Advice to Japan’s Senior Officials: Take Initiative and Visit Taiwan

We spoke with a retired captain of the U.S. Navy about impending threats toward Taiwan and the ideal way in which Japan should defend Taiwan.

(Interviewer: Hanako Cho, Mayuko Kataoka)


Retired Captain of the U.S. Navy

Captain James E. Fanell

Fanell graduated from San Diego State University, received his M.A. from the University of Hawaii and was a National Security Affairs Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is currently a Government Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Switzerland where he lives with his wife. His last assignment in the U.S. Navy was as the Director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet where he warned of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.

――China has long intended to take Taiwan around 2035, but do you think there is a risk that China will accelerate their original plan from 2035 to 2021?

Captain Fanell: The evidence of increased People’s Republic of China (PRC) military operations against Taiwan over the past two years is alarming. Many suggest that this activity may just be another element of the PRC’s psychological warfare strategy and that an invasion will never happen. I agree that the PRC is using this increased military operations against Taiwan as part of their psychological warfare strategy, but I do not agree that the PRC would not invade Taiwan. We must also understand that all of these military operations are in fact ‘training’ for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct an invasion.

The number of PLA penetrations of Taiwan’s southern Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) keeps increasing to the point where an invasion scenario as early as this year cannot be discounted. In other words, the PLA’s operational readiness is much higher today than it was just two years ago because of these near daily flights and naval operations in and around Taiwan.

From an intelligence perspective, all this PLA activity around Taiwan is also dangerous because it makes it very difficult for intelligence experts to differentiate between what is a “training mission” versus what a real invasion would look like.

――If China were to take Taiwan, in what form do you think this takeover would be advanced?

Captain Fanell: It is my opinion the PRC would like to ‘take’ Taiwan through the use of ‘non-violent’ means, such as using psychological warfare, but that they are very well prepared to conduct an actual invasion. This invasion could use a ‘hybrid’ warfare strategy such as using the PRC’s massive fishing fleets to swarm and overwhelm Taiwan’s offshore islands, to include Penghu or Pratas Islands.

However, it is my belief, that once the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) decides to use military force to take Taiwan, they will not risk the chance of Taiwan being able to build up their resistance following an attack on islands like the Penghus or Pratas which would allow the U.S. and Japan to come to Taiwan’s defense.

As such, I believe that when the CCP makes the decision to attack Taiwan, it will be an all-out offense against the main island and directly against the leadership in Taipei and all key military installations on the island.

――Japan has strict requirements for exercising the right of collective self-defense with the important situation clause(see Note 1), so they can’t support the U.S. in protecting Taiwan unless there’s a significant degree of impact of on Japan’s national security.

Captain Fanell: If the Japanese do not reach out to Taiwan, because of an overly strict interpretation of Article 9, they will, by definition, put the people of Japan in more danger because Taiwan is very critical key to Japan’s national security. The PLA could launch attacks on Japan from bases in Taiwan. If Taiwan falls, then the PLA will be able to attack Japan from a vector from the west to east. For instance, the PLA could go into the Philippine Sea and fly as far out as the Second Island Chain (see Note 2). They can come up to Tokyo from the Pacific Ocean to attack the east coast of Honshu.

If Taiwan falls, the PRC will have a way to come up through the south and enter the “back door” into Tokyo, which threatens the Japanese people who are also surrounded by Russia in the north, North Korean missiles and then China from the east and the south.


Morally Wrong to Not Coordinate With Taiwan in Peacetime

――The U.S. has created the Taiwan Travel Act, allowing high-level government officials to visit Taiwan. Do you think that this trend will continue in the future?

Captain Fanell: I am not sure if the Biden Administration will continue to expand the Taiwan Travel Act which would allow for more high-level USG officials to travel to Taiwan. The implementation of the Taiwan Travel Act would erase a period of U.S. self-imposed government-to-government interaction with Taiwan, a necessary change that was started by Secretary of State Pompeo.

I hope the Biden Administration will continue these policies.

The Biden foreign policy team says they want to be tough on China, but that they want to change the tone. Well, one way to demonstrate they are sincere about their assertion that they want to be tough on China would be by sending senior Department of Defense and Department of State officials to Taiwan.

If they do not, then I think the Government of Japan should step up and lead. There is no justifiable reason for Japanese government and military officials to not interact with their counterparts in Taiwan.

From a practical standpoint increasing Japanese and Taiwan defense officials contact and interactions would in the event of a PRC attack on Taiwan and Japanese forces would dramatically contribute to the defense of both nations and contribute to regional security. Think about how much at a disadvantage the JSDF would be in if they are not allowed to interact and coordinate with their counterparts in Taiwan in peacetime. In my opinion it would be morally wrong to not allow for this coordination today when we are not in a ‘hot war.’

And yes, there are some who assert that by allowing such interactions would cross a PRC ‘red line’ and thus risk starting a conflict, I simply do not agree with that assessment. Just look what happened during the Trump Administration when the PRC did not attack after several high ranking government officials, to include the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Director of Intelligence, visited Taiwan over the last two years.

No, the fear of crossing the PRC’s ‘red lines’ will be used by those who are weak on confronting the PRC to justify a policy of self-restraint that would constrain Americans and Japanese from doing the right thing.

――Could you explain to us why it’s morally wrong to not allow for coordination between Japan and Taiwan?

Captain Fanell: What is the reason that you have a government? The reason you have a governments is to do one thing—to protect the lives of their citizens. The same “contract” applies to Prime Minister Suga and his cabinet—they exist to protect the people of Japan. That is their moral obligation.

If Taiwan falls, that means Japan will be less protected and more at risk. The fact is clear, that if Taiwan falls then Japan would likely be the next target for a PRC invasion. If the prime minister of Japan and his cabinet do not reach out to Taiwan today, in peacetime, to interact with their counterparts to develop a plan to defend themselves through military and economic interaction to build up the defenses of Taiwan, then they are acting immorally in terms of defending the people of Japan.

Note 1: Situations that have an important impact on Japan’s peace and national security, such as situations that could lead to a direct armed attack on Japan if left unaddressed.
Note 2: The Second Island Chain is one of the military defense lines of China which connects the Izu and Ogasawara Islands to the Mariana Islands that include Guam and Saipan.
Advice to Japan’s Senior Officials: Take Initiative and Visit Taiwan
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