Beijing's military supremacy over Taiwan 'growing swiftly'
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Beijing's military supremacy over Taiwan 'growing swiftly'

A Taiwanese military soldier fires from trenches during the annual Han Kuang exercises in New Taipei City, Taiwan, on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)
A Taiwanese military soldier fires from trenches during the annual Han Kuang exercises in New Taipei City, Taiwan, on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)

BEIJING: The military balance between mainland China and Taiwan is "rapidly tilting to China's favour," Japan said in its annual defence report released on Friday, amid tensions over the self-ruled island that Beijing considers its territory.

The defence ministry's 2023 white paper, received by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida the same day, said there is increasing global concern about China's intensifying "coercive military activities" in the skies and waters surrounding Taiwan.

In last year's report, Tokyo said that the military balance between Beijing and Taipei was "tilting to China's favour, and the gap appears to be growing year by year."

The white paper was released amid an intensifying rivalry between the United States and China over issues such as Beijing's provocative military actions near Taiwan.

Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since 1949 due to a civil war. Communist-ruled China regards the democratic island as a breakaway province to be reunified with Beijing, by force if necessary.

A contingency involving Taiwan is a particularly concerning prospect for Japan, a United States ally, given the proximity of its southwestern islands, including the Tokyo-controlled, Beijing-claimed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Days after a visit to Taipei last August by then US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, China staged large-scale military exercises around Taiwan that included the firing of ballistic missiles, five of which fell into Japan's exclusive economic zone.

A Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan, in Fujian province on Aug 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the self-ruled island. (Photo: AFP)

The latest report said that during the exercises, the Chinese military may have simulated operations for "invading Taiwan," such as anti-ground and anti-ship attack drills, as well as those for gaining air and naval supremacy.

"The fact that China is capable of carrying out such activities shows that the situation is working to China's advantage," a defence ministry official told reporters.

The paper also cited a "significant increase" in the number of Chinese aircraft entering Taiwan's airspace, rising from 972 in 2021 to 1,733 in 2022, as another sign of the shifting military balance.

The report described China as "a matter of serious concern" for the global community, saying the country presents the "greatest strategic challenge," to which Japan should respond through "cooperation and collaboration" with the United States, as well as other "like-minded countries."

Describing China in such terms, first seen in the National Security Strategy updated by Tokyo in December last year to address the increasingly severe regional security environment, was considerably more severe compared to last year's report, which simply referred to Beijing as "a matter of grave security concern."

Also in the government's long-term security policy guidelines, Kishida's administration vowed to obtain counterstroke capabilities for striking targets in enemy territory, a significant shift from Japan's exclusively defence-oriented policy under its war-renouncing constitution.

The white paper said that China may push forward its plan to build "world-class forces by the mid-21st Century," while airing "grave concern" regarding increasingly close China-Russia military ties.

The two nations' "repeated joint bomber flights and joint navigations of vessels" are "clearly intended for demonstration of force against Japan," it said.

The report also welcomed a thaw in Japan's relations with South Korea.

"Amid the increasing severity and difficulties we face, the need for Japan and South Korea to align has become increasingly important," the defence ministry said.

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Shared security challenges helped Tokyo and Seoul mend relations that had soured over disputes about compensation for women forced to work in Japanese military brothels and other Koreans drafted as wartime labourers.

At a meeting in May with Kishida on the sidelines of a Group of Seven summit in Japan, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol praised his counterpart for expressing compassion for those who suffered under Tokyo's colonial rule.

The two leaders will meet for the fourth time this year with President Joe Biden in the US next month for a trilateral summit that could further cement their detente.

Regarding Russia, the report assessed its national strength is likely to decline "in the medium- and long-term, because of significant casualties of conventional forces" caused by its ongoing war in Ukraine that began in February last year.

Meanwhile, the defence document warned that Moscow is likely to further rely on its nuclear capabilities as a deterrence.

People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with an image of a North Korean military parade held in Pyongyang to mark the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, at a railway station in Seoul on Friday. (Photo: AFP)

As for North Korea, the paper said the reclusive country has "forcibly conducted" ballistic missile launches "with an unprecedented frequency" since the start of 2022.

Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes "pose an even more grave and imminent threat to Japan's security than ever before," the defence document added.

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