Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in an interview voiced concern that China’s quest to unify Taiwan is no longer a distant threat, considering the “new militarism” driven by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) own ambition.
“Xi Jinping is consolidating his power base and he’s no longer hiding his ambitions toward Taiwan,” Abe told Hudson Institute Japan Chair deputy director Riley Walters and Georgetown University master’s candidate Eleanor Shiori Hughes in an interview conducted before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As Xi gains more political power, Abe said he is afraid a move on Taiwan or disputed territories in the South China Sea might be mere years away, whether by force or otherwise.
Photo: Kyodo News via AP
This new militarism has been evident in China’s increased saber-rattling across Asia, Walters and Hughes wrote, citing border skirmishes with India, trade disputes with Australia and brazen flybys near Japan aiming to “alter the dimensions of the Indo-Pacific region to its favor across multiple frontiers.”
At the same time, Tokyo is undergoing a fundamental shift in its relations with Taiwan, they wrote, with Japanese officials beginning to “identify many of Taiwan’s problems as being Japan’s problems.”
As evidence, they pointed to a US-Japan joint leaders’ statement in April last year noting the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, as well as Abe’s focus on Taiwan in his vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“In strengthening our relationship with Taiwan, I have come to the view that having interest in the security of Taiwan, and making a commitment to the security of Taiwan, will contribute to the peace and stability throughout the region,” Abe said.
He also remarked on the strong Japan literacy among Taiwanese leadership he observed when he joined the Japanese National Diet in 1993.
“My view was that we need to be able to maintain this very pro-Japan atmosphere that’s prevailing in Taiwan,” he said.
Abe’s own Liberal Democratic Party has taken strides to bolster this relationship in the past few years, including through a task force review published last year of Japan’s Taiwan policy and a virtual dialogue with the Democratic Progressive Party in August last year.
Some in Japan are concerned that enhancing ties with Taiwan could compromise Japan-China relations, but Abe also cautioned against maintaining a “business-as-usual” attitude.
If China becomes too integral to Japan’s supply chain, “there is a possibility that China will take hold of [Japan’s] chokepoints” and cut off access to critical materials, he said.
Abe considers supply-chain resilience to be crucial, and views Taiwan as playing a key role.
This is why Abe and many other officials are behind Taiwan’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the reasoning behind Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co’s inroads into Japan, the authors said.
Abe was confident that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would continue his efforts, albeit without rocking any boats in Taiwan or China.
“Taiwan is very important geopolitically,” he said, adding that Kishida would make the right decision when it comes to the future of Taiwan-Japan relations.
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