How Will "Japan Contingencies" Emerge?
-Focusing on "Taiwan Contingencies"-

Osamu Onoda


Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was an outrageous act by a permanent member state of the United Nations Security Council, seriously compromising the international order. In addition to its annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia again shocked the world. Meanwhile, another permanent member of the UN Security Council, China, has dramatically increased its military power based on its rapid economic growth. It has repeatedly changed the status quo by force in the East and South China Seas, hinting at the armed unification of Taiwan. China's intention to transform the current international order shaped by the West into one that favors its interest is visible. On the Korean Peninsula in a long-standing divide between north and south, North Korea continues its nuke and missile development, already possessing a considerable number of nuclear warheads. There are clear signs of its missile technology becoming more sophisticated.

Strategic competition between the United States and China has expanded to all spheres―political, economic, and military; even bilateral cooperation on global issues such as global warming is becoming increasingly difficult. The Indo-Pacific region has already become the arena of US-China competition. To deal with China and North Korea, which are strengthening their military capabilities to counter US military power, neighboring countries, including Japan, are obliged to reinforce their self-defense capabilities and are stuck in a "security dilemma." It stands to reason that as military power accumulates, military activities, including training and exercises, will increase in density across more geographic areas. As a result, regional friction is becoming more manifest. Among the issues becoming more acute are China's territorial claims to the Senkaku Islands, its military intimidation against Taiwan, its pursuit of hegemony in the South China Sea, and North Korea's nuke and missile development.

In response to the increasingly severe security environment at the time, Japan enacted the Peace and Security Legislation in 2015. Fortunately, the intervening seven years did not witness any situations stipulated in the law, but the general assessment is that dangers are growing ever greater. This paper examines specific situations in which Japan's security could be undermined, including those with a high probability of occurrence and those that could have the worst possible consequences for Japan.

1. Situations Surrounding Taiwan and Taiwan Contingencies

(1) The Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis

From August 2 to 3, 2022, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Democratic Party) visited Taiwan. China vehemently condemned her visit for breaching the "one-China" principle and resorted to intimidation, especially on the military front. This was presumably due in part to the domestic considerations that, as the 20th CPC Congress to decide President Xi Jinping's third term in office is approaching, the Chinese government must not appear weak-kneed on the issue of the unification of Taiwan. The People's Liberation Army's Eastern and Southern Theater Commands raised the alert level, and the aircraft carriers "Liaoning" and "Shandong" and their accompanying vessels left their home ports. 1 Following Pelosi's arrival in Taiwan late at night on August 2, Beijing announced live ammunition exercises in the six sea areas encircling Taiwan 2; on August 3, it added another sea area. On August 4, 11 short-range ballistic missiles fired from four launching sites in China landed in the four exercise areas; five landed in the sea area east of Taiwan, overlapping Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 3 As many as 14 Chinese naval vessels were observed navigating in the waters surrounding Taiwan; a large number of Chinese fighter jets were seen flying in the airspace around Taiwan. 4 On August 5, a total of 47 fighter jets flew into the Taiwanese air defense identification zone (ADIZ) across the median line. 5 Furthermore, two Chinese unmanned aerial vehicles flew between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island, and JASDF aircraft scrambled to patrol the area. 6 At an August 8 press conference, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense reported that between August 1 and 8, there were numerous cyber attacks on the Taiwanese government and military; China made 272 cyber-attack attempts to spread disinformation. 7

China's intimidations then were not just military actions on a scale exceeding those in the "Third Taiwan Strait Crisis" of 1995-1996 but were more comprehensive ones across diplomatic, trade, and economic fronts, using cyber attacks and information manipulation. These are considered to be not only warnings and punishment against Pelosi's visit to Taiwan but were also designed to change the status quo, condemning her visit as an attempt to change the "one-China" principle. This allegation by China resembles the manner it adopted to make the China Coast Guard vessels' repeated intrusion into Japanese territorial waters and contiguous zones a fait accompli by claiming that the 2012 "nationalization" of the Senkaku Islands was a critical change in the status quo.

