On Thursday, the recently inaugurated Fumio Kishida Cabinet decided to dissolve the Lower House.
This decision itself was not unexpected: When his administration began, Prime Minister Kishida announced his intention to hold elections on Oct. 31. Indeed, the term of the House of Representatives, elected in 2017, was set to expire this month anyway.
Interest this time is not so much on how many seats the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will gain, if any, but rather how many it might lose. This appears to be the main reason then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga decided not to run for the LDP presidency again after just one year in office after succeeding Shinzo Abe, who himself stepped down suddenly last September. Suga faced both doubts that the party would do well in the elections and pressure to step down.
There are similar voices facing Kishida, who launched a weak Cabinet (including thirteen first-time ministers) on Oct. 4, and a frail party leadership structure before that on Oct. 1. The fragility of the party leadership and Cabinet in part has to do with the traditional factional rivalries that has both helped and hindered the party over its 66-year history.
But this time, there are serious — yet unseen — fault lines deep below the surface that might not be apparent for months and years to come. The movement of the tectonic plates within the LDP are slow and may not be easily felt, but they are real and are causing friction.
This commentary, however, is not about the intraparty dynamics. Nor am I particularly concerned about how the ruling party does or does not do. Instead, I am interested in seeing members of parliament elected who are pro-Taiwan and are willing to stand with Taiwan.
This may seem odd as we are discussing a general election in Japan, but they are not unrelated. Japan’s security, and hence its future, is directly related to Taiwan’s security and future existence. A vote for Taiwan is a vote for Japan.
How should the Japanese voter be certain that pro-Taiwan (and hence, pro-Japan) parliamentarians are elected? Obviously, first, an engaged citizenry that knows the positions and stances of their elected representatives or candidates for office is always key for political and media literacy.
But more specifically, a questionnaire should be conducted this time of all candidates throughout the country sponsored by a pro-Taiwan organization in Japan (of which there are many, such as the Japan Friends of Lee Teng-hui Association, or Nihon Ri Toki Tomo no Kai) or by one of the national media outlets and popular online channels. The questionnaire could ask all the candidates in each constituency whether they support Taiwan and would commit to its defense.
True, the government as a whole is vague about what role Japan would play in a Taiwan contingency, as much of the legislation and operational plans remain undrafted, so it is difficult for an individual politician to take or articulate a policy stance. However, it is the politicians who have the power, especially collectively, to move the government forward on this. At the minimum, Japanese voters should know where their representatives stand with regard to Taiwan.
Over the past year, we have seen some courageous statements by Japanese government officials, such as from then-Finance Minister Taro Aso and then-Vice Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama, about the direct connection Taiwan’s security has with Japan’s. That includes actions by Upper House member Masahisa Sato promoting security dialogue with Taiwanese legislators and calling for new legislation in Japan involving regional security cooperation.
Politicians and statesmen, in other words, have the power to positively affect policy with Taiwan, and thus those supporting Taiwan should be chosen.
This is particularly important now on the eve of the Lower House election. The four-year term the members serve (as per Article 45 of the postwar Constitution) coincides with the period which this writer feels is the most likely time China will strike at Taiwan. If Taiwan goes, China will have broken through the First Island Chain and be able to station troops, missiles, ships, submarines and planes there, harassing or invading Japan and the Philippines. This will be easier as trust in the ability of the United States to defend its allies will have evaporated.
Adm. Philip S. Davidson, the then-commander of the Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, said earlier this year in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the People’s Republic of China might seek to take Taiwan “during this decade, in fact in the next six years.” While he did not give a reason for the “six-year” time frame, I believe it has to do with the reported inability of the United States to deploy an adequate space-defense system for its satellites before 2026.
China has focused much of its energy over the last two decades on being able to destroy satellites, through lasers, missiles, space arms and other technology. Without satellites, the U.S. and allies will have a tough time fighting a war or defending Taiwan. Modern warfare requires satellites. GPS and communications, among other capabilities, are dependent on them.
China won’t wait until the defense system is in place, and will move more quickly, while it has dominance, or at least the advantage. It will also move before Taiwan is truly brought out of the international isolation that the PRC has subjected it to, pressuring other countries to break relations with Taiwan or block it from admission to international bodies.
Unfortunately, despite Japan’s historic, cultural and economic ties with Taiwan, it, too, has been reluctant to develop close relations with Taiwan over the past half-century for fear of angering China. Fortunately, this is changing, but not quickly enough. China, therefore, will act before Japan’s Diet has passed its own version of a Taiwan Relations Act, permitting closer relations with that country, similar to the one the United States Congress passed in 1979.
If a Lower House that is filled with pro-Taiwan members is elected this fall in Japan, the chances of a Japanese version of a TRA being passed grows, permitting greater political, diplomatic and possible military exchanges. This new relationship will necessarily lead to greater security ties between Japan, Taiwan and the United States, strengthening deterrence for Taiwan and hopefully thwarting Chinese openly stated, aggressive intentions. However, if such a new House of Representatives is not chosen, this becomes increasingly difficult. Not only will Taiwan suffer, but Japan, the region and the world will as well.
The Japanese public supports Taiwan, as numerous opinion polls show. They also understand that supporting Taiwan means supporting Japan. A Taiwan contingency is a Japan contingency. Voters are ahead of many legislators on this issue. It is time for the politicians to catch up or get left behind. Or better said, it is time to truly clarify Japan’s stance on Taiwan. We do not have four years to wait until the next election.
Robert D. Eldridge is the author, translator, or editor of more than 100 books about Japanese politics and diplomacy, including “Japan’s Backroom Politics: Factions in a Multiparty Age” and “The Prime Ministers of Postwar Japan, 1945-1995,” both by Lexington Books.
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