China Hacks a Wedge in the U.S.-Japan Intelligence Partnership
Beijing’s increasingly effective cyberespionage poses a rising threat to the longstanding Washington-Tokyo spy alliance
This week brings news of another counterintelligence roll-up in Taiwan. This time, it’s a father-son team from the Republic of China who are alleged to have worked together to purloin Taiwan’s defense secrets for Beijing. This family affair convinced two serving members of the ROC military, specifically Taiwan’s air force, to pass classified documents to China, regarding defense plans and exercises, including their pledging allegiance to Beijing.
Since this latest espionage scandal comes little more than a week after the last one – that featured the arrest of a serving ROC Army lieutenant colonel for selling detailed defense secrets to Beijing, in collaboration with other military officials – it’s worth asking if there’s anything secret in Taipei that mainland intelligence services don’t already know. This has grave implications for the hush-hush defense and intelligence partnership between Taipei and Washington, since we can only help Taiwan defend itself against the rising possibility of an invasion from the People’s Republic of China if we can confidently share secrets with the ROC. At this point we cannot, and it’s worth asking if the United States should really be risking major war, including possible nuclear conflict, with China on behalf of a partner who’s thoroughly penetrated by the enemy’s intelligence services.
Fortunately, America has an ace in the hole in Northeast Asia, namely Japan. That country represents our “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the region, a bulwark against Chinese aspirations to dominance in its neighborhood. Although few Americans have noticed, the defense and security relationship between our countries is exceptionally close. Japan plays a lynchpin role in U.S. military strategy in Asia not unlike the geostrategic part played by Great Britain in Europe in the world wars.
Our countries are committed to each other’s mutual defense since 1960 (really, back to 1951, in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat and occupation by the U.S. military), which means that Washington will treat any attack on Japanese territory like an attack on our own country. This has startling implications for any scenario in which China makes a move on Taiwan, since it’s a safe bet that the People’s Liberation Army will target Okinawa, including U.S. military bases there, with missile and air strikes in the event that Beijing goes to war to subdue its “renegade province.” Which means that America will be at war with China whether we intend to defend Taiwan or not.
After decades of defense diffidence stemming from its hangover from the Second World War, which culminated in America’s nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 78 years ago this week, Japan has finally moved into the military arena in a serious way. The China threat has forced Japan’s military, formally the Self-Defense Forces, to get in the game and start planning seriously for war with China before it’s too late. Tokyo’s just-released Defense White Paper is admirably forthright regarding the geopolitical hazard now facing Japan as China seems to be preparing to seize Taiwan (an island which Japan occupied from 1895 to 1945) by force. It begins: “The world is at a turning point in history. The international community is facing its greatest trial since World War II, and we have entered a new era of crisis.”
That’s a bracing kick-off, indicating that Japan is preparing seriously to deter Chinese aggression in its neighborhood. But there’s a hitch – potentially a big one.