US Must Help Japan, Taiwan Boost War Preparedness To Counter Heightened China Threat: Experts
US Must Help Japan, Taiwan Boost War Preparedness To Counter Heightened China Threat: Experts

By Venus Upadhayaya

News Analysis

The Chinese threat has heightened the need for collective defense operations between the United States, Japan, and Taiwan.

However, the Taiwanese and Japanese armies are particularly ill-equipped for war, according to geo-strategists. Experts say the United States should support the two countries in order to resolve internal problems and establish competent joint operations.

The Japanese and Taiwanese militaries rank eighth and 23rd in global military strength, according to Global Fire Power, an analytical portal. While the United States leads the ranking, it is followed by Russia and China—two strategic allies who have recently stepped up collaborative military exercises.

Expert: ‘Money, Manpower, Respect for Military’ Needed

Grant Newsham is a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies. He spoke with The Epoch Times via email.

While Japan has a good military “on paper,” it is unprepared for war, Newsham said. Meanwhile, Taiwan has a “Galapagos” military, which has languished in isolation for decades.

The two militaries need “more money, manpower, respect for military service,” Newsham stressed.

Beginning this year, the United States has taken steps to boost military alliances in the Indo-pacific. Those steps include more U.S. troops on the island of Okinawa, enabling the allies to enhance anti-ship capabilities that would be needed in the event of a Chinese incursion into Taiwan.

On Feb. 28, the House select committee on China held its first hearing, in which lawmakers expressed concerns about a $19 billion backlog in State Department-approved arms sales to Taiwan.

Taiwan also awaits the delivery of 66 F-16 fighter jets. The Block 70 F-16s, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and equipped with capabilities that make them the most advanced 4th generation fighters available, are slated to be delivered by the end of 2026.

Meanwhile, however, the threats of war are getting louder, as Taiwan’s air force faces increasingly aggressive Chinese military flights.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry Department of North American Affairs Director-General Douglas Hsu (R) welcomes U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan, on Aug. 14, 2022. (Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via Reuters)

United States Must Lead

Both the United States and Japan have said they will defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. However, they haven’t specified how they will address the immediate internal challenges facing the Taiwanese and Japanese militaries. Those challenges include policies, capacities, and war preparedness.

Despite the threat facing them, Japan and Taiwan have not yet made sufficient efforts to collectively reinforce deterrence and improve their ability to contribute to the common defense.

Geo-strategists believe the impending situation cannot be resolved without America taking the lead in this regard.

“The U.S. needs to fight against China in the front line. If the U.S. stays at the back … and asks Japan and Taiwan to fight, they’ll not fight,” Dr. Satoru Nagao, a non-resident research fellow with the Washington-based Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times. For leadership to be effective, “the leader fights in the front,” Nagao said.

According to the current plan, Nagao said, Japan will increase its defense budget by 56 percent over the next five years. “However, China has increased its budget more,” he said. “Without cooperation with other countries, Japan alone cannot prepare enough budget” to counter the Chinese threat.

That makes building joint operational capacity with the United States extremely important for Japan, Nagao said.

Newsham said it is important “for the Americans to sit down with the JSDF [Japan self-defense forces] and TAF [Taiwan Air Force] and systematically state what is needed … what the Americans will do and what the Japanese and the Taiwanese will do.”

The People’s Liberation Army comes ashore from landing crafts in an exercise on the Chinese coast near Taiwan, on Sept. 10, 1999. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Challenges for Taiwan’s Military

Taiwan is aware of the threat it faces. However, it has urgent issues to resolve, say experts.

Taiwan faces challenges due to a decreasing birth rate. The island’s population fell for the first time in 2020 and its military intake in 2022 was the lowest in a decade, according to a December CNN report.

Abhishek Darbey, a research fellow with the New Delhi-based Center for China Analysis and Strategy, told The Epoch Times in an email that Taiwan’s military strength is weak compared to that of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). “Its compulsory military service is too short and the training for the reserve force is not rigorous,” Darbey said.

On paper, Taiwan has over a million reserve forces, but reservists consider it something of a joke, according to Newsham. And civilian leaders don’t consider it important enough to devote the requisite time and resources, he said.

“A proper reserve can be a huge force multiplier and cause an invader all sorts of problems—and possibly even deter an invader from attacking. Part of the problem with Taiwan is that the active force is starved for funds and manpower, so it doesn’t really have the time or resources to devote to a reserve force,” said Newsham.

