China’s four days of military exercises encircling Taiwan in response to a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week has clear ramifications for Japan. The show of military muscle just 70 miles from Japanese territory and the firing of ballistic missiles into waters controlled by Japan were clearly meant as a warning that the country risks being dragged into any future conflict in the region.
While China’s motives in indirectly targeting Japan are not known, the results are pretty clear. The surprisingly extensive military action is bringing a new sense of urgency to heighten Japan’s defense capability, substantially raise the defense budget, and, potentially, institute new rules that would for the first time allow preemptive military steps if Japan is at risk. It’s hard to see how any of these meet Beijing’s policy goals.
The military exercises included the firing of five missiles that overflew Taiwan and landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the firings represented “serious threats to Japan’s national security and the safety of the Japanese people.” China’s foreign ministry brushed aside Japan’s protests. It said that there was no EEZ, because Japan had failed to negotiate with China over proper boundaries between Chinese territory and the string of islands that stretch from Japan’s Okinawa region, with the westernmost isle just 70 miles from Taiwan. Beijing, which claims 90 percent of the entire South China Sea as its own, is no stranger to sweeping maritime claims.
Japanese analysts saw China’s actions as a direct warning, especially in relation to Japan’s hosting of more than 50,000 U.S. service personnel, the largest offshore deployment of U.S. forces in the world. “The purpose of those kind of threatening [actions] is … make Japan recognize that if Japan cooperates with the United States to contain China or to block China conducting the unification operation of Taiwan, then Japan must be involved in the war, must be damaged by the Chinese military operation,” Bonji Ohara, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, told NHK television.
But, as Chinese officials should know well, intimidation seldom produces moderation from the other side. Witness the efforts to scare Taiwan in 1996 with missile launches a few weeks ahead of the country’s first direct presidential election. The result was a clear victory for the independence-minded Lee Teng-hui.
The new threats could instead create a “Finland moment” for Beijing. [Continue reading…]