China’s planned military exercises near Taiwan may have another target: Japan

- THE JAPAN TIMES - JESSE JOHNSON - AUG 3, 2022 -

A screenshot from a video of a military exercise by the Chinese People's Liberation Army posted on its WeChat account on Monday. There are fears that the announced exercises by China could result in an accident that spirals out of control. | KYODO

Just minutes after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking American official to set foot in Taiwan in 25 years, a furious China announced a spate of military exercises that would effectively encircle the democratic island.


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But the drills, which China characterized as a “series of targeted military actions” in response to Pelosi’s visit, aren’t just intended to keep Taiwan and the United States in check. They’re also a clear warning to Japan, experts say, with some of its far-flung southwestern islands sandwiched between planned exercise zones, according to coordinates released by the Chinese military.


“Those plans show that the Sakishima Islands, including Yonaguni, Ishigaki, and Miyako, could be affected by People’s Liberation Army operations as they assume the PLA is operating to the east of Taiwan,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a professor of global studies at Meikai University.


In Okinawa Prefecture, Yonaguni Island — located just 110 kilometers from Taiwan — as well and Miyako Island are home to Ground Self-Defense Force bases, while construction is currently underway on another base for surface-to-air and surface-to-ship missile units on Ishigaki Island.


China has repeatedly sent warships and warplanes into that area in recent years as part of what it says are routine training operations. It also conducted military drills near Taiwan during what is known as the “Third Taiwan Strait Crisis” in 1995-96.

But the drills announced late Tuesday encompass a far larger area than those exercises, and include large swaths to the northeast and east of Taiwan, where U.S. and Japanese forces would likely arrive from in the event they are deployed to aid Taipei following any Chinese invasion.


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Senior Japanese officials, including late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have said that a Chinese attack on democratic Taiwan — a key semiconductor-maker that sits astride crucial shipping lanes that provide Japan with much of its energy — would also represent an emergency for Tokyo. Some, including former Prime Minister Taro Aso, have even hinted that Japan would help defend Taiwan with the U.S. if it were attacked by China under the right to collective self-defense.


Japan’s most recent defense white paper, released last month, also highlighted Taiwan’s location at the junction of the South China Sea, the Bashi Channel and the East China Sea and facing “important sea lanes” as critical to the energy-dependent country.


Additionally, the area is home to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu. Tokyo and Beijing remain at loggerheads over the tiny islets, which sit in waters rich in fish and hydrocarbons. China has increasingly boosted its presence there in recent years, and Kotani said that the Chinese military could attempt to seize the Senkakus as part of an invasion of Taiwan.


“There is always a chance of unintended accidents and escalation among Chinese, Japanese and American forces in such a situation,” he said.


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