Newsham said the Taiwanese military also lacks “imaginative defense concepts” which will be critical in a fight with the PLA. In technical terms, this means Taiwan needs a “mobile, hard to locate and hit force,” equipped with long-range precision weapons, serious air-defense systems, smart marine mines, combat drones, and even the ability to take the fight to the Chinese mainland.

Darbey said that the Taiwanese army must further strengthen its military capabilities in terms of modern warfare, with “informatized” and “intelligentized” weapons systems.

“The use of AI [artificial intelligence] and drones will play a key role in the future military operations and in the case of Taiwan, the PLA will use their intelligent weapons without the use of personnel. This will also help the PLA to ensure that there are not many casualties in any possible operation in Taiwan, which is a concern for the people on the mainland,” said Darbey.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visits army reservist troops during a training in Nanshipu, Taiwan, on March 12, 2022. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Breaking Taiwan’s Isolation

Diplomatic ambiguity around Taiwan’s status as an independent nation has created many challenges for joint operations. Experts say this must be overcome.

Newsham alleged that Taiwan is facing the consequences of  “40-plus years of isolation.” He feels that the United States has not engaged meaningfully with Taiwan’s armed forces. As a result, they have not advanced as they should have.

“Why have the Americans isolated Taiwan? [They were] afraid the PRC might complain. [It’s] hard to win if that’s your mind set. And demoralizing to our supposed friends, the Taiwanese,” said Newsham.

Darbey said the United States should shun “strategic ambiguity,” instead adopting “strategic clarity” regarding its possible military intervention against any PLA operation in Taiwan. It should also increase its military presence in the Taiwan Strait.

However, Japan needs policy backing to help Taiwan, he said. Japan is still considering enacting its own version of the “Taiwan Relations Act” to legally guarantee its support for Taiwan.

The Taiwan Relations Act is a U.S. law that reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the preservation of the human rights of the Taiwanese people.

Soldiers takes part in the Han Kuang military drills simulating a Chinese military invasion, at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, in Taichung, Taiwan, on June 7, 2018. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Japanese Military: Undermanned, Underfunded

Due to a low birth rate and aging population, the Japanese army is also facing low recruitment. This impedes its desired military buildup.

Japan has other problems that seek urgent solutions, say geo-strategists.

Newsham feels the JSDF are undermanned, underfunded, and have not seen warfighting as a real mission until recently. “That also creates a huge psychological gap when a military isn’t thinking about warfighting as it should,” he said.

Service in the JSDF is not a respected profession in Japan because of low salaries, tiny pensions, few benefits, substandard housing, and little help for military families, he said.

Newsham complained that the JSDF services cannot even do joint operations in a planned, coordinated fashion involving the nation’s territorial army, air force, and navy. Japan also lacks “war stocks, casualty planning,” and the full range of logistics and support required to fight a war.

Nagao said that building up the internal resources of the Taiwanese and Japanese militaries, along with bolstering their joint operational capacity, is something none of these countries—including the United States—can avoid in today’s context.

“In particular, to defend Taiwan, Japan is vital,” he said.

U.S. Army Pacific Commanding General Charles A. Flynn shakes hands with Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept. 9, 2022. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Joint Operational Headquarters

Experts say the United States, Japan, and Taiwan should establish a joint operational headquarters.

Newsham believes the need is urgent, and should at least start with the United States and Japan. “That [a joint operational headquarters] doesn’t exist after 60-plus years of the defense alliance, is atrocious,” he said.

However, Nagao said, a joint headquarters between the three is not easy to accomplish, given the “One China” policy of the United States. According to a Center for Strategic and International Studies explainer, the United States “recognizes the PRC [People’s Republic of China] as the sole legal government of China but only acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China.”

The policy has held since 1979; however, the United States has not given in to Chinese demands that it recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan: hence the term “acknowledge” as opposed to “recognize.”

“Under such a situation, even if Japan and the U.S. know that Taiwan is an independent country, they cannot establish joint headquarters like they could in a sovereign nation,” said Nagao.

Despite it being a challenging goal, a joint headquarters remains the best approach, said Nagao. “Even if a joint headquarters is difficult to achieve, we should enhance our cooperation” and create a similar solution, he said.


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