Facing China's military intimidation, the American and Taiwanese reactions were very restrained. Unlike the case of the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, the United States did not dispatch carrier task forces to the Taiwan Strait, nor did Taiwanese air force aircraft take hostile action against Chinese military aircraft trespassing the median line. This is due presumably to the fact that China's actions were not excessively provocative. If China attempted, with the intention of escalation, dangerous provocations, such as conducting missile launch drills or aircraft flight drills in areas closer to Taiwan with a higher density, the risk of an accidental armed conflict would rise. If China's recent actions had intended to change the status quo, it must be admitted that the United States and Japan overlooked China's design.

President Xi Jinping's third term in office was decided at the 20th CPC Congress in October 2022. China's demonstrative actions toward Taiwan will likely escalate over the next five years. Various options may be available for China: flying large squadrons of bombers and fighters across the median line to approach Taiwan's airspace; deploying two aircraft carriers north and south of the Taiwan Strait to repeat flight drills; gathering a large number of naval vessels in the exercise areas encircling Taiwan to conduct live-fire drills; repeated missile launches into the exercise areas; repeated extension of the duration of the exercises to have a significant impact on fishing and shipping in the sea areas around Taiwan. Actions against Japan could include repeated provocations such as enlarging exercise areas overlapping Japanese EEZ; frequent naval ship activities and missile launching in those exercise areas; repeated intrusion by Chinese naval vessels into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. If something like the 2001 "Hainan Island Incident" 8 — a PLA Navy J-8II interceptor fighter jet crashed after colliding in mid-air with a US Navy EP-3E ARIES II SIGINT reconnaissance aircraft, which made an emergency landing on Hainan Island―occurred, military tensions between the United States and China would rise sharply. Then, Japan would be required to provide logistical support and search-and-rescue operations for the US military under the "situations that will have an important influence on Japan's peace and security." 9 This might lead to new friction with China also engaging in search-and-rescue operations.

(2) Will Taiwan Follow the Path of Hong Kong?

In 1997 the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China after the expiration of a 100-year lease. On that occasion, China adopted a "one country, two systems" policy pledging that it would not apply socialist policies to Hong Kong for 50 years. In Hong Kong, movements seeking democratization gradually gained momentum, led by students and others who opposed moves by China to strengthen its rule over Hong Kong. In 2017, 20 years after the reversion, President Xi Jinping stated that the "two systems" should be subordinate under "one country"; in 2020, the National People's Congress adopted and enforced the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ("Hong Kong National Security Maintenance Law"). Originally, Deng Xiaoping proposed the one-country-two system as a condition for the unification of Taiwan. Therefore, the people of Taiwan were shocked to think that Taiwan would also follow the path of Hong Kong. As a result, the Tsai Ing-wen administration, which had suffered from low support rates, won the presidential election that year in an upset and entered its second term. The CPC Constitution stipulates that the Party should not talk with the DPP government advocating the independence of Taiwan. China emphasizes that it will not rule out the use of force based on the Anti-Secession Law enacted in 2005.

From the viewpoint of China, such US moves amid the ongoing cross-strait tensions as the announcement of measures to strengthen support for Taiwan and repeated visits to Taiwan by the US Speaker of the House of Representatives and other members of US Congress may appear to be something that should be dealt with by the Anti-Secession Law, which aims to prevent the split of the nation by "Taiwan independence" splinters. 10 Article 8 of the Law stipulates that non-peaceful means should be employed in the event that Taiwan independence forces cause serious incidents "entailing Taiwan's secession from China" or "that possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted." 11 The current Hong Kong situation indicates that China may likely take unilateral action to override Taiwan's exercise of sovereignty by enacting a "national reunification law," frequently discussed since the mid-2010s. 12

