Analysts: Taiwan Goals Drive China’s Spratly Grab

TAIPEI — Missing from discussions at last week’s US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) was Taiwan’s significance in China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, said defense analysts.


Taiwan’s Master Plan to Defeat China in a War

J. Michael Cole


China could get more than it bargained for…

A consensus seems to have developed among a large number of defense analysts in recent years arguing that despite the balance of power having shifted in China’s favor, Beijing has no intention to use its military to invade Taiwan and thus resolve the Taiwan “question” once and for all. Doing so would be too costly, some argue, while others contend that Beijing can accomplish unification by creating enough economic dependence and incentives to convince Taiwanese over time of the “inevitability” of a “reunited” China.

Although these factors certainly militate against the desire to go to war over the island-nation, we cannot altogether discount the probability that the Chinese military would be called into action, especially if the rationale for launching an attack were framed in terms of a defensive war—China being “forced” to take action because of changing and “untenable” circumstances in its environment.

Therefore, despite the relatively low probability of war in the Taiwan Strait in the immediate future, Taipei cannot afford to be complacent and must actively pursue an effective defense strategy.

The first component of such a strategy is for Taipei to clearly define what the mission is, and just as importantly, what “victory” would look like. Given the quantitative and qualitative differences that exist between the two militaries, it is clear by now that victory for Taiwan can no longer be defined in maximalist terms: the total destruction of enemy forces.

Moreover, Taiwan does not have the means, nor does the intent, to take the fight to China to annihilate People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces stationed on Chinese territory. Therefore, with a few—and important—exceptions that will be discussed below, the military area of operations in a war scenario would be the Taiwan Strait, and in a full invasion, the Taiwan side of the median line that divides the Strait.

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Chinese capabilities in space pose threat to Taiwan: expert


U.S. Director of National Intelligence told Senators he can’t speak openly on impact of Chinese military expansion on Taiwan

During a hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he could not discuss openly the impact of Chinese military expansion on Taiwan. Clapper added that he is willing to share more details in a classified setting.


Taiwan in Japan’s historical narrative

Written by Alex Calvo.

The coming 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War is not abating the debate over Japan’s historical responsibility and contemporary views of the conflict. To the contrary. Neither Beijing nor Seoul seem interested in renouncing this key aspect of their domestic and international narratives, while speculation continues about the words that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may pronounce on the commemoration of the Japanese surrender. While Taiwan became a Japanese colony much earlier, in 1895, and did not experience combat operations other than strategic bombing during the war, history remains a key component in the debate over Taiwan’s identity and future. It is also important for both bilateral relations with Japan and Tokyo’s own historical narrative. As Japan painfully searches for a way forward avoiding the extremes of straight rejection of her past and wholesale whitewashing of the war and the years leading up to it, Taiwan appears as essential for an alternative nuanced, middle of the road, narrative.

Only 50 years stand between the Japanese takeover of Formosa and the Empire’s surrender in the wake of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet thrust into Manchuria. Just 50 years, yet a gulf in views of Japan. In 1895 Japan took over Formosa without any significant opposition from the world’s leading powers, following a show of force that proved that in contrast with her larger neighbour she had indeed managed to become a modern nation-state. By defeating the Qing in the First Sino-Japanese War, Tokyo proved her economic, technological, and military might, and gained a place in the top league of a world where inequality was the norm, with little ground between colonizers and colonized. Meiji leaders were very much aware of the rules of the game, and knew that in the game of colonialism one could be either a subject or an object, with no realistic prospects for a third way.

Once Taiwan had been secured at the negotiating table, a counterinsurgency campaign ensued. While Japan encountered a degree of resistance, to be overcome by force, a number of factors prevented this from tainting Tokyo’s image. First of all, while the campaign was military in nature, its overall political goal was clear at all times, Tokyo may not have had the qualms of liberal democracies engaged in counterinsurgency in more recent times, but she understood that the goal was to achieve the necessary degree of control and stability to ensure her administration of the Island and the territory’s ensuing economic development. Second, by taking Formosa from the Qing, Tokyo was following in the lead of other powers which had already secured a number of concessions, including extraterritoriality, and in the case of Great Britain and Russia land, from China through diplomacy backed by force. Third, Japan’s emergence in North-East Asia fit reasonably well with the wider geopolitical interests of the British Empire, and although the same could not be said about the United States, American hostility towards Japanese expansion did not come to the fore until a decade later, with the Russo-Japanese War.

