Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today asked the US to ditch its strategic ambiguity over Taiwan and make it clear that it would defend Taipei from a Chinese invasion.
The still very influential politician made it clear that a Taiwan contingency is a Japan contingency as the westernmost island of Yonaguni is mere 110 km from Taiwan’s main island. “If China were to secure wide air superiority, it would also cover Japanese airspace,” and added that PLA operations would also affect Japanese territorial waters.
Abe’s statement, made during an interview to Japanese TV, poses not only a question to the Joe Biden administration but also to the government in Tokyo, which is still to junk its pacifist doctrine and continues to have serious USD investment in mainland China. With Russia invading Ukraine on the pretext of civilizational linkages with Kyviv, China can surely follow suit and repeat Ukraine in Taiwan. After all, this month, President Xi Jinping got a written assurance from Russian President Putin that Taiwan was part of China on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics.
The blunt ask from the US by Abe can be seen in the context of the Ukraine invasion, where Putin has shown the mirror to Europe, which till recently wanted to distance itself from the US, and the US for its inability to protect an ally who had roots in the Biden administration. Just as German and French corporates are compromised with Russia and China, the US honchos including the media are still wary of upsetting Beijing for the fear of supply chains being cut. Being the autocrats that they are, both Putin and Xi clearly mean what they say as they don’t have to cater for domestic audience and political compulsions for furthering the so-called nationalistic agenda. Biden, Europe, and Japan, on the other hand, will have to run their decisions through domestic audiences and legislatures. The same problem is faced by a raucous democracy like India, where the old guard still living in the 1970s is in favour of Putin, and the younger lot in favour of the US and Ukraine.
Fact is that after its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, the US and Europe have been hit the second time by their inability to deter Putin from invading Ukraine with the sole purpose of expanding the Russian sphere of influence and installing a pro-Russia political regime in Kyviv. One must remember that Ukraine was born out of the defeat that the erstwhile Soviet Union faced at the hands of US-supported Afghan jihadis which led to final troop withdrawal in 1989.
The point that Abe has raised is significant as mere diplomatic vocabulary from the US or the west is not going to deter China from capturing Taiwan but boots and weapons on the ground. This question must be mulled by the QUAD leaders also seriously so that the grouping does not become another talk shop like the UNSC. The Ukraine situation is also a red rag to the ASEAN countries particularly Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore, which have been playing all sides since China declared its nine-dash line in the South China Sea to the UN in 2009.
The US recognizes the government of the PRC as the sole legal government of China but does not explicitly recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. On October 22, 2021, US President Joe Biden told CNN that America would defend Taiwan if China attacked, only to be followed by unnamed White House mandarins who reiterated the “One China” policy and said the President’s words did not signify a change in policy.
Withstanding the complexity involved, the Ukraine invasion has unsettled the democratic world with Putin and Xi clearly joining hands as evident from a newspaper report that China shared US intelligence assessment of the Ukraine situation with Moscow. The Biden administration shared the assessment of Ukraine with Xi as it wanted the latter to exercise his influence over Putin to resist invading Ukraine.
Just as Taiwan poses a challenge to Japan, India must be prepared to stand up on its own if there is any horizontal escalation of the Ladakh situation on the LAC. The Modi government knows that barring US and France, hardly any country criticized China for changing the ground situation on the north banks of Pangong Tso in May 2020. Even today, both Indian and Chinese armies are deployed in full strength on the Ladakh LAC with the PLA, directly under President Xi, refusing to restore April 2020 status quo ante.
Caught sleeping for years, India must not leave its expansion of military industrial complex in the hands of military bureaucracy and virtually defunct and bleeding defence public sector undertakings. It is time that the Indian private sector must be involved in defence manufacturing in a big way as the government alone has not and cannot do the job. When might is right doctrine is at work, then it is each nation on its own.