Japan has passed its new security bills, marking a departure from its post-war pacifism and entering a new era of engagement with the US’ “return to Asia” and “rebalancing” strategies.
The passage is going to make a difference in four domains.
First, the ban on Japan’s “collective self-defense,” which was deemed unconstitutional by previous Japanese governments, has been officially lifted. Japan can now deploy troops if its national security is threatened.
Second, the law concerning military involvement in areas surrounding Japan has been changed to include “critically impactful situations.” This revision removes geographic limitations on the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and extends Japan’s military aid to nations other than the US.
Third, Japan can participate in international peacekeeping activities. The SDF can now provide logistics support to other nations whenever necessary.
Fourth, the ban on Japan’s use of arms to assist other countries participating in UN peacekeeping campaigns has been removed. Even during peacetime, the SDF can deploy troops in defense of US ships.
How will these revisions affect Taiwan’s security, especially the Taiwan Strait, the East China Sea and the South China Sea?
The US has been Taiwan’s most important ally in maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait. As restrictions on SDF deployment are now removed, if war erupts in the Taiwan Strait and the US is engaged, Japan can now take part by providing assistance to US forces.
Taiwan, Japan, China and the US all have overlapping interests in the East China Sea, especially the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan — which is a contentious region.
Currently, the Diaoyutais are under Japanese control. If armed conflict takes place within 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from the islands, Japan would only be exercising self-defense if it were to take up arms against the aggressor.
If maritime conflicts between China and the US were to occur in regions outside the territorial waters of the Diaoyutai Islands, Japan can engage in collective self-defense and aid US military operations.
The South China Sea is a more complex issue.
For the past year, China has accelerated its artificial island projects in this region giving Washington a sense of unease. The US has been involved in the South China Sea conflict since May this year, but because of the size of the region, the US cannot monitor and contain China alone.
The US has clearly expressed its desire for Japan to participate in patrolling the region.
The passing of the new security bills means that Japan can now get directly involved.
About 40 percent of Japan’s commercial vessels sail through the Strait of Malacca. It would not be surprising if Japan were to regard any conflicts in the region as matters of national security. Nor would it be surprising if Japan were to engage in the South China Sea conflict on the grounds of aiding its US ally.
Japan’s passage of the new security bills is a game changer in three seas in which Taiwan, China, the US and Japan all have a stake.
How to secure Taiwan’s strategic position is critical to how security development in the region is to develop.
It is a challenge that could test Taiwan’s strategic capability.
John Lim is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History and an adjunct associate professor at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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