The government is studying possible responses by the Self-Defense Forces in the event of a military conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan, considering various scenarios within the strict confines of the country’s national security laws, government sources have said.
Japan, which has restrictions on the use of force under its war-renouncing Constitution, has been alarmed by China’s increased regional assertiveness. Tokyo has taken a bolder stance with its U.S. ally when the two mentioned the importance of cross-strait peace in their leaders’ joint statement last week.
Tokyo’s studies focus on responses to cases when a security crisis emerges with the potential to affect its security if left unchecked, such as when a close partner is attacked and threatens Japan’s own survival or when Japan is under direct attack.
U.S. bases in Japan, which are concentrated in Okinawa, could be threatened in the event of a Chinese attack on the U.S. military, the sources said Saturday.
Under the security laws, the SDF could provide transport and supply operations and related logistics support to the U.S. military and partners in the first scenario, while Japan would be allowed to practice collective self-defense in the second scenario.
If a conflict expanded to a direct attack on Japanese soil, such as on the Yonaguni or Senkaku islands in Okinawa — the latter of which China claims and calls Diaoyu — the SDF would be mobilized to defend Japan and engage in combat operations.
The government will now seek to clarify which scenarios envisioned by the security laws could be applicable in a possible Taiwan-related conflict and clarify potential SDF activities.
In March, Phil Davidson, outgoing commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he believed China could attempt to seize Taiwan within the next six years.
The statement last week by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden, which mentioned China heavily, was fiercely criticized by Beijing. It was the first time since 1969 that a joint statement by the allies’ leaders had mentioned Taiwan.
Nonetheless, Suga insisted on adding wording on a peaceful resolution to cross-strait issues in the statement, according to the sources.
China considers democratic Taiwan as a nonnegotiable “core interest” and an internal matter, and as a renegade province to be reunified by force if necessary. The two split in 1949 after a civil war.
Also in March, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi agreed to closely cooperate in the event of a military clash between China and Taiwan.
Previous successive governments interpreted the Constitution to mean that Japan possesses the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it, as Article 9 of the pacifist Constitution prohibits the use of military force to settle international disputes.
However, it was reinterpreted to allow for collective defense, with 2016 national security laws envisioning various scenarios where Japan can exercise collective self-defense in a limited fashion in the event of a conflict.
Amid regional tensions, including with North Korea, Japan has been seeking to bolster its defense posture, including a discussion last year on whether to possess missile strike capabilities targeting enemy bases.
The discussion coincided with the government working on an alternative to a costly U.S.-developed missile defense system.
While Suga has postponed that decision, the government has already decided to develop long-range cruise missiles, which critics say raises the possibility that they could be used to attack enemy bases beyond Japanese territory.
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