Specifically, it is conceivable that the superior China Coast Guard fleet will exercise jurisdiction in Taiwanese territorial waters and contiguous zones, ignoring the Taiwan Coast Guard. In that case, an armed conflict between the China Coast Guard vessels and the Taiwan Coast Guard patrol boats is likely to occur. Unquestionably the large-sized CCG vessels have an overwhelming advantage. If Taiwanese sea areas came under China's control, Taiwan's economy, trade, and even the lives of its residents would be tremendously affected. Then, pro-mainland forces in Taiwan would gain power, and political turmoil would ensue. Yet, the Taiwanese administration would not become unstable in the short term. If China attempted to gradually seize substantial jurisdiction over those waters by using non-military forces such as the CCG and maritime militias, it would be difficult for the United States to intervene. Under such a situation, the CCG may become more active around the Senkaku Islands. Incidentally, it was Taiwan that first claimed territorial sovereignty over the islands.

If Taiwanese sea areas are compromised, Japan's sea lanes will be likewise compromised. However, unless specific damages occur to Japan's trade and other interests, the Japanese government has no way of making a move. It is feared that the CCG will suddenly block the Bashi Strait, one of Japan's vital sea lanes.

(3) China's Armed Invasion of Taiwan

This section analyzes the modalities and probability of a full-scale armed invasion by China of Taiwan. First, the strategic goal of China's armed invasion is to seize the governance of Taiwan, not to destroy Taiwan's governance system. Armed invasion is the last option for China to achieve this goal. Secondly, if the armed invasion invites US military intervention, the costs of the invasion will be enormous. US forces would attack high-value targets on the mainland; eventually, even an exchange of nuclear attacks might take place. Thirdly, the international community will accuse China and impose harsh economic sanctions against it. Since China is the "world's factory," economic sanctions will inflict considerable damage on those who impose them. China is dependent on foreign countries for energy; the suspension of oil and natural gas imports would severely disrupt the lives of its citizens and could undermine public confidence in the CPC's rule.

In 2014, Captain James Fanell, director of intelligence for the US Pacific Fleet, was removed from his post after arguing that China was preparing to seize the Senkaku Islands in a short sharp war. According to Captain Fanell's assessment, China planned to exploit Japan's inadequate preparedness and to capture the Senkaku Islands without allowing the US military time to intervene. His statement considered China's violent reaction to the Japanese government's acquisition or nationalization of the Senkaku Islands in 2012. Soon wide recognition spread that the same would be true for China's armed unification of Taiwan, because it was considered mandatory for China to win a short sharp war to avoid US intervention.

Here we should consider current and recent facts: that Russia's armed invasion failed in Ukraine, which is readily accessible from Russia by land; that in the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, it took 280,000 US troops some three months to capture the island 1/30th the size of Taiwan, which 100,000 Japanese troops defended. Even with modern precision-guided weapons, it is unlikely that China will be able to achieve its objectives through a short-term invasion unless the defenders collapse internally, as in Afghanistan.

If China aimed at not military victory but regime dismantlement, it could achieve the goal by first, for example, shaking the Tsai administration through the disruption of lifelines and resulting agitation and disturbance and then overthrowing the administration by terrorism against its leadership. All of these would be crowned by the formation of a puppet administration. Xi Jinping may speculate that Taiwan's regime change will be possible by utilizing the pro-mainland faction in Taiwan or by the infiltration of and assaults by Chinese special forces. Such an approach is not without a high risk of failure, but the consequences of its fiasco would be insignificant compared with the failure of a full-scale invasion. Above all, such an approach would not allow the United States time to intervene. It will be hard for the United States to intervene by force after a new administration has been formed.

