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Politics & Security

[Speaking Out] Even China's Peaceful Unification with Taiwan Will Be a Serious Matter for Japan 

In any unification, China's PLA would enter Taiwan and take control of the sea lanes used to transport 90% of Japan's energy and 60% of its food supply.

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Taiwan
Customers in Beijing dine near a giant screen broadcasting news footage of an aircraft taking off from China's Shandong aircraft carrier. It was reportedly taking part in a combat readiness patrol and "Joint Sword" exercises around Taiwan. The exercises were conducted by the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA). April 10, 2023. (© REUTERS/Tingshu Wang)

French President Emanuel Macron visited China in early April to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. On his way back home, he indicated his view that Europe should be neutral to the Taiwan issue. He came under fire for the remarks that were criticized for failing to represent Europe. 

After returning home, Macron made adjustments and explained that France and Europe retained their stance of not allowing any unilateral change to the status quo. But his remarks may have revealed his real feelings that a Taiwan contingency is a problem for someone else, not for Europe. 

The strategic value of Taiwan for Europe differs far from that for Japan geopolitically. A Taiwan contingency may be a serious international matter for Europe. But it amounts to a "Japan contingency" for Japan. 

France
Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands at the Great Hall of the people in Beijing on April 6. (© Reuters via Kyodo)

China's annexation of Taiwan, whether it is military or peaceful, should be a matter of great national concern for Japan. Although only the military annexation tends to be thought of as problematic, we need to correct such thinking. 

Nightmare of PLA Deployment in Taiwan 

On August 10, 2022, China published its third white paper on Taiwan, deleting a pledge seen in the first and second white papers. The pledge said that after its unification with Taiwan, China would allow Taiwan to retain its own military forces. And it said Beijing would refrain from dispatching Chinese military forces to Taiwan. 

Xi Jinping has clearly abandoned the principle of "one country, two systems" for Taiwan. And he has decided to send the People's Liberation Army to Taiwan. 

Even if the unification is peaceful, the entry of the PLA Navy and Air Force into Taiwan will allow China to take control of waters and airspace around Taiwan. The First Island Chain linking Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines will lose its function of containing Chinese forces. That will lead to the United States Navy's presence being set back. 

land purchase
Map of China's aggressive claims in around Taiwan, Japan's Senkaku Islands in Okinawa and in the East China Sea

China will take control of the sea lanes. Those are lanes through which Japan imports 90% of its energy supply and 60% of its food supply. 

China's strategic nuclear submarines will freely enter the Pacific Ocean via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines. As a result, the US-China strategic nuclear balance will collapse. In turn, this will break the US nuclear umbrella extended to Japan. Japan will become tributary to China.

Counter China's Influence-buying Operations 

At the Chinese Communist Party's 20th Congress in October last year, Xi said, "We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary." 

Facing Russia's uphill battle in Ukraine, China, while preparing for the use of force, may have launched cognitive warfare" to lead Taiwanese citizens to lose their will to resist. That would pave a way towards "peaceful" unification. 

Taiwan
A Chinese warship sails off the coast of Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China, near Taiwan, on April 8. Military exercises and patrols were held around Taiwan on the same day, according to a statement by the Chinese military. (© Reuters via Kyodo)

Its influence-buying operations for its cognitive warfare have already started. When Taiwan is isolated, and its citizens have lost their will to resist in the face of intimidation and threats, a "peaceful" unification will be completed. 

At present, most Taiwanese citizens are unwilling to accept the unification. But they understand Taiwan cannot face off against China on its own. 

In 2014, Russia used the so-called hybrid warfare that combined military and nonmilitary operations, as well as an artful cognitive warfare. Over three weeks they almost bloodlessly annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula that has a population of some 3 million. Xi Jinping must have seen Russia's successful annexation of Crimea. 

We cannot allow Taiwanese citizens to have a sense of isolation or powerlessness. While proceeding with defense buildup in preparation for China's use of force, Japan must enhance solidarity with Taiwanese citizens and powerfully promote a Japanese version of influence-buying operations to counter China's cognitive warfare. 

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(A version of this article was first published by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, Speaking Out #1032 in Japanese on April 17 and in English on April 19, 2023.)

Author: Kunio Orita

Kunio Orita is a member of the JINF Planning Committee and a special professor at Reitaku University. He is a retired Lieutenant General of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

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