Reaffirming the “Taiwan Clause”: Japan’s National Interest in the Taiwan Strait and the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Reaffirming the "Taiwan Clause"
Japan's National Interest in the Taiwan Strait and the U.S.-Japan Alliance

by James E. Auer and Tetsuo Kotani
November 1, 2005

This essay explores Japan’s growing awareness of its own national interest both in the stability of the Taiwan Strait and in the U.S. alliance.

Since the Allied Occupation of Japan ended in 1952, Tokyo has only once—in the U.S.–Japan Joint Communiqué of November 1969—publicly acknowledged the importance of Taiwan’s security to Japan’s national security. This paper examines why Japan’s policy concerning Taiwan was so reluctant in the early years of the Cold War; how Japan, albeit reluctantly, accepted the Taiwan clause as a part of Okinawa reversion; how U.S.–China rapprochement in the 1970s affected Japan’s commitment to the security of Taiwan and Korea; and how the important lessons Japan learned from the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis have helped bring about the need for a serious reconsideration of Japan’s reluctant policy.

Since the 1996 crisis demonstrated the very real possibility of military action in the Taiwan Strait impacting Japan’s vital sea–lanes and bilateral trade relations with Taiwan and China, Tokyo faces a serious dilemma: Japan has insufficient resources to ensure cross–Strait stability. The United States is the only country with the resources to provide a modicum of stability in the Taiwan Strait. Although Japan has been virtually linked to the defense of Taiwan by providing bases to the United States since 1952, Japan committed itself more than ever to regional security by the 1997 revised U.S.–Japan Defense Guidelines. The United States is committed to “strategic ambiguity” in order to discourage a unilateral declaration of independence from Taipei as well as to discourage a unilateral use of force by Beijing. Japan’s ambiguity about the “areas surrounding Japan” in the 1997 Guidelines is in line with U.S. strategic ambiguity.

The main argument of this paper is that that Japan should reaffirm the Taiwan clause because stability in the Taiwan Strait is fundamental to Japan’s national interest in security and prosperity. And although Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld and Ministers Machimura and Ohno appear to have internalized these considerations in preparing their Joint Statement of February 19, 2005, the United States and Japan should redefine the Taiwan Clause in the renewal of the 1996 Joint Declaration on Security this summer.By doing so both governments would strongly signal their desire for maintenance of the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and oppose any unilateral change from either Taipei or Beijing.

The first four sections examine the history of U.S.–Japan relations with reference to the stability of the Taiwan Strait and respectively examine: Japan’s Taiwan policy during the Cold War; why Japan accepted the Taiwan Clause; the Sino–U.S.