It is unlikely that China will launch a full-scale invasion given US military intervention. However, the possibility cannot be ruled out. In this case, to minimize the risk of operational failure and to achieve its objectives, China could attack the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, US forces in Japan, Guam, and sailing US naval vessels before or simultaneously with the attack on Taiwan. If these attacks succeeded to some extent, the US military would have to be cautious about dispatching reinforcements from Hawaii or the US mainland. Attacks on Japan would likely target air bases, ports, communication network nodes, power infrastructure, and oil storage facilities in Kyushu and southwestern Japan. Physical attacks on Japan or US forces in Japan, even if limited, will correspond to the situation stipulated by Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty, where in case an armed attack situation is recognized, a defense operation order should be issued.

A scenario envisioned by the Taiwanese military of a full-scale military invasion by China is that, after depriving Taiwan of the ability to launch a counterattack through standoff precision attacks on Taiwan's political and economic centers, military infrastructure, and lifeline infrastructure, Chinese troops would land on the island by amphibious operations and take control of Taipei and other major cities. It goes without saying that on such an occasion, China would conduct cognitive warfare in combination with cyber attacks, electronic jamming, and disinformation. Taiwan would take all possible measures to protect its armed forces from standoff precision attacks, destroy enemy forces aboard ships at sea, defeat landing enemies at the shore, and then exhaust enemy forces by waging tenacious ground battles.

2. Korean Peninsula Situations

The greatest threat to Japan emanating from the Korean Peninsula is North Korea's nuke and missile development. North Korea is seeking to ensure its security mainly from the United States and is, to this end, developing nuclear warheads and long-range ground-launched and sea-launched missiles. North Korea's military goals presented by Chairman Kim Jong-un at the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea in January 2021 include: (1) upgrade nuclear technology, (2) make nuclear weapons smaller and lighter for more tactical uses, (3) promote the production of super-large nuclear warheads, (4) improve missile hit rates within a 15,000km range, (5) develop hypersonic glide warheads, (6) develop solid-fuel engine ICBMs, (7) acquire nuclear submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), (8) operate military reconnaissance satellites, and (9) develop unmanned reconnaissance aircraft capable of conducting frontline reconnaissance to a depth of 500km. 13

These constitute a deterrence strategy to counter the South Korean invasion with tactical nuclear weapons and to strike the US mainland. This strategy is all the more dangerous to Japan, a long-standing US ally hosting US forces, given its geographic position between the Korean Peninsula and the US mainland. Japan's role in the Korean War was to provide a secure rear base for South Korea that has a narrow depth of defense. Japan's geopolitical role remains unchanged, but what is different from that time is that Japan lies within North Korean missile ranges and is no longer safe. This is why Japan has been developing its ballistic missile defense. Yet, North Korea is now developing and deploying lofted trajectory ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles, and irregular trajectory missiles that are hard to address by current Japanese defense capabilities. Since the beginning of 2022, the number of North Korean ballistic missile launches has markedly increased. By October 14, 2022, North Korea has conducted 27 round-missile launches, firing more than 40 missiles. 14 Most of them were short-range missiles and landed in the Sea of Japan outside the Japanese EEZ. But they are believed to include tests of irregular trajectory missiles and hypersonic missiles. Another North Korean ballistic missile launched on October 4 flew 4,600km over Aomori Prefecture and landed in the Pacific Ocean. Its flight distance suggests that the island of Guam is well within the missile's range.

Given North Korea's current military and economic power, a full-scale armed invasion of South Korea by the North Korean army in the near future is not rational. However, North Korea could launch a limited attack on the South for provocation or as a warning. Disturbances accompanying the collapse of the Kim Jong-un regime may be possible but unlikely. The most likely scenario at this moment would be a limited bombardment of South Korea and missile attacks on Japan. Possible targets of the latter may include the JSDF and US military bases, lifelines like electric power facilities, and political and economic centers. Terrorism by North Korean special forces and simultaneous cyber attacks may also be conceivable.

