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In Taiwan Crisis, Japan to Play Role Like Poland to Ukraine: Ex-General

WASHINGTON — In a potential Taiwan crisis, Japan will likely play a role similar to Poland’s in the Ukraine war because of geography and needs to prepare for such a scenario, a retired three-star lieutenant general in Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force told Nikkei Asia in an interview Thursday.

Koichiro Bansho said that if China launches a military operation to seize Taiwan, Japan is the only country that can serve as the gateway for the international community to provide supplies to the Taiwanese to defend themselves.

“The Philippines will likely not take on such a role, and Australia or Hawaii are too far,” he said.

Japan also needs to be ready for an influx of Taiwanese refugees, said Bansho, who noted that previous discussions on immigration in Japan have been restricted to accepting a very limited number of foreigners. “We do not have a system ready to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees,” he said.

Other considerations include evacuee housing, quarantines and weapons screening, he said.

Bansho — the former commander of Japan’s Western Army, tasked with defending Kyushu and Okinawa — was in Washington as the new distinguished senior fellow for the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA.

One question Bansho is often asked by Americans is what role Japan would take in combat if a war erupts in the Taiwan Strait between the U.S. and China.

“The greatest contribution Japan can make is to properly defend itself,” Bansho said.

He pointed to Japan’s strategic location and explained that bolstering defenses at key chokepoints can create massive headaches for China.

Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning sails through the Miyako Strait near Okinawa on its way to the Pacific in this handout photo taken by the Japan Self-Defense Forces and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Ministry of Defense on April 4, 2021.   © Reuters

“China has nine exit points to the outer seas, and five of those are located in the Japanese archipelago,” he said. Those five are the Tsugaru Straits, between Honshu and Hokkaido in the north; the Osumi Strait, off the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima; the Yokoate Channel, between the island of Amami Oshima and the island of Yokoate; the Miyako Strait, a 250-kilometer-wide passageway between Miyako Island and Okinawa Island; and the Yonaguni Channel, the waters off Japan’s westernmost island, located 110 km from Taiwan.

The other four exit points are the Bashi Channel, between Taiwan and the Philippines; the Lombok Strait, off Bali; the Sunda Strait, between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra; and the Malacca Strait, which opens up to the Indian Ocean.

“One of Japan’s strategies is to impose costs on the opponent,” Bansho said. “For instance, if mines were scattered in the waters, it would be a hassle to remove them. If anti-air defenses were deployed, it would be very difficult to establish air superiority.”

But Bansho made clear that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces would not be fighting in Taiwan itself. “The main areas of the SDF’s activity will be in Japanese territory and perhaps international waters to protect Japanese ships,” he said. “A scenario in which the SDF will go onto Taiwanese land and defend Taipei alongside the U.S., for instance, is not expected,” Bansho said.

Bansho also argued that it is time for Japan to review its stringent “three non-nuclear principles” of not possessing or producing nuclear weapons and not permitting their introduction onto its territory.

“It is time to review the third principle of not letting the U.S. bring in nuclear weapons into Japan,” he said. Bansho stressed that this interferes with the American strategy for the Indo-Pacific.

“The U.S. is planning to disperse ground-based midrange missiles, previously banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, across the first island chain, including Japan’s southwest islands, to counter China, which is rapidly building up its nuclear force,” Bansho said, referring to the chain of islands outside China that encompass Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.

“The U.S. has not specified whether these are conventional missiles or nuclear missiles, and they do not need to,” he said. “But for Japan to say ‘please don’t bring them’ in the name of the three non-nuclear principles does not advance Japan’s national interest.”

Source : Asia Nikkei