This was thus the background of Japan’s takeover of Taiwan, which was followed by the economic development of the island, the development of infrastructure and a major public relations drive to present this colonization as proof that Japan was a “civilized” country capable and willing to help more backward territories achieve modernity. Great Britain was one of the major targets of what we would now call an exercise in “soft power”, with Japan, then known as the “Britain of the East”, eager to prove that just like the British Empire, the Japanese Empire was a force for progress. Representative of this effort was the book “Japanese Rule in Formosa”, written by lawmaker Yosaburo Takekoshi in 1910, which began saying that “Western nations have long believed that on their shoulders alone rested the responsibility of colonizing the yet unopened portions of the globe, and extending to the inhabitants the benefits of civilization; but now we Japanese rising from the Ocean in the extreme Orient, wish as a nation to take part in this great and glorious work”.

How do the Taiwanese see the 50 years of Japanese rule? The answer, as usual, is that they do so in different ways. This is clear, to begin with, in the name itself. Should it be “Japanese colonial period”,  “Japanese occupation”, or simply “Japanese period”? All three possibilities are found in all sorts of written materials, from books to tourist leaflets, and this has more than once been a subject of controversy in the political arena. Furthermore, should the Taiwanese experience be seen as part of the wider struggle of a “Chinese nation” to reach modernity after the Opium Wars? Or should it be treated separately, with Japanese control being one of a long list of factors separating Taiwan’s experience from mainland China? Should the colonial experience be rejected wholesale, out of principle and on account of its inherent violence, or should its positive aspects be acknowledged? More controversially, is it legitimate to compare the Japanese record with that of the Communists? Again, we find a wide scope of views. In some public exhibitions in Taiwan, for example, the Second Sino-Japanese War is presented with little mention that Formosa was then part of the Japanese Empire, while sometimes the 1895-1945 period is compared favourably with the KMT takeover. A good example of the latter is the comment by Twu Shiing-jer (former Department of Health minister and former director-general of the Centers for Disease Control) that “In 1942, during the period of Japanese rule, there was only one case of smallpox in the nation and this person did not die of the disease. By contrast, in 1946, after the KMT occupied Taiwan, there was a smallpox outbreak, with 1,561 cases and 315 fatalities”.

Japan is experiencing conflicting pressures concerning her past, with on the one hand the government and some actors wishing to correct a perceived bias against the country, while other voices take the opposite stance and argue that Tokyo has not expressed remorse in a sufficiently sincere way. Many Japanese feel that hostile voices have often been more vocal, having a negative impact on the international image of Japan, or in other words her “soft power”. Recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a panel that “Being modest does not receive recognition in the international community, and we must argue points when necessary”, while an unnamed Foreign Ministry official argued that “Many countries are investing hugely in this field and we feel we were not investing enough”. As with other countries, but perhaps even more intensely, Japan feels the need to strike a balance between assertion and openness concerning difficult past events. Paying more attention to Taiwan is no magic pill, but it may enable the country to point to more benign aspects of her post-Meiji expansion. More generally, while the two Koreas and China are traditionally hostile to Japan, and their leaders never shy at publicly accusing Tokyo by reference to her troubled past, countries in other regions of Asia are not always that negative. Just to mention two examples, Vietnam and the Philippines tend to be much more positive towards Japanese moves to become a more “normal country”, although both experienced occupation during the Second World War. Taiwan to some extent lies in between, and attitudes towards Japan, while generally speaking positive, remain closely connected to views about the  Island’s national identity.

To conclude, as we approach the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender, we may observe the further convergence of struggles over Japan’s past and Taiwan’s identity. Both will be played out domestically and also at an international level, with Beijing eager to influence them. The challenge for Japan is to secure a more positive historical image while acknowledging more openly the mistakes and abuses of the past. For Taiwan, the challenge is to seek a historical consensus that, while respecting a plurality of views typical of any democracy, is strong enough to underpin a national security policy able to see citizens with different identities share the same trench. For Beijing, it is to slow down Japan’s “normalization” by portraying the country as unable to deal with her past, and in particular, make it difficult for Tokyo to intervene in defence of Taiwan.

