Japan’s Kishida to send China a warning on Taiwan at Singapore’s Shangri-La Dialogue, analysts say
- The Japanese PM is expected to draw parallels at the Singapore forum between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in Asia
- His planned attendance at a Nato summit later this month further shows Japan is ‘shedding constitutional constraints’ and boosting its military, analysts said
Kishida will be the first Japanese prime minister to address the forum since 2014. Other attendees are set to include US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe.
“The real meaning of Kishida’s message is that a ‘change of status quo by force’ by China in the South China Sea and Taiwan will never be tolerated,” Kamikubo said, adding that the Japanese leader’s aim is to warn China that if it does so, it will suffer heavy military and economic damage.
Japan has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and joined other members of the G7 club of wealthy nations in imposing sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow.
Analysts said Tokyo saw both the Shangri-La Dialogue and a Nato summit Kishida reportedly plans to attend later this month as ways of increasing Western engagement with the Indo-Pacific and deterring China from launching an attack on Taiwan.
Ra Mason, an associate professor of international relations and Japanese foreign policy at the University of East Anglia in Britain, said Kishida’s main focus will be “on maintaining a rules-based system” as Japan seeks to reassert itself as a major regional security player.
The disputed East China Sea islets, which are known as the Senkakus in Japan, are also claimed by China.
Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, said Kishida would use the Singapore forum to flesh out the general contours of Japan’s foreign policy approach to the region, with an emphasis on continuity.
He will also highlight the strength of Japan’s alliance with the US and its relations with the nations of Southeast Asia, Koh said, adding that he does not expect Kishida’s address to mention ongoing discussions about Tokyo acquiring counter strike capabilities.
Yamamoto from Aarhus University said Kishida wanted to use the Shangri-La Dialogue to address Japan’s national security concerns by linking the situation in Ukraine to China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in Asia.
In April, a leaked draft of a security pact between Solomon Islands and China raised concerns that Beijing would be able to deploy naval assets to the Pacific island nation. Unnamed Western officials also warned this week that a new facility being built at Cambodia’s Ream naval base was for the “exclusive” use of the Chinese navy.
Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, said the planned visit follows Japan’s unexpectedly robust sanctions on Russia and a proposal to double defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP.
Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Japan has joined other Group of 7 nations in freezing the foreign-exchange assets of Russia’s central bank and other Russian financial institutions, and imposing individual sanctions on President Vladimir Putin and those close to him.
“Attending Nato carries great symbolism because it institutionalises collective self-defence and indicates that Japan is shedding constitutional constraints and boosting its military capacity in response to a more threatening geostrategic situation,” Kingston said, referring to the pacifist constitution Tokyo adopted while still under Allied occupation after the end of World War II, which renounces the threat or the use of force as a means to settle international disputes.
Another legacy of the second world war is the territorial dispute Tokyo still has with Moscow over the Kuril Islands, the southernmost of which Japan claims as its Northern Territories.
The stand-off over the islands, which have been under Russian control since 1945, is often cited as the reason the two sides never signed a peace treaty officially bringing hostilities between them to an end.
Aarhus University’s Yamamoto said Japan had avoided involvement with Nato until now as this ran counter to its desire to normalise relations with Russia and resolve the territorial dispute.
“[But] with the Ukraine war, it became obvious that an agreement with Russia will be highly unlikely any time soon,” Yamamoto said, adding that another reason for Kishida to consider attending the Nato summit is the possibility of resuming dialogue with Seoul.
Yoon is expected to attend this month’s Nato summit, according to government officials in Seoul, in what would be his first overseas trip as president.
For Kishida, Nato offers a stage to address “Japan’s growing security concerns in Asia” and engage as many actors as possible in the region, Yamamoto said – a strategy aimed at increasing the cost for China if it tried to “unilaterally change the rules-based order”.
However, his attendance at the Nato summit will depend on the political climate in Japan ahead of an upper house election set for July 10, Yamamoto said.
“Winning the election will be the highest priority and there is currently no agreement among senior LDP members regarding the positive contribution of attending the [Nato] summit,” he said, referring to Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
China’s nationalist tabloid Global Times said in an article on Monday that Asia “should remain vigilant over Japan reviving militarism”, warning of “severe consequences” as Tokyo “constantly plays with fire over the Taiwan question”.
These consequences would go “beyond” damaging bilateral ties and causing regional instability, it said, further calling Kishida’s planned attendance at this month’s Nato summit< a move “to help Nato’s expansion into the Asia-Pacific region”.
Additional reporting by Dewey Sim