Article for the Financial Times by Robert Wright in London and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington yesterday
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has used a visit to London to stress the importance of a resolute international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in deterring potential future Chinese action against Taiwan.
Kishida issued the warning following a meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who on Thursday also insisted there was a “direct read across” from recent events in Europe to East Asia.
The comments from the two prime ministers highlight international concerns about Chinese intentions towards Taiwan and come after talks in early March between UK and US officials over how best to deter any use of force against the island.
They will also fuel concerns in China that the war in Ukraine is promoting a more robust and united stance by US allies towards Beijing.
“Ukraine might be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida told a press conference at the end of his first trip to Europe since he took over as head of Japan’s government in September.
“We must show there are consequences to the attack, to violence by Russia,” said the prime minister. A “resolute stance” on Ukraine would help ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, which was “fundamental to the stability of international society”, he said.
“We must collaborate and never tolerate any unilateral attempt to change borders by force in East Asia,” Kishida said.
Analysts in the region say there is no indication that Chinese major military action is imminent or planned for the near future against Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory and has threatened to recover by force if necessary.
However, the US is keen to boost co-operation with allies to raise awareness about what the administration regards as Beijing’s increasingly assertive attitude towards the democratically governed island.
Japanese officials have over the past few years become much more vocal in public about such concerns. Some Japanese officials have privately worried that Chinese president Xi Jinping may interpret US president Joe Biden’s decision not to intervene directly in the Ukraine conflict as a signal Washington would not defend Taipei.
Admiral John Aquilino, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, recently told the Financial Times the conflict in Ukraine should serve as a warning not to be complacent about the possibility of a Chinese attack on Taiwan.
Biden has been urging allies in Asia and Europe to take a strong stance against China over Taiwan. Last year, he convinced then Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga to include language about Taiwan in a joint statement — the first time that had happened in five decades.
In comments to reporters at the start of his meeting with Kishida, Johnson said security in Europe was “indivisible” from the security of Asia and the Pacific.
“There is direct read across from the actions of autocratic, coercive powers in Europe, to what may happen in East Asia,” the British prime minister said. “That’s why we want to work more closely together.”
Kishida said he would be making his points about the importance of a resolute response on Ukraine to Biden when the US president visits Tokyo as part of a trip to South Korea and Japan later this month.
While the UK government said Johnson and Kishida had discussed collaboration on a future combat air system, it made no mention after their meeting of a “landmark new defence agreement” that it had previously said the two leaders were expected to agree in principle.
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Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida speaks in London on Thursday. Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida speaks in London on Thursday. © Peter Nicholls/Reuters