Alex Calvo is a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan) and CPI Blog Regular Contributor. He focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He is also a member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Dr Calvo is currently writing a book about Asia’s role and contribution to the Allied victory in the Great War. He tweets @Alex__Calvo and his work can be found here. Image Credit: CC by Wikimedia Commons/Reed Digital Collections.


Japan Troop Deployment Near Taiwan Clears Major Hurdle

Residents on Yonaguni Island voted in favor of a proposed base housing SDF troops.


Taiwan-Japan Relations: Historical Perspective

Written by Bruce Jacobs.

After the United States, Japan is second most important country for Taiwan. There are several reasons for this. First, the two countries are geographically close to each other. Second, Japan was Taiwan’s colonial master for fifty years (1895-1945). Third, Japan is an important Asian democracy. Fourth, the two countries have significant trade and investment with each other. Japan-Taiwan ties have become even closer since Taiwan has democratised.

Taiwan and Japan are close neighbours. Japan is Taiwan’s immediate neighbour to the Northeast while the Philippines are immediately south and China is to the west.

Following the Manchu-Japan War of 1894-1895, the Manchus ceded Taiwan to Japan. For a modernising Japan, this was an opportunity to demonstrate to the Western powers that Japan too could be a successful colonial power. Japanese rhetoric emphasised how Taiwan was a model colony and that Taiwanese were assimilated as Japanese, but the reality was that Japanese rule in Taiwan was quite harsh. However, because Kuomintang rule under Chiang Kai-shek was equally harsh but also more corrupt, Taiwanese began to look back upon Japanese rule as better than it really was. Thus, Taiwanese held relatively good feelings about Japan. (See Appendix for some comparisons between Japanese colonial rule and Kuomintang colonial rule in Taiwan.)

When the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek took over the rule of Taiwan from Japan in 1945 following World War II, things deteriorated rapidly in Taiwan. Nevertheless, relations with Japan in post-colonial period were about to experience positive development. The Chinese had fought the Japanese in World War II and had considerable loathing for the Japanese, who had practiced considerable cruelty in occupied China. However, Chiang Kai-shek was moderate in his demands against the Japanese and this led to some cooperation between Taiwan and Japan during Chiang Kai-shek’s rule in Taiwan.

Thus, for example, in 1971, when it looked like Taiwan would lose its seat in the United Nations, Japan along with Australia and New Zealand seconded the American proposal for dual UN representation (seating both China and Taiwan). The American and the Japanese ambassadors to Taiwan were among those foreign officials with whom Taiwan officials met most frequently. Of course, because of Chiang Kai-shek’s stubbornness, the dual representation motion failed and Taiwan ultimately left the United Nations on October 25, 1971.[1]

When Japan recognised Beijing on September 29, 1972, it did not recognise China’s claim to Taiwan.[2] Furthermore, the Japanese formula of establishing officially unofficial organisations to maintain “unofficial” ties between Japan and Taiwan set the precedent for Taiwan’s “unofficial” ties with all other democratic nations around the world.

With the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988 and the beginning of the presidency of Lee Teng-hui, a Taiwanese, relations between Japan and Taiwan improved. Lee had studied in Japan during World War II and had a much more positive view of Japan than Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo. Thus, the positive views that Taiwanese had toward Japan helped improve ties. In addition, during Lee Teng-hui’s presidency Taiwan democratised and the shared democratic values added a further layer of understanding between the two countries. Close ties continued under the presidency of Chen Shui-bian. During the Lee and Chen administrations, Japan was clearly Taiwan’s second closest partner behind only the United States.

