Aso, who is also finance minister, hinted at defending Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion of the island, a situation the official felt could threaten Japan’s own survival and trigger security clauses in the country’s otherwise pacifist post-war constitution.
“If a major incident occurs in Taiwan, it’s not at all unusual to consider it an existential threat [to Japan],” Aso was quoted as saying at a party fundraiser on Monday. “In such a case, Japan and the United States will have to work together to defend Taiwan.”
Beijing said it deplored and opposed Aso’s remarks, and that it had lodged a diplomatic complaint with Tokyo over them.
“We will never allow anyone to intervene in the Taiwan question in any way,” said Chinese government spokesperson Zhao Lijian during a daily press briefing.
But Hu, the Global Times chief, had gone a step further in his earlier warning, which was popular among China’s nationalistic online community.
“When Taiwan Strait hostilities do break out, Japan had better stay far away,” he said.
“If the Japan Self-Defense Forces [JSDF] join the fight and attack the People’s Liberation Army, the PLA will not only destroy the JSDF, it also has the right to strike the JSDF’s bases and related military installations, crippling its attacking capabilities,” Hu wrote.
The tabloid boss suggested Tokyo was returning to the militarism of World War II, when it invaded northeastern China in 1931 and later triggered the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937.
The bloody conflict mainly involved the armed forces of the Republic of China government and the Imperial Japanese Army. Tens of thousands of Chinese Communist Party troops also took part, but the modern day People’s Republic of China would not be founded until 1949, four years after the war, and at the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War.
“If Japan’s extreme politicians think they can violate China again with the backing of the United States, then a stronger China is willing to teach them another lesson.”
While Aso’s comments caused a stir among policy analysts from Washington to Tokyo, official government responses have been far more reserved.
Asked about the comments by Japan’s second most senior official, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that official U.S. policy on Taiwan remained unchanged.
The U.S. is “committed to helping Taiwan defend itself,” Kirby said, calling back legal language found in the Taiwan Relations Act, which provides for the sale of defensive arms to Taipei.
On the prospect of a war between China and Taiwan, Kirby added: “[N]obody wants to see the situation dissolve into conflict, and there’s no reason for it to.”
Kirby noted the U.S. was in the “early stage” of policy coordination with allies regarding a Taiwan contingency, but added he did not wish to speculate on hypotheticals.
Responses from Tokyo read similarly, with Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi clarifying that any determination of an “existential threat” to Japan would be based on the unfolding situation and available information at the time.
Tokyo is watching closely as the military balance continues to tip in China’s favor over Taiwan, Kishi said.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said Aso’s comments reflected serious considerations of the scenario in government.
Also on Tuesday, the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing said Japanese officials had made “erroneous remarks” and urged Japan to “stop all its wrong behavior in relation to Taiwan.”