September 22, 2023
TOKYO – Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Vice Adm. Akira Saito and U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Karl Thomas stressed the importance of strengthening their readiness for a Taiwan contingency, during an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, conducted Wednesday aboard the MSDF destroyer Izumo anchored in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
In their first joint interview, Saito, commander in chief of the Self-Defense Fleet, and Thomas, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, expressed concern over the Chinese military, which is increasing military pressure on Taiwan.
In fact, the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong has continued aircraft launching and landing activities in the waters around Taiwan.
“I think it’s very clear that they’re pressurizing Taiwan more than they have in the past,” Thomas said.
Saito said he was aware that the Chinese military has been training and “considerably improving its skills.”
As for a Taiwan contingency, “I would tell you that our job is to be ready,” Thomas said. “And so we train and we operate together so that we’re ready if our political leadership decides that they need to call upon us.
“That goal is to be so ready, that we never get into a hypothetical … Taiwan situation. So that’s what he and I focus on, is being prepared to work as a team such that if called upon we can operate as a team.”
Saito agreed with Thomas by saying that the development of an immediate response system “is a maximum necessity.”
“We are training every day, exchanging views every day and improving our defense capabilities every day for all phases from peacetime to contingency,” said Saito, citing cyber-attacks and information warfare as areas in which the MSDF would strengthen its readiness.
U.S. warships have conducted freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in response to the Chinese military’s hegemonic actions there, and Thomas said that the U.S. Navy would do likewise in the Taiwan Strait. “That’s an international strait, and so we sail through as a team,” he said.
Regarding efforts by Japan, the United States and South Korea to immediately share information related to North Korean ballistic missiles, Saito said, “I believe it is very meaningful as it will immediately lead to the improvement of our ability to deal with them.”
The Self-Defense Fleet is the MSDF’s core force. It includes escort vessels, submarines and other assets. The U.S. 7th Fleet is the main fleet of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which covers the Asia-Pacific region.