Japan’s military views the defense of Taiwan as a major national security priority, says Matt Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration.
“There’s a saying in the Japanese military that Taiwan‘s defense is Japan‘s defense,” Mr. Pottinger said during a conference. “And I think that Japan will act accordingly.”
Mr. Pottinger, appearing at a conference on Japan hosted by the California-based Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, also disclosed that China’s air force uses a training manual that explains the Communist Party’s view of why China must annex Taiwan.
For the Chinese, “it’s all about Japan,” said the retired Marine Corps intelligence officer who rose to the senior ranks of the Trump administration.
“If you read the excerpt of that manual, it basically says that China is going to take Taiwan in order to render Japan unable to wage war, unable to even defend itself, unable to even supply itself, and that if Taiwan were taken, basically China would be able to dominate the region and render Japan irrelevant.”
Japan’s post-World War II constitution restricts its offensive military capabilities. The U.S.-Japanese security alliance includes U.S. promises to defend Japan from attack.
The United States also is committed to helping Taiwan, a self-governing island that broke with the mainland in 1949, to defend itself.
Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have soured in recent years as China seeks to encroach on Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. In response, the Japanese military has taken a more assertive posture toward China.
Mr. Pottinger also took issue with Biden foreign policy officials who said a key priority of the administration is restoring U.S. alliances that they say suffered under President Trump.
“It was really this myth in the press coverage as we were going into the election last year that somehow the Trump administration had badly strained our alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. It’s nonsense,” Mr. Pottinger said. “I’ve never seen an empirical fact produced to suggest that our alliances did anything other than strengthen over the course of the Trump administration.”
Mr. Pottinger said the U.S. relationship with India has never been stronger and reinvigorating the four-nation “Quad” of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia was a major achievement. The United States also bolstered ties with Vietnam while working toward a regional coalition of nations to repel Chinese regional hegemonism.
“Vietnamese officials told me regularly that the relationship had never been better,” Mr. Pottinger said.
Government officials and military officers in Taiwan and Australia also said relations were strengthened.
Mr. Pottinger said key policy priorities in the Indo-Pacific were borrowed from Japan, including the idea of building a four-nation format promoted by then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The U.S.-Japanese relationship remains a key element of the security strategy in the Pacific, but the United States is providing the majority of the island’s defense.
“We want to see Japan step up and spend more and more on their defense in order to forestall the sort of catastrophe that the [People’s Liberation Army] air force manual describes,” Mr. Pottinger said.
Mr. Pottinger’s former boss at the White House, Robert O’Brien, also defended the decades-old policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan. Asked directly whether the United States would defend Taiwan from a Chinese military attack, Mr. O’Brien, who was national security adviser to Mr. Trump, said China would be making a grave miscalculation if it tried to use military force to reunite Taiwan with the mainland.
“We’ve been ambiguous for a reason and how we would respond to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan,” Mr. O’Brien said. “But as the PLA navy has gotten bigger and improved, don’t underestimate the United States, don’t miscalculate. We still have some pretty impressive tools in our tool kit when it comes to defending ourselves on the high seas, below the high seas, [and] in the air.”
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration worked hard to press Tokyo to develop its defenses and worked with Taiwan’s government to better defend against growing Chinese threats.
“We made some progress [with Taiwan],” Mr. Pompeo said. “We didn’t get all the way home for sure. There’s an awful lot of space left there.”
During the Trump administration, the State Department approved tens of billions of dollars worth of new weapons systems, including F-16 jets.
On the Quad, Mr. Pompeo said Chinese President Xi Jinping “gave us enormous energy” in establishing a strong U.S. alliance with Japan, India and Australia.
“When ultimately the Chinese and the Indians have conflict in the Himalayas, the tone from the Indians just radically changed,” said Mr. Pompeo, appearing at the same conference.
Other nations are expected to join the U.S.-led Asia-Pacific grouping, he said.