Taipei’s top diplomat on Thursday played down the possibility of war erupting in the Taiwan Strait in the near future, despite top U.S. officials’ claims that conflict could come as soon as within the next six years.
“We don’t really anticipate that conflict or war are going to break out any time soon, but we are trying to get ourselves ready,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, speaking from Taipei, said during an online news conference in Tokyo. “Whether the war is going to take place tomorrow, or six years later or 10 years later, we need to prepare ourselves.”
Just 110 kilometers away from Japan’s westernmost island of Yonaguni, the specter of conflict in the Taiwan Strait has long alarmed Tokyo — though this is only just making it into the wider public forum as the Sino-U.S. rivalry grows and China takes ever more assertive steps in the region.
Beijing views the self-ruled island as an inherent part of its territory, a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary.
Top U.S. military officials have said in recent months that China has grown increasingly capable of invading Taiwan. The current head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command warned that the island remains Beijing’s “No. 1 priority,” while his predecessor predicted that China could be ready to take it by force within the next six years.
Wu’s remarks come as momentum grows in Japan and the U.S. for greater cooperation in bolstering deterrence to ensure peace across the Taiwan Strait.
Tokyo has already exhibited a willingness to confront Beijing over its ramped-up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taipei by explicitly citing the importance of peace and stability near Taiwan in joint leaders’ statements with the EU last week and with the U.S. in April.
The groundbreaking joint U.S.-Japan statement by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and President Joe Biden was the first to mention Taiwan since 1969 and set the stage for further action on the issue, including a mention of it in Japan’s annual defense white paper expected later this year.
Wu called Japan’s stepped-up public gestures in support of Taiwan “highly significant,” saying the moves had made the Taiwanese people “feel that we are not alone in confronting (China’s) authoritarian expansionism.”
However, the top Taiwanese diplomat attempted to make clear that Taipei was first and foremost “absolutely committed” to its own self-defense, while also vowing to continue to re-examine with partners any security shortcomings.
“We need to engage with the United States in security discussions … to see what is the blind side of Taiwan that we need to improve upon,” Wu said. “So far, the discussions … have been going very well.”
Still, he emphasized that Taiwan views its defense as its own responsibility.
“If there is going to be a war between Taiwan and China, we will fight the war ourselves,” Wu said. “And if other counties will come to our aid, that will be highly appreciated, but we will fight the war for our own survival and for our own future.”
Beyond the security sphere, Tokyo has also looked to work closely with Taipei in other arenas, especially on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic — much to Beiing’s chagrin.
One move in particular that has irritated Beijing is Japan's plan to provide Taiwan with COVID-19 vaccines as it battles a sudden outbreak of the deadly virus. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said ahead of Wu’s news conference Thursday that planning was currently underway and vaccine distribution could come by the end of this month.
Motegi said Taiwan is rushing to begin making vaccines but that vaccine production systems won’t be completed until after July. “So for the time being, there is an urgent need,” he told an Upper House committee session.
Any donation could involve a portion of Japan's AstraZeneca vaccine stock. The shot, which has faced restrictions overseas following reports of very rare blood clots, isn't being used as part of the country’s vaccine rollout for the time being. Tokyo has an agreement with the drugmaker for 120 million doses of the two-shot vaccine and is reportedly negotiating with the firm to modify a clause barring vaccines from being transferred to other destinations in order to allow shipments to Taiwan.
Wu praised Japan’s donation plan and the “strong bond” between the two countries, but declined further comment.
Taiwan won plaudits in Japan in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when it donated scores of face masks to the country amid a shortage.
Beijing has already lashed out at the vaccine donation plan, with a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman saying that vaccine aid “should not be reduced to a tool for selfish political gains.”
“We are firmly against those who exploit the pandemic to put on political shows or even meddle in China's internal affairs,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a news conference Monday. “I've noticed that Japan can barely ensure adequate supply of vaccines at home.”
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