ANALYSIS: Japan and Taiwan Amplify Defense Budgets to Fortify the First Island Chain

ANALYSIS: Japan and Taiwan Amplify Defense Budgets to Fortify the First Island Chain - The Summit at Camp David has drawn to a close, culminating in a robust show of military alignment among the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. On Aug. 21, Japan unveiled a significant hike in its defense budget for fiscal year 2024, Taiwan revealed a record-setting budget for the upcoming year, and the United States and South Korea commenced expansive joint military drills.

ANALYSIS: Japan and Taiwan Amplify Defense Budgets to Fortify the First Island Chain

ANALYSIS: Japan and Taiwan Amplify Defense Budgets to Fortify the First Island Chain

The Summit at Camp David has drawn to a close, culminating in a robust show of military alignment among the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. On Aug. 21, Japan unveiled a significant hike in its defense budget for fiscal year 2024, Taiwan revealed a record-setting budget for the upcoming year, and the United States and South Korea commenced expansive joint military drills. These collective moves amplify the strategic posture along the first island chain and serve as tangible manifestations of the commitments made during the summit.

At the closing press conference of the summit on Aug. 18, the leaders of the United States, Japan, and South Korea shared a united vision for enhanced trilateral security cooperation and emphasized the role their countries will play in fostering a more secure and prosperous global order.

(L-R) Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio arrive for a joint news conference following three-way talks at Camp David, Md., on Aug. 18, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(L-R) Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio arrive for
a joint news conference following three-way talks at Camp David, Md., on Aug. 18, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Quadrilateral Coordination: US, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan

Japan’s daily newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported that the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s fiscal 2024 budget request amounts to an unprecedented 7.738 trillion yen (approximately $52.75 billion), marking a significant escalation from the 6.8219 trillion yen ($46.6 billion) allocated for fiscal 2023.

The proposed budget earmarks 930 billion yen (about $6.35 billion) for ammunition expenses, aimed at augmenting the nation’s sustained combat capabilities. A further 380 billion yen (about $2.6 billion) has been allocated for the initiation of construction for two naval vessels outfitted with the state-of-the-art missile defense system, Aegis Ashore, referred to as “Aegis system equipped vessels (ASEV).”

The budget also includes a 64-billion yen (about $440 million) allocation for the joint development of next-generation fighter jets with the UK and Italy, alongside a 32-billion yen (about $220 million) provision for the development of precision-guided munitions designed for naval and terrestrial targets. Additional budgetary considerations cover the installation of domestically-produced Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missiles on naval vessels, the mass production of hypersonic guided missiles with a range of 3,000 kilometers (about 1864 miles), and the formation of a new logistics entity named the “Maritime Self-Defense Forces Transportation Group” to facilitate equipment and material shipments to Japan’s southwestern islands.

In a strong testament to Japan's long-term commitment to bolster its defense, the government approved an overarching five-year plan last December, earmarking 43 trillion yen through fiscal 2027 specifically to reinforce national security infrastructure.

Taiwan

In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen has ratified an unprecedented defense budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Ms. Tsai said during a briefing on Aug. 21 that Taiwan’s overall defense budget for the coming year will soar to a record 606.8 billion Taiwan dollars (about $19 billion) from the 359.6 billion Taiwan dollars (about $11 billion) allocated in 2016, and is expected to account for 2.5 percent of its GDP.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen gives a speech on Taiwan's National Day on Oct. 10, 2022, in Taipei, Taiwan. (Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen gives a speech on Taiwan's National Day on Oct. 10, 2022, in Taipei, Taiwan. (Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)

She underscored the necessity for Taiwan to fortify its self-defense capabilities as a means to secure national interests and rally international backing.

Steady advancements have been observed in the country's defense capabilities, including the imminent delivery of 683 eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicles and the first tranche of M1A2T tanks. Taiwan’s Air Force is also set to complete the full upgrade of 141 F-16A/B fighter jets by year-end, along with the introduction of 91 naval vessels and a prototype submarine, expected to be launched this September.

