A Chinese attack on Taiwan would be an emergency for Japan and for its alliance with the US, former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has warned, hinting that an invasion could meet the conditions for Tokyo to use military force.
Abe said a Chinese invasion would amount to “economic suicide”, in a speech delivered via video to a conference in Taiwan on Wednesday.
The remarks highlight the growing tensions across the Taiwan Strait and Japan’s shift towards more forthright support for Taipei.
“A military adventure is the road to economic suicide,” said Abe. “For sure, China is huge. But since it has close ties with the global economy, a military adventure in Taiwan must have a grave impact on the global economy. In other words, China would be severely hurt.”
Although Abe stepped down as prime minister in 2020, he remains a powerful behind-the-scenes figure in the ruling Liberal Democratic party, especially on issues of diplomacy and national security.
Abe is known as a strong advocate for Taiwan. In 2019, he stepped up military planning for a potential conflict around Taiwan or the disputed Senkaku Islands. The US and Japan have subsequently conducted war games and joint military exercises to prepare for a possible clash with China over Taiwan.
“A Taiwan emergency is a Japan emergency. That is, it’s an emergency for the US-Japan alliance as well,” Abe said. “It’s imperative that people in Beijing not misjudge that, and most especially President Xi Jinping.”
In response to a question, Abe later advocated for a trilateral security dialogue with Taiwan and the US — something Japan has previously shied away from out of concern over antagonising China.
Abe’s comments are especially significant because, under the pacifist Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, the requirement for Tokyo to take military action is a threat to the country’s own survival.
Taro Aso, then deputy prime minister, said in July that an emergency in Taiwan could lead to a “survival-threatening situation” for Japan, in remarks reported by Japanese media. The comments suggested Tokyo viewed the scenario of a Chinese attack on Taiwan as a potential case for militarily involvement. Abe’s latest remarks come closest to confirming that.
The former prime minister’s comments were made as a growing number of countries appeal to China to refrain from belligerent moves towards Taiwan. The US and some of its allies have suggested they could intervene in support of the country if it were attacked.
President Joe Biden recently said the US would defend Taiwan against an attack from China. His comments appeared to contravene the longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity”, in which Washington does not make clear how it would respond.
The White House intervened to say that US policy had not changed but Biden has made other controversial remarks on Taiwan. Biden told Xi in their a virtual summit last month that the US “opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo” but described Taiwan as being “independent” the next day.
Peter Dutton, Australia’s defence minister, said last month it was “inconceivable” that his country would not support the US in a campaign to defend Taiwan against China.
Abe’s comments follow a decision by Japan’s cabinet last week to approve a $6.8bn package of extra defence spending after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signalled his concern about China’s rising power.
China sent a sortie of fighter planes and bombers into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone at the weekend, a tactic it has used to express its anger with Taipei and which it has stepped up this year.