Japan seems to have made up its mind to hammer China and use Tokyo’s trump card against China- Taiwan. Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has appointed Shinzo Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi as Defence Minister. Kishi is an outspoken Taiwanese ally and is known to be quite close to Taiwan’s pro-Independence President Tsai Ing-wen, as he has represented Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) during engagements with the Taiwanese President.
Kishi’s appointment as the Defence Minister of Japan has triggered an immediate meltdown in Beijing. China’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Beijing hopes that Japan doesn’t formalise its ties with Taiwan. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin went on to say that he hoped that Japan and China would enhance cooperation after Kishi is appointed the Defence Minister.
Kishi remains Taiwan’s closest Japanese ally. This year itself the 61-year old politician has visited Taiwan two times. In January, he visited Taipei on the occasion of Tsai Ing-wen’s election victory and in July, he accompanied former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori to Taiwan, to mourn the death of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. At that time also, Kishi and some other Japanese lawmakers had met Tsai.
During his January visit to Taiwan, Kishi had emphasised how Taiwan and Japan shared values. According to the Office of the President of Taiwan, Kishi had “pointed out that President Tsai mentioned multiple times throughout her campaign that this election was about the people defending their democracy and freedom.” He had also said that “like Taiwan and the United States, Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy has a focus on freedom and democracy”. Kishi also “expressed hope that Taiwan can play a more important role in maintaining regional peace and stability.”
In fact, as per SCMP, Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Tokyo’s Sophia University said, “He (Kishi) is known to be close to Taiwan and is one of the contact people – perhaps the most important contact person – for conservatives in Japan and the government in Taipei.”
By appointing Kishi, Japan’s new Prime Minister has shown his intent to take on China. He has shown that he has no qualms in weaponizing Taiwan, which is China’s biggest geostrategic weakness as against Japan. Kishi is now expected to open up a new front against China by strengthening Japan-Taiwan relations and endangering Beijing’s One China Policy, wherein the Dragon denies the independent existence of Taiwan.
It isn’t as if Yoshihide Suga doesn’t understand how China will be annoyed if Tokyo plays the Taiwan card. But the new Japanese Prime Minister doesn’t seem to give two hoots about how China feels. Nakano said, “Security matters right now and, given the direction of the current US government, I would say that while Suga knew China might be upset at the appointment of Kishi, they probably feel that they can handle the situation.”
Japan is actually looking to reinvigorate its Taiwan relations given the security threat posing Tokyo in the form of a belligerent Beijing. Japan itself enjoys very good relations with Taiwan since the singing of the Treaty of San Fransisco wherein Tokyo formally renounced its sovereignty over Taiwan. Since 1972, Japan also recognised the Republic of China (Taiwan), and even after recognising the People’s Republic of China, Tokyo has continued to maintain close economic ties with Taipei.
Even apart from a shared history and common values of democracy, freedom and self-determination, Japan has an added geostrategic advantage if it reinvigorates its ties with Taiwan. The essence of the security dispute between Japan and China is the Senkaku Island chain located in the East China Sea. Taiwan, Japan and China claim the Islands, but it seems that with Kishi getting appointed as the Defence Minister, Japan and Taiwan would want to settle their bilateral disputes over the Senkaku Islands.
For Japan, closer ties with Taipei will not only be a diplomatic blitzkrieg against China, but also a smart security move as Japan would be able to seek military cooperation with Taipei. Taiwan is separated from China only by a narrow stretch of water called the Taiwan Strait (or Formosa Strait). Closer Japan-Taiwan relations would mean that Tokyo can surround China in its backyard and this is why the appointment of Nobuo Kishi as the Japanese Defence Minister is causing anxiety in Beijing.