AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
As U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping emerged from their much-anticipated bilateral meeting on Wednesday, both sides reported productive talks and a desire to calm tensions between the two countries. But halfway around the world, Taiwan and Japan, two key American allies, are gearing up for war in response to escalating Chinese aggression.
Following former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year, China has launched almost daily incursions of Taiwanese airspace, and has ramped up its naval presence around the island nation. In one gigantic display of force earlier this month, the Chinese military sent 43 planes and seven ships into Taiwanese-controlled territory.
This aggression has also alarmed Japan, which recognizes that a conflict over Taiwan would also likely draw other regional powers into a larger war with China. Earlier this year, the Japanese military held joint drills with Australia and the United States in anticipation of conflict with Beijing, and anonymous intelligence officials have reported that the Japanese government has now made the risk of possible war with China a top priority. In August, the Japanese legislature made a record defense spending request, proposing to dramatically expand the size and capabilities of its military.
Even as Xi Jinping’s plane was crossing the Pacific on his way to meet with Biden, the 1,700 residents of Yonaguni, the westernmost Japanese island located just 68 miles from Taiwan, were engaging in “tsunami emergency drills” which at least one local news outlet reported as cover for preparation for “the day when Chinese missiles would rain down.”
The risk for Yonaguni and other Japanese islands has become apparent during war games in recent years strategizing about what a Chinese first strike on Taiwan might look like. According to documents declassified during the Abe administration, Japanese officials believe Xi Jinping plans for “the unification with Taiwan to occur before 2027.”
Japanese leaders understand that the security of other nations in the South Pacific – primarily Taiwan and the Philippines – are also crucial for Japan’s own security. An attack on Taiwan would likely include an attack on underwater cables that transmit 99 percent of internet traffic for Japan, the Philippines, and New Zealand.
This threat is no longer just theoretical, with Taiwanese officials reporting in April that two ships in China’s “fishing vessel” fleet are suspected of severing an internet cable off the outlying Taiwanese island of Matsu. Japan’s daily Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported a similar disruption to an undersea cable off the southern tip of Tokunoshima island earlier this month.
These concerns have been exacerbated by reports that China and Russia have begun joint work on a new unmanned submarine equipped for sabotage and surveillance. One former Japanese intelligence officer told this author that an Oscar-class Russian nuclear submarine, the Belgorod, has been spotted “a few times this year” near Sakhalin island, just a few miles north of Japan’s Soya Bay.
Japanese military strategists also believe the Philippines are “a southern gate to the South China Sea,” and that any attack on Taiwan will be concurrent with an attack there as well.
Seemingly supporting this theory, China has ramped up its activity around the Philippines. Last Friday, dozens of Chinese vessels harassed Philippine ships near a disputed island. One Chinese vessel even blasted a Philippine motorboat with a water cannon.
These vessels are part of a fleet of thousands of ships which China claims are “fishing boats” but which are armed with reinforced steel hulls, powerful engines, and automatic weapons.
Over the last two years, China has deployed this “fishing boat army” to Second Thomas Shoal, which lies within the U.N.-sanctioned Philippine exclusive zone but is claimed by China, to stoke tensions with Manila. Despite Beijing’s claims that they are interested in friendly relations with the Philippines, retired Japanese Lieutenant General Kunio Orita has said, “This aggressive fishing fleet, not the pleasant words and smiles in Beijing, is evidence of the Chinese Communist Party’s attitude toward nations in the region.”
Japan, Taiwan, and other Western-allied nations in the region all agree that China’s “fishing fleet” could form the tip of the spear for a Chinese invasion.
Some evidence suggests that China is also preparing for war. Upon the arrival of Xi Jinping’s in San Francisco, Japanese television outlet NHK reported that a “wartime emergency hospital has been set up in China’s Fujian Province, across the Taiwan Strait.”
While Biden appears to remain hopeful that his failed brand of “diplomacy” will stave off Chinese aggression, America’s allies are busily increasing their deterrence capabilities and sounding the alarm about Beijing’s ambitions. Biden would be wise to spend more time aiding them in their effort and less time playing host to China’s communist dictator.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.