Japan official, calling Taiwan 'red line,' urges Biden to 'be strong'
Through Ju-min Park
TOKYO (Reuters) - A senior Japanese defense official on Friday called on US President-elect Joe Biden to give Taiwan "strong" support in the face of aggressive China, calling the island's security a "red line".
"We are concerned that China will extend its aggressive stance to areas other than Hong Kong. I think one of the next targets, or what everyone fears, is Taiwan," Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama told Reuters.
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In an interview, Nakayama, Japan's deputy defense minister, urged Biden to adopt a stance similar to that of outgoing President Donald Trump, who has significantly increased military sales on the island claimed by China and increased engagement.
Japan's commitment to Taiwan has also increased largely non-governmentally in recent years. Tokyo has a "one China" policy and is carefully balancing its ties with neighboring giant China and its longtime military ally in Washington.
Japan shares strategic interests with Taiwan, which is located on the sea routes that carry much of Japan's energy supplies and trade.
"So far, I haven't seen any clear policy or announcement from Joe Biden on Taiwan. I would like to hear it quickly so we can prepare our response on Taiwan accordingly," said Nakayama.
During the presidential campaign, Biden called for relations with Taiwan and other "like-minded democracies" to be strengthened.
Decades ago as a senator, Biden asked if the United States had an "obligation" to defend Taiwan. However, many in its foreign policy circles acknowledge that US imperatives have changed as an emerging, authoritarian China has become more assertive and sought to forge global institutions.
Beijing was angry at the increased US support for Taiwan, including arms sales and visits by senior US officials to Taipei, which further weighed on the already bad relations between China and the US. China regards democratically ruled Taiwan as one of its provinces and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing's control.
"Taiwan is China's internal affair," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Friday. "We are firmly against interference in China's internal affairs by any country or anyone in any way."
In Taipei, State Department spokeswoman Joanne Ou noted the strong US bipartisan support for Taiwan based on the "common language" of freedom and democracy.
"Taiwan looks forward to working closely with the Biden team to further improve the relationship between Taiwan and the United States based on their solid friendship," she said.
US officials in Tokyo could not be reached because the embassy was closed for Christmas.
"There is a red line in Asia - China and Taiwan," said Nakayama, citing a red line that former President Barack Obama said about the use of chemical weapons in Syria - a line that Damascus then crossed. Biden was Obama's vice president.
"In any case, how will Joe Biden react in the White House when China crosses that red line?" said Nakayama, who visited a memorial to the late former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in August before taking up his defensive position. "The United States is the leader of the democratic countries. I have a strong feeling that I am saying: America, be strong!"
Chinese warplanes have made a number of forays in recent months, including crossing the sensitive center line between China and Taiwan, tightening pressure tactics to undermine Taiwan's will to resist, current and former senior Taiwanese and US military officers say.
Taiwan deployed its naval and air forces on Sunday when a Chinese aircraft carrier group, led by the country's newest airline, sailed the fragile cross-strait the day after a U.S. warship crossed the same waterway.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; editing by William Mallard)
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