TOKYO - Any contingency over Taiwan should be resolved through dialogue, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday (July 6), a day after he said that Japan must defend Taiwan if China invades the island due to the "direct existential threat" to Japan's security.
"We are closely monitoring the situation," Mr Aso, who is also Finance Minister, said after a Cabinet meeting.
The hawkish remarks on Monday came in a lecture he delivered at a political fund raiser for ruling Liberal Democratic Party elected lawmakers in Okinawa, Kyodo News reported.
"If Taiwan falls, Okinawa will be next. We must think about this seriously, and steadfastly prepare our defence might," he was quoted as saying on Monday.
Mr Aso, who also sits on the government's National Security Council, is the highest-level Japanese politician to have explicitly made such a commitment to Taiwan's defence.
The comments come amid heightened geopolitical tensions, with Chinese President Xi Jinping fanning the flames of nationalism last Friday when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated its centenary.
"No one should underestimate the great resolve, the strong will and the extraordinary ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Mr Xi said.
He added that the reunification of Taiwan - which Beijing regards as a renegade province to be brought back to the fold, by force if necessary - was the "unshakeable commitment" of the CCP.
Taiwan is just 110km off the coast from Japan's westernmost point, Yonaguni.
In April, after a visit to the Ground Self-Defence Force base there, Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said: "When I come to Yonaguni, I can see that Taiwan is very close, right on the opposite shore. The peace and stability of Taiwan is linked to the peace and prosperity of the region and the international community."
Japan's defence ministry will likely adopt similar language for the first time in its annual defence white paper slated for release this month. Mr Kishi has vowed to lift the unofficial ceiling on defence spending - at one per cent of gross domestic product - in recognition of the perceived Chinese threat.
Last week, the Financial Times, citing unnamed sources, reported that American and Japanese defence officials are discreetly conducting war games to prepare for the Chinese threat.
Mr Aso's comments follow remarks made by State Minister for Defence Yasuhide Nakayama last week to the United States-based Hudson Institute think-tank.
Mr Nakayama said that the world must "wake up" to Chinese pressure on Taiwan and protect the island "as a democratic country". He is the second Japanese politician to have referred to Taiwan as a "country" in recent months, after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appeared to have slipped up when he collectively referred to Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand as "countries" with strong Covid-19 curbs.
This is diplomatically sensitive, given that Tokyo recognises the "One China policy" after it forged official relations with Beijing in 1972.
Mr Aso on Monday reportedly noted that even an existential threat to Japan will enable Tokyo to exercise the right of "collective self-defence" under a 2015 reinterpretation of its pacifist Constitution.
While the war-renouncing Constitution prohibits the Self-Defence Forces from first strike, the military is allowed to go to the aid of a friendly country or region in the event of an attack that may threaten the security of Japan's forces.
"If a major problem occurs over Taiwan, it can be said to be related to Japan's survival," Mr Aso was quoted as saying. "We must defend Taiwan, under our alliance with the US."
Mr Aso reportedly cited an emergency scenario, in which China dispatches troops who unleash turmoil in Taipei while warning the international community to back off from its "internal affairs".
"There is no guarantee that what has happened in Hong Kong will not happen in Taiwan," he reportedly said.