US-South Korea

In sync with the Camp David Summit's commitment to bolster tripartite cooperation, the United States and South Korea commenced large-scale military exercises on Aug. 21 under the code name "Ulchi Freedom Shield." These drills, scheduled to run through Aug. 31, aim to fortify the U.S.-South Korean alliance's joint response mechanisms and preparedness for full-scale war scenarios.

The U.S. and South Korean military confirmed that the drills would encompass over 30 field mobility exercises, a figure that more than doubles last year’s count. Japan’s NHK, citing South Korean sources, revealed that U.S. B-1 bombers might also be integrated into the exercises. In addition, the South Korean Air Force disclosed that one segment of the exercises would focus on the interception of incoming enemy cruise missiles and fighter jets.

Following the initiation of the U.S.-South Korean joint military activities, President Yoon Suk-yeol convened a high-level national security meeting. "True peace is only possible through overwhelming force. We will counter any provocations from North Korea with an overwhelming response," he affirmed.

This wave of unprecedented defense budgets and comprehensive military drills signals a solidifying alliance among the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, aimed at enhancing regional security and stability amid escalating geopolitical tensions.

Encircling the CCP: Unveiling the "12345" Security Structure

As the U.S.-China relationship intensifies, a noticeable transformation has come over the Indo-Pacific security framework, says Taiwanese defense and security expert Su Tzu-Yun. Following this year's G7 summit in Hiroshima, countries such as South Korea and the Philippines have rejoined the U.S. alliance, reinforcing what Su describes as an "economic NATO." This change has evolved the once-formidable First Island Chain into a new crescent-shaped encirclement that combines multiple military co-defense mechanisms aimed at containing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This multi-layered alliance structure is now being referred to as the "12345" security structure.

The "12345" security structure comprises several layers of defense and cooperation. Firstly, it is anchored by a robust, independent defense system helmed by the United States. Secondly, it incorporates bilateral defense collaboration rooted in the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-South Korea military alliances. Thirdly, the trilateral alliance among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, known as AUKUS, adds another layer. Fourthly, there is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QUAD, which brings together the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. Finally, the intelligence-sharing network of the Five Eyes Alliance (FVEY) rounds off this multi-layered structure.

President Biden, since taking office, has sustained U.S. military operations in the Indo-Pacific. His core diplomatic strategy hinges on building strong alliances, especially within the western Pacific's First Island Chain. Countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines have seen increased military cooperation, reinforcing the First Island Chain's defensive capabilities.

James R. Holmes, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, likens this new U.S. deployment strategy to the initial stages of the Cold War. He advocates for an "island chain strategy" aimed at compelling China to abide by international norms. Professor Holmes stresses that the objective isn't to incite war but to persuade China to play by international rules.

The term "First Island Chain" traces its origins to a string of islands in the Western Pacific, starting from the Kuril Islands and extending through Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and culminating at Kalimantan. This concept dates back to 1951 when then-U.S. Secretary of State Dulles proposed it as a maritime strategy to contain communist forces in the Soviet Union and China.

China has announced a military budget of $224 billion for 2023, marking a significant 7.2 percent increase—the highest in four years. Conversely, the U.S. defense budget for 2024, unveiled on March 13, stands at a staggering $842 billion, an increase of 3.2 percent compared to 2023 and 13.4 percent over 2022. This marks the highest defense budget in American history. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that this increase is a response to China's accelerated military modernization. To counteract, the U.S. military is focusing its efforts on the Indo-Pacific region, with over $9.1 billion earmarked for various projects, including upgrading air force bases and developing early warning missile systems.

China's assertive expansion in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and the broader Indo-Pacific region continues to challenge the established world order. As a countermeasure, the United States has fortified the First Island Chain, planning a missile defense network, and Japan has announced the deployment of long-range cruise missiles, aiming to maintain regional and global stability.