The ‘Biden Gap’: Japan Takes Diplomatic Lead in Defense of Taiwan

Tokyo declares military defense of Taiwan integral to its own security
December 10, 2021 Updated: December 15, 2021

Commentary

The fallout from the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to influence the perception of the United States by allies and adversaries alike around the world. Japan and China are key examples of nations reacting to the Biden administration’s weakness to further their national interests.

Strategic Ambiguity Means Weakness

The Biden administration’s characterization of the U.S. policy toward Taiwan as one of “strategic ambiguity,” after pledging to defend the island nation against Chinese aggression, is a clear example of weakness and hesitancy. Walking back President Joe Biden’s defense pledge has only increased allies’ doubts about the United States to meet its security commitments.

Upon taking office, Biden told the world that “America is back.”

But where are we back? Whose back does America have?

America is certainly not “back” in Afghanistan, nor in the Middle East. Nor does it appear that Russian potentate Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping have any respect for American power under the Biden administration when it so clearly lacks the will to use it to further U.S. interests.

The ‘Biden Gap’

There a several reasons for this, but essentially, it comes down to comparing what the Biden administration says and what it actually does. More to the point, it comes down to what Biden thinks is the right foreign policy decision for America. For more than four decades, one has been consistently in opposition to the other.

Today, in an undeniably more dangerous world, U.S. allies face what could accurately be called the “Biden gap,” marked by American “strategic ambiguity,” followed by a failure to act on commitments that eventually result in “strategic retreat.”

That’s what American allies in the Asia-Pacific fear.

Of course, Beijing is taking full advantage of the retreating, appeasing nature of the Biden administration. It’s attempting to fuel those doubts by increasing its military provocations of Taiwan, as well as taunting the United States, even as Biden affirmed that U.S. athletes would attend the Olympic Games, to be held in Beijing in 2022, despite China’s many documented crimes against humanity.

Japan’s New Taiwan Strategy

That reality puts Japan’s recent pronouncement on the defense of Taiwan into a multifaceted defensive context. In a transformative white paper released this year, Tokyo has pledged to “protect Taiwan as a democratic country” up to and including participation in military action to defend against Chinese aggression.

Japans-guard-marches
Japan’s honor guard marches into the entrance area of the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo, on Nov. 5, 2021. (Hiro Komae/AP Photo)

Why has Tokyo decided to make this fundamental change regarding Taiwan? And why does Japan feel that it needs to be publicly articulated?

Tokyo’s outward expression of its security concerns is aimed at both China and the United States. First, like the United States, Taiwan, and other Asian nations, Japan is concerned about the Chinese regime’s growing aggression and war-planning exercises toward Taiwan.

Tokyo is right to be worried. No one believes that Beijing’s war games, its militarization of the South China Sea, its massive naval force, and recent test of hypersonic missiles are benign developments that won’t be applied in a military context sooner or later.

Second, Tokyo is signaling to Beijing that an invasion of Taiwan will trigger a wider war with Japan, not just with Taiwan and the United States. In doing so, Tokyo wants to create doubt in Beijing strategists’ minds regarding the outcome of an attack on Taiwan. A China-led war against Taiwan with Japanese forces involved would be more complex, riskier, and more unpredictable than one involving just U.S. and Taiwanese forces. It would undoubtedly raise the uncertainty and potential costs of a war, and may even prevent a victory for China.

Third, Japan is telling both China and the United  States that it will no longer be a passive partner in the U.S.-backed security alliance. That in itself is an indication of Tokyo’s diminished confidence in the Biden administration.

Taiwan Chips Are Key to Global Technology Market

But Japan’s white paper is also an acknowledgment of the threat that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would pose to the region and to Japan’s economy. Like the rest of the developed world, Japan’s highly advanced industrial economy relies heavily upon Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) chips.

Epoch Times Photo
A logo of TSMC at its headquarters in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on Aug. 31, 2018. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

China would certainly like to control the world’s access to these critical components, not only for its own benefits, but for the opportunity to deny them to economic rivals such as the United States, the European Union, Japan, and others. Gaining control over the production and supply of this critical technology would give Beijing great power over the global economy as a whole and, specifically, over Japan’s.

Strengthening the Military Alliance With US

Related to that, Tokyo sees the Chinese communist regime for what it is: a malevolent force bent on regional and global domination. Therefore, Tokyo’s Taiwan security pronouncement involves more than just reassuring Washington of Japanese cooperation in regional security matters. Japan is also seeking to pressure the United States to reaffirm its security commitments to Taiwan, and in doing, to Japan and other Asia-Pacific allies.

Tokyo’s objectives are understandable. The Japanese realize that China’s subjugation of Taiwan would shatter the U.S.-led regional security arrangements. They also know that Beijing would likely not stop at Taiwan. Rather, Beijing would seek, in one fashion or another, to assert its authority over all other nations in the region, including Australia and Japan, and kick the United States out of the Asia-Pacific zone.

Japan Fills the ‘Biden Gap’

Essentially, Tokyo senses reticence in the Biden administration to stand up to China. By announcing its intention to join military action in defense of Taiwan, Japan is filling the “Biden gap” in Asia-Pacific diplomacy and security that used to be America’s unquestioned role in the region.

Unfortunately, the “Biden gap” is present in every strategic part of the world, not just the Asia-Pacific region. But Japan can only look out for its own security, and has rightly concluded that its security is tied to Taiwan’s, and both are tied to the United States.

Tokyo’s new pronouncement is both forward-leaning and risky. But the risk is likely less than the alternative scenario in which the Chinese regime, taking full advantage of the “Biden gap,” subjugates Taiwan with only token expressions of defense by the United States, before targeting other nations for conquest throughout the region.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

James Gorrie
James R. Gorrie is the author of “The China Crisis” (Wiley, 2013) and writes on his blog, TheBananaRepublican.com. He is based in Southern California.