Relations between Taiwan and Japan deteriorated in the early days of President Ma Ying-jeou’s term. Having Mainlander background and ancestral enmity with Japan dating from World War II, President Ma omitted mention of Japan from his inauguration speech and claimed the Senkaku islands (which the Ma government called the Diaoyutai). However, within a few months, the Ma government made considerable efforts and Taiwan’s relations with Japan improved greatly.[3]

In addition, to propinquity, colonial history and shared democratic values, Taiwan and Japan are important economic partners. Trade between the two countries totalled more than US$60 billion in 2013. Japan is Taiwan’s second largest trade partner while Taiwan is Japan’s fourth trade partner. Both countries have reached an agreement giving de facto most favoured nation treatment to the other.[4] Tourism, with over three million tourists in 2012, cultural exchanges, youth working holiday arrangements, academic exchange, and considerable assistance with natural disasters in the other country have also solidified the relationship.[5] Considerable numbers of senior Japanese politicians have been members of the Japan-Taiwan Commission of Japanese Diet Members (Nikka-kon 日華懇).[6]

The current trends in Taiwan including the Ma government’s disastrous loss in the November 29, 2014 local elections, the continuing expansionist moves of China in the Asia-Pacific, and the increasing closeness and cooperation among the world’s democratic countries all suggest that ties between Taiwan and Japan will continue to improve.[7]

Bruce Jacobs is Emeritus Professor of Asian Languages and Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/public domain. 


[1] J. Bruce Jacobs, “One China, diplomatic isolation and a separate Taiwan,” in Edward Friedman (ed.), China’s Rise, Taiwan’s Dilemmas and International Peace (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 89-94.

[2]For text, see ibid,pp. 94-95.

[3] J. Bruce Jacobs, Democratizing Taiwan (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), pp. 239-243.

[4] Ryo Sahashi, “Japan-Taiwan relations since 2008: An evolving, practical, non-strategic partnership,” in Jean-Pierre Cabestan and Jacques deLisle (eds.), Political Change in Taiwan under Ma Ying-jeou: Partisan conflict, policy choices, external constraints and security challenges (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), p. 234.

[5] Ibid., pp. 235-237.

[6] Ibid., pp. 237-238.

[7] In addition to the Ryo Sahashi chapter cited above, those interested in Taiwan-Japan ties should also examine the following four articles: Yoshihide Soeya, “Taiwan in Japan’s Security Considerations,” The China Quarterly, No. 165 (March 2001), pp. 130-146; Jing Sun, “Japan-Taiwan Relations: Unofficial in Name Only,” Asian Survey, Vol. 47, No. 5 (September/October 2007), pp. 790-810; June Teufel Dreyer, “Japan and the Security of the Taiwan Strait,” in Peter C.Y. Chow (ed.), The “One China” Dilemma (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 291-306; and Brian Bridges and Che-po Chan, “Looking North: Taiwan’s Relations with Japan under Chen Shui-bian,” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 4 (Winter 2008-2009), pp. 577-596. These four articles are reprinted in J. Bruce Jacobs (ed.), Critical Readings on China-Taiwan Relations (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), Vol. 3, pp. 725-815.

[8]Drawn from J. Bruce Jacobs, “Whither Taiwanization? The Colonization, Democratization and Taiwanization of Taiwan,” Japanese Journal of Political Science, Vol. 14, Issue 4 (December 2013),pp. 537-575.See original for citations.

APPENDIX: Comparing the Japanese and the Kuomintang Colonial Regimes in Taiwan [8]

Comparing the Japanese colonial regime e(1895-1945) with the Kuomintang colonial regime (1945–1988) that replaced it, we find that the two regimes shared at least six characteristics in terms of their nature and in terms of the timing of their policies.

First of all, both regimes considered the Taiwanese natives to be second-class citizens and both systematically discriminated against the Taiwanese. Under the Japanese, for example, a Taiwanese never held a position above head of county (gun 郡). In October 1934, after almost 40 years of colonial rule, the Japanese finally unveiled their “long-awaited reform of local autonomy“, but this “outraged the Formosans…because what had been granted was, in essence, a rigged system in favour of Japanese residents. “ Similarly, when the Kuomintang took over from the Japanese in late 1945, Taiwanese were excluded from many jobs in both central and local government. In addition, under both Chiang Kai-shek and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, Mainlanders, who account for less than 15% of Taiwan’s population, always had a majority in the Cabinet and in the Kuomintang’s Central Standing Committee. Right until the death of Chiang Ching-kuo, no Taiwanese ever held the position of Premier or Minister of Foreign Affairs, National Defence, Economics, Education, Finance, or Justice,Director of the Government InformationOffice or Chairman of the Economic Planning Commission or any seniormilitary or security position.

