Thursday, January 04, 2007

When is Taiwan not like North Korea?

I think Reuters has got the emphasis backwards here:
Japan, U.S. to discuss Asia emergency plans: media

Wed Jan 3, 2007 - TOKYO - Japan and the United States are to discuss joint plans for their troops to deal with a potential stand-off between China and Taiwan, in a move that could irritate Beijing, Kyodo news agency said late on Wednesday.

Defense and foreign affairs officials from Tokyo and Washington will begin talks in February and assess various possible crisis situations that could occur across the Taiwan Straits, the agency said, citing officials from both countries.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and has threatened to attack if the self-ruled, democratic island declares independence.

The talks could also stir controversy in Japan, where the government has in the past been vague about whether Taiwan is part of the country's "surrounding areas", meaning those to which Japan's contingency legislation would apply.

The discussions are thought to reflect the wishes of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is considered to be pro-Taiwan, Kyodo said.

Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, told parliament in 2005 that Japan did not anticipate providing military cooperation to the United States during any crisis in the Taiwan Strait, the report said.

Japan's military contribution would be limited under its pacifist constitution, but the two sides will consider having Japanese troops provide rear-area support including supplies, transport and medical services for U.S. troops as well as ship inspection and search and rescue work, Kyodo said.

Japan and the United States will also discuss details of how they would deal with contingencies in North Korea including situations that could affect Japan, following Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests last year, the Asahi Shimbun said on Thursday...

As far as I know, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials dominated the talks in Washington. A lot of the Defense folks are with Minister Kyūma Fumio in Thailand.

On the face of it, I would think that the subject of the discussions in Washington is what the Japanese are not going to do in the case of a military confrontation over Taiwan.

Here is the Kyōdō report in English (caution: The Japan Times link rot warnings are in force) and in 日本語.

The Defense Ministry and the JSDF would probably like to have a single, modest plan for providing support to U.S. security actions in the areas about Japan. Having two sets of rules--one for Taiwan, one for North Korea--would complicate matters, particularly if the contingency invoking the support of the SDF springs neither from Chinese nor DPRK actions (a real possibility ever since the "areas about Japan" transformed from a geographical concept into a "situational" one). If an Al-Qaeda variant blows up a U.S. Navy fast sealift vessel transiting the waters off the Philippines, is a nearby SDF vessel operating under Taiwanese protocols, DPRK protocols or something completely different? And who gets to make the immediate call?

MOFA wants at least two sets of rules.

MOFA wants an unbreakable guarantee of a U.S. nuclear response in the event of a WMD attack from North Korea. The political price for such a guarantee is a concurrent and commensurate commitment from Japan to support U.S. Forces to the fullest in the event of a contingency on the Korean Penisula or in the waters about the DPRK.

The talks settling the details through which such a support commitment will be transformed from a potentiality to a reality have been underway since December, according to the lead story of this morning's Asahi Shimbun--but only as regards a Korean contingency.

Taiwan is another kettle of fish. Due to treaty commitments, the Cabinet-led recent warming trend in Sino-Japanese political relations and the continuing integration of Japan's and China's economies and societies (see this article from The Japan Times, a corollary of the trend noted here last August), provoking the Chinese with talks about the ways Japan will help the U.S. defend Taiwan is probably not on the agendas of the Kasumigaseki planners.

Probably the brief of the Washington talkers is try and see how many commitments Japan can avoid as regards Taiwan and China without denting U.S. enthusiasm toward deterring the North Korean threat to Tokyo.

To complicate matters further, in the waning hours of last month the Defense Agency/Ministry (all that new stationery, all those new signs, all those new meishi!) was denying that the JMSDF and the U.S. Navy had been practicing the defense of a very tender spot on the map of maritime East Asia.

As if the Security Treaty does not obligate the U.S. to defend all of Japan's territory.

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