In their joint statement issued 52 years ago, the US and Japan mentioned Taiwan. Soon afterwards, the US betrayed it. Last month, following a US-Japan summit, Joe Biden and Yoshihide Suga mentioned Taiwan again in their joint statement. Many commentators said Taiwan will be fine this time. But is it true?
During those two years after the 1969 joint statement, there were some plot twists. First, a battle between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Soviet Union broke out in March 1969 over Zhenbao Island. In those days, America’s strength was undermined by the Vietnam War and it was looking for ways to counter the Soviet Union. In November, then US president Richard Nixon and Japanese prime minister Eisaku Sato met at a US-Japan summit, after which both sides issued a statement. The statement mentioned Taiwan, with both countries pledging to protecting the security of the Republic of China (ROC) and allies in the region. Nevertheless, at the 26th United Nations General Assembly in 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed and the ROC got kicked out of the United Nations and replaced by the People’s Republic of China. In 1972, Nixon visited China. China and the US then formally established diplomatic relations.
Recognizing that China and the Soviet Union were enemies, the US gave up on the ROC in order to win over the CCP. Yet it had its reservations: it needed to preserve Taiwan as the first island chain, so that it could prevent the three communist states – the Soviet Union, China and North Korea - from expanding eastwards and also prevent the ROC from turning to the Soviet Union. This explained Washington’s policy of preserving Taiwan yet kicking the ROC out of the UN and then establishing diplomatic ties with China. All this amounted to one message: all US moves were driven by geostrategic considerations, and it did not matter which force or individual was in charge of a given regime. What mattered was the use value of the regime to the US.
America, Japan try to get what they want
Now let’s look at Japan. In the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security signed by the US and Japan, the idea of the US defending Japan is nothing simple. Major General Henry C. Stackpole, commander of Marine Corps Bases in Japan, once described US troops in Japan as “a cap in the bottle” - efforts had to be made to prevent the champagne inside the bottle from popping out. What he meant was that the US had to guard itself against Japan.
As a defeated country in the Second World War, Japan does not have any regular army but only the Self-Defense Forces. Following the war, the US worried a revival of Japanese militarism. So it decided to help defend Japan, which involves defending Japan as well as guarding itself against Japan. Japan has always hoped to be a normal country again. Apparently it is now afforded with an opportunity to do just that. With China’s economic and military strengths on the rise, the US has repeatedly underscored the CCP’s growing threat to its neighbors and increasingly palpable desire for colonizing other countries.
A short while ago, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi mentioned the need to study ways for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to cooperate with US forces defending Taiwan in the event of China’s aggression. Although Kishi’s remark was rather vague, his words effectively opened up a gap, so that follow-up actions can be taken in the future in accordance with changing situations. When both the US and Japan judge that the CCP’s threat to China’s surrounding areas is growing, the cap in the bottle may be loosened a bit. Those who tell people to calm down and not to take impulsive actions may not necessarily mean what they say; those who condemn others for disrupting the existing order and destroying peace may actually think others’ attacks are not strong enough. Just because the US wants to safeguard Taiwan does not mean it cannot betray Taiwan. It all depends on the actual situation. As for Japan, it needs to have a gap as well as time. It is just that it has no control over the rhythm of things. Such is the first game.
Lastly, some food for thought. Here’s a line from “Poem of Fragrance” written by Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, who lived a life of luxury, sophistication and art but met his end in tragedy.
“Fancying a fragrant trail, a dancing butterfly chases after night breeze gracefully.”
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