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Japan’s Dilemma: Caught Between US-China Tensions over Taiwan

Why Japan can’t escape US-China hostility over Taiwan

Yoshitaka Nakayama, the mayor of Ishigaki, a small Japanese island, is deeply concerned about the looming threat posed by China. Situated just 124 miles off Taiwan’s west coast, Ishigaki could potentially face a refugee crisis if China escalates tensions in the region.

“We haven’t made any preparations for such a scenario,” Nakayama expressed during an interview at Ishigaki’s City Hall. “We’re conveying our concerns to the national government, but it’s challenging to plan for the evacuation of both our residents and the people of Taiwan. While the likelihood of war is low, the risk remains.”

Japan’s geopolitical position is undergoing significant changes, caught between its economic ties with China and its security alliance with the United States. The U.S. guarantees Japan’s security, but this alignment raises concerns about Japan becoming collateral damage in any conflict between the U.S. and China, especially regarding Taiwan.

Japan's Dilemma: Caught Between US-China Tensions over Taiwan

Japan’s Dilemma: Caught Between US-China Tensions over Taiwan (Credits: The Hill)

The Taiwan Strait is a potential flashpoint. President Biden’s commitment to defending Taiwan has strained relations with Beijing, impacting Japan as well.

Makoto Nishida, a member of Japan’s parliament, acknowledges the impact of U.S.-China tensions on Japan’s relationship with both countries. Nishida, representing the Komeito party, emphasizes the importance of Japan maintaining ties with China while acknowledging the significance of its alliance with the U.S.

Japan has responded to China’s assertive foreign policy by strengthening its military posture and alliances. Concerns over Chinese actions in shared waters and economic coercion have led Japan to bolster its defense capabilities.

The Japanese government aims to enhance its counterstrike capabilities to deter aggression and reduce reliance on U.S. military support. This includes investing in long-range missiles and upgrading the coast guard to respond to maritime challenges.

China’s increasing activity near the Senkaku Islands raises tensions. The Japanese government closely monitors Chinese intrusions into its territorial waters and maintains a presence around the disputed islands.

Japan’s support for Ukraine aligns with its broader strategy of countering aggression in the region. However, Japan’s constitution limits its military involvement, leading it to focus on economic and humanitarian assistance.

The delay in U.S. Congress delivering aid to Ukraine is closely watched in Tokyo, as Japan relies on American support in various geopolitical matters. There is concern over the potential implications of shifts in U.S. politics on Japan’s security posture.

Japan's Dilemma: Caught Between US-China Tensions over Taiwan

Japan’s Dilemma: Caught Between US-China Tensions over Taiwan (Credits: The Hill)

Some Republican lawmakers advocate for redirecting military resources to Asia, particularly for defending Taiwan. Japan seeks reassurance from the U.S. regarding its commitments in both the Indo-Pacific and Europe.

Mayor Nakayama draws parallels between China’s actions and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, expressing concern about potential infiltration and sabotage. He observes China’s growing maritime strength and its impact on Ishigaki’s security.

As tensions persist in the region, Ishigaki and Japan as a whole remain vigilant, navigating the complexities of geopolitics while prioritizing their national interests and security.

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