized the most arms sales to Taiwan in 2020 compared to any other security partner in the world. Receiving a record USD $11.77 billion in arms sales, Taiwan was the United States’ top FMS partner globally in 2020 (note that this total does not include direct commercial sales (DCS)). [1] Since 2016, the USG has authorized USD $16.7 billion in arms sales to Taiwan—second only in Asia to treaty ally Japan’s USD $19.3 billion during the same period.

Country  Fiscal Years 1950 To 2015  Fiscal Year 2016  Fiscal Year 2017  Fiscal Year 2018  Fiscal Year 2019  Fiscal Year 2020  Fiscal Years 1950 to 2020  
Taiwan$28,212,637,801  $1,806,455,922  $563,512,718  $1,677,157,778  $875,552,468  $11,777,425,598  $44,912,742,285  
Numbers courtesy of Defense Security Cooperation Agency

[1] According to the DSCA: “FMS is a security assistance program authorized by the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and conducted on the basis of formal contracts and agreements between the USG and authorized recipient governments or international organizations. FMS includes government-to-government sales of defense articles or services from current Department of Defense (DOD) stocks or DOD managed contracts.”