The 2+2 summit between the US and Japan was an occasion for both Tokyo and Washington to firmly denounce China’s unilateral actions and the challenge it is posting to the status quo in the region, by "naming and shaming" together the country, thereby sending a strong signal to Beijing. The Allies must prepare for any eventualities. It is now very clear that the new Biden administration is sending a message of support to its Asian allies. But there are issues. South Korea is more reluctant to blame China. The lack of support from Seoul on the question of the denuclearization of North Korea is a matter of concern in Japan, as the Moon Jae-in government puts emphasis on the North-South Korean reconciliation instead. A similar potential obstacle or difficulty for a wider alliance on China policy can be noticed with India’s case. Although the latest Quad summit went quite well, the topics mainly focused on Covid-19 and climate change, rather than on China’s aggressive behaviour, and India does not seem to be fully on board on Quad joint China policy.
How do you see the likelihood of China choosing rationally to provoke a security crisis in the region?
As China will be celebrating three centenaries - the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party this year, that of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2027 and of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2049 - Xi Jinping needs to take a tough stand on foreign policy and vis-à-vis Taiwan. Xi seeks a third term as General Secretary of Party and strengthening his position on Taiwan can certainly help him gain support within the Party.
Since 2013, China has become increasingly aggressive in East Asia, especially in the Taiwan Strait. The pressure on Taiwan is likely to grow and Tokyo and Washington are both wary of the risk of an open armed conflict with Taiwan in the five coming years. This scenario is a major security challenge for Japan. The Taiwan Strait is East Asia’s main hotspot and the other main theaters of conflict - the East and South China seas - are both constitutive of China’s strategy towards the reunification with Taiwan. The PRC’s operations in these two zones are directly linked to this strategic goal. However, a full-scale war on Taiwan is for the time being a too costly option from a military, economic and diplomatic standpoint. The PLA’s activities in Taiwan’s defense perimeter is basically a pressure campaign.
Another scenario which needs to be considered is an invasion of the Dongsha Islands, which are uninhabited islands controlled by Taiwan in the South China Sea, with no military presence and only coastguards. In comparison with an invasion of the main island of Taiwan, the Dongsha Islands are an easy target from Beijing’s perspective. This easy catch could show Xi’s determination to invade Taiwan in the foreseeable future and the absence of civilians would dissuade the US from intervening militarily. Experts in Japan and Taiwan are really worried about this scenario and ask what the American response to such a move from China would be.
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