3. Russia-Related Situations

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union boasted superior ground forces compared to the West, and an invasion of Hokkaido was deemed a realistic possibility. Russia's concern has since shifted to the European front; it entertains a deep sense of crisis as its former union republics have switched sides one after another to NATO during the past 30 years following the end of the Cold War. Its recent invasion of Ukraine represents a manifestation of President Putin's distrust of the West. Meanwhile, the Far East is something like a hinterland for Russia; what is troubling for Russia is that this region is exposed to US threats from beyond the Pacific Ocean. Under Russia's nuclear strategy against the United States, the Sea of Okhotsk is a vital sanctuary for Russian nuclear missile submarines; the island chain from the Japanese archipelago to the Kuril Islands constitutes Russia's A2/AD line (anti-access/area denial).

If Russia were to use tactical nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war, tensions in the Pacific region would also rise sharply. For Japan, it is necessary to take into account the possibility that Russia, wary of an attack from the United States, would fly more of its bombers and patrol planes and step up its naval activities around Japan; that it would fire missiles into the waters near Japan for threat or deterrence. However, the probability of these actions does not seem high because Russia does not want military tensions to expand in multiple directions.

It is conceivable that Russia would carry out the threat, deterrence, or attacks targeting the JSDF or US forces in Japan in conjunction with China's armed invasion of Taiwan. On the occasion of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, President Xi Jinping and President Putin held a summit meeting and released a joint statement stating that "friendship between the two states has no limits, there are no forbidden areas of cooperation." When they met again in Uzbekistan in September 2022, President Xi expressed "concerns" about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and President Putin replied, "We understand your questions and your concerns in this regard, and we certainly will offer a detailed explanation of our stand on this issue." Although China is trying to distance itself from the Ukraine war, it may well seek Russia's understanding and cooperation on the occasion of its invasion of Taiwan.

4. Other Situations

The Ukraine war shows that cognitive warfare employing disinformation and narratives would be conducted in any of the above situations. Its main battlefield is cyberspace. Before the recent invasion, Russia had repeatedly gathered information in cyberspace and conducted cyber attacks against Ukraine. Ukraine is successfully minimizing the effects of those attacks by cooperating with the West and under support from private corporations like Microsoft. Russia attempted to physically shut down Ukraine's cyberspace in the earliest stage of the invasion; that attempt, however, failed thanks to the provision of the Starlink network by the US company SpaceX. Eight months have elapsed since the Russian invasion began; Ukraine is still effectively using cyberspace as its national network.

Meanwhile, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea's cyberspace is made up of networks that rely on submarine cables. We must note that cyberspace would be readily closed if an adversary succeeded in attacking submarine cable nodes. As Ukraine is doing, we should consider the use of space assets.

A plausible scenario of cognitive warfare using narratives is as follows: Preparing armed attacks on Japan, China will issue information that "the target of the attack is US forces in Japan, not the Japanese people" to bring about an estrangement between the United States and Japan and to cause confusion in Japan. This narrative emphasizes the logic that "the sooner give in, the slighter the damage."

5. Conclusion

If China succeeded in reunifying Taiwan and further strengthened its authoritarian and power-based unilateralist stance, the vast waters from the East and South China Seas to the Western Pacific would become China's exclusive sphere of influence. This would lead to a hollowing out of US commitments to allies and partners, including the Japan-US alliance; the status of the United States as a Pacific nation would be shaken to its very foundations. Then, Japan's prosperity, predicated on trade dependent on maritime transport, would be at the mercy of China, and the regional order would be dominated by the country. China's annexation of Taiwan would be really a disaster for Japan.

What is the future of North Korea's nuclear program? If North and South Korea were unified peacefully, Japan, the United States, and South Korea could cooperate in removing nuclear weapons. At this moment, however, the road to Korean unification is not clear at all. If North Korea continues to pursue its nuclear development, it should not be allowed to profit from the status quo. We must assume that the situation is getting worse every second. Japan's efforts to strengthen its denial capability are likely to encounter technical and financial limitations sooner or later.

The interactions among the nations concerned should also be noted, which this paper did not elaborate on due to the restriction of space. We must always keep an eye on China's design to cooperate with Russia, North Korea, or South Korea.

(Former Air General)

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