Secondly, both regimes clamped down very hard at first, killing tens of thousands of Taiwanese. Davidson estimates that close to 8,000 Taiwanese died resisting the Japanese in 1895. Lamley says that the Japanese killed 12,000 Taiwanese “bandit-rebels“ during 1898–1902, while a Japanese source states that the Japanese colonial regime executed over 32,000 “bandits,“ more than 1% of Taiwan’s population, in the same period. In March 1947, as a result of the February 28, 1947 uprising, Kuomintang armies came from the Mainland and slaughtered from 10,000 to 28,000 of Taiwan’s leaders and educated youth.

Third, both regimes continued to rely on oppression for about 25 years. During the Japanese colonial period, this was a period of military governors, strong rule through the police, and continued repression. From1907 to 1915,more than 800 Taiwanese were executed. According to official figures, during the White Terror of the 1950s, theKuomintang executed 1,017 people and during thewhole period ofmartial law from 1950 to 1987 some 3,000 to 4,000 people were executed for political offenses.

Fourth, owing to international and domestic circumstances, both colonial regimes “liberalized“ after about a quarter century. Toward the end of World War I, Woodrow Wilson gave his speech about “self-determination“ and the Koreans had a major revolt called The March First (1919) Movement. The liberalization under “Taisho大正 democracy“ at this time enabled public discussion in Japan of various policies. These discussions began to influence Japan’s colonial policies in Taiwan and led to the appointment of civilian governors fromOctober 1919 until September 1936.While police repression continued, this was also the period when Taiwanese, often in cooperation with liberal Japanese, began their political movements. Similarly, under the Kuomintang, in the early 1970s with Taiwan’s defeat in the United Nations, the Diaoyutai 釣魚台 movement, the activities of The Intellectual Magazine (Daxue zazhi大學雜誌), and the promotion of Chiang Ching-kuo to the premiership in 1972, Taiwan began to liberalize.

Fifth, as both regimes came under pressure, they again stepped up repression. Under the Japanese the repression came with World War II, the appointment of military governors in 1936, and the push toward assimilation under the kōminka 皇民化 movement. Under the Kuomintang, repression occurred following the Kaohsiung Incident of December 10, 1979.

Finally, both regimes tried to make Taiwanese speak their “national language“ (國語 Jap. kokugo, Chi. guoyu), Japanese and Mandarin Chinese respectively, as part of their larger cultural attempts to make Taiwanese second-class Japanese and Chinese.


Pro-Taiwan groups protest against cross-strait talks


Taiwan Navy Takes Delivery of First Stealth ‘Carrier Killer’ Corvette

Taiwanese Navy Tuo Jiang

Taiwanese Navy corvette Tuo Jiang

The Republic of China Navy has taken delivery of what could be the first of a new class of stealth corvettes, according to local press reports.

The locally built 500-ton Tuo Jiang was delivered to the Taiwanese Navy from shipbuilder Lung Teh Shipbuilding at the harbor of Su-ao in a Tuesday ceremony.

“With the completion of this new-generation warship, Taiwan’s naval combat capabilities have reached a milestone,” Taiwan’s Minister of Defense Yen Ming said during the ceremony.
“The Tuo Jiang is the fastest and most powerful vessel of its kind in Asia, and underscores the Navy’s success in implementing the national policy of creating a self-sustaining defense.”

Taiwan has said it wants to purchase up to a dozen of the corvettes that can travel at speeds in excess of 40 knots and will likely be armed with a domestic supersonic anti-ship missile.

“Armaments reportedly include the Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) ramjet-powered supersonic anti-ship missile,” reported Jane’s Defence Weekly in March.
“The HF-3, manufactured by the defence ministry’s Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), is touted as Taiwan’s most potent weapon against the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) aircraft carrier.”

Taiwan is also slated to acquire up to four U.S. Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates in the next few years following the approval of an arms sale act last week.

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Hard ROC 2.0: Taiwan and Deterrence Through Protraction

Despite the recent ostensible improvements in relations between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, the deteriorating cross-strait military balance continues to worry leaders in Taipei.  Taiwan is long past…

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