CHINA WATCHJapan: Public Reluctant to Defend Taiwan Should China Invade

By Julian Ryall

Published 11 May 2023

A new opinion poll has found that over half of the Japanese population is of the opinion that the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) should not become involved in fighting if China invades Taiwan. Tokyo has not explicitly stated that it would commit ground, air or maritime units to help fend off any Chinese attack; but soaring defense spending and the upgrading of Japan’s naval and air capabilities, in particular, indicate that the military is preparing itself.

A full 80% of the 3,000 adults interviewed by the Asahi Shimbun daily newspaper recently expressed concern that Japan would become caught up in the conflict if Beijing were to attack Taiwan in an effort to unify it with the Chinese mainland.  

Political analysts and members of the public from across Japan’s political spectrum said they were “not at all surprised” at the outcome of the poll.

It is widely expected that the US would go to Taiwan’s aid in the event of any such assault. The government in Tokyo, which is at present presiding over a massive increase in arms spending, has in the past stated that a Chinese invasion of the island would pose a critical threat to Japan too, as it would leave Beijing in control of the sea lanes used to transport 90% of the nation’s energy needs and 60% of its food supplies.  

Tokyo has not explicitly stated that it would commit ground, air or maritime units to help fend off any Chinese attack; but soaring defense spending and the upgrading of Japan’s naval and air capabilities, in particular, indicate that the military is preparing itself.  

Rear-Echelon Support for U.S. Forces Only
The increased expenditure has triggered a domestic debate on what Japan’s role might be in a conflict, with 56% of those polled by Asahi saying that the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) should be limited to providing rear-echelon support to US forces, such as assistance with fuel, food and medical aid, as well as logistics. Just 11% said the Japanese military should join forces with the US to repel the invasion.

People in general do not want war and I would say that most people in Okinawa are opposed to the Japanese military getting involved in any conflict over Taiwan,” said Shinako Oyakawa, who is involved in local politics in Japan’s most southerly prefecture. 

Fighting there would have a direct influence on people here as Taiwan is just one hour’s flight from Okinawa,” she told DW. “And the people of Okinawa experienced just how brutal war can be back in 1945. No one wants to see that happen again. But if Japan became involved that is exactly what would happen.”

Oyakawa said people in Okinawa were “uneasy” about the present tensions in the region, but also had sympathy for the people of Taiwan as China increases pressure on the island.  

I have also heard that the people of Taiwan do not believe the situation is as critical as others are saying and if that is the case, then governments should not exaggerate a situation to promote their own military plans,” she said.  

Ren Yabuki, an environmental campaigner who lives in Wakayama in central Japan, is also opposed to the Japanese armed forces becoming involved in combat operations. 

I do not support a military solution and hope for a political solution, so I do not want the Japanese government to provide military support to the US,” he said. “I am strongly opposed to all wars and believe all problems between nations should be resolved through diplomatic efforts.”

In the past, the JSDF has provided logistical support to other nations’ forces, including in the Gulf War, but Kabuki did not support this policy either. “I believe the JSDF should function only for the defense of Japan,” he said.

Who Will Help Japan When We Are Threatened?’
Hiromichi Moteki, the acting secretary general of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, a right-wing organization in Tokyo, had a different view. “I absolutely believe that Japan should work with the Americans to assist Taiwan,” he said. “These are both democratic nations that are our friends and allies and if Japan does not come to their assistance in a time of need, then we will lose their confidence and who will help Japan when we are threatened?” he asked.

He argued that the failure to stand up to China now would imperil Japan’s control of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China, in the East China Sea that Beijing lays claim to, as well as the whole of Okinawa Prefecture.

He blamed the “lack of fortitude” in many of his fellow Japanese on an education system that has become “obsessed with finding ways to avoid confrontation and conflict.”

The results of the poll are to be expected as I saw a study that said 50% of young Japanese would not even fight for their own country if we were invaded,” he said. “My feeling is that we need to stand up to countries that threaten us and support our friends when they are also in danger.” 

Julian Ryall is a Japan-based freelance journalist. This article was edited by Anne Thomas, and is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).