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In-Depth Look: Japan and Taiwan Increase Defense Budgets to Strengthen Security in the First Island Chain

The Summit at Camp David has concluded, with the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan displaying a strong military alignment. On Aug. 21, Japan announced a significant increase in its defense budget for fiscal year 2024, while Taiwan revealed a record-breaking budget for the upcoming year. The United States and South Korea also began joint military drills. These actions reinforce strategic positioning along the first island chain and demonstrate the commitments made during the summit.

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

Japan’s Ministry of Defense has requested an unprecedented budget of 7.738 trillion yen (approximately $52.75 billion) for fiscal year 2024. This is a significant increase from the 6.8219 trillion yen ($46.6 billion) allocated for fiscal year 2023. The budget includes funds for ammunition expenses, the construction of two naval vessels equipped with the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, joint development of next-generation fighter jets with the UK and Italy, and the development of precision-guided munitions for naval and terrestrial targets.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has ratified an unprecedented defense budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget will reach a record 606.8 billion Taiwan dollars (about $19 billion), accounting for 2.5 percent of its GDP. Taiwan aims to fortify its self-defense capabilities to secure national interests and garner international support.

The United States and South Korea have commenced large-scale military exercises under the code name “Ulchi Freedom Shield.” These drills, running from Aug. 21 to Aug. 31, enhance joint response mechanisms and preparedness for full-scale war scenarios. The exercises include over 30 field mobility exercises and may integrate U.S. B-1 bombers. The South Korean Air Force will focus on intercepting enemy cruise missiles and fighter jets.

These unprecedented defense budgets and military drills indicate a strengthening alliance among the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The aim is to enhance regional security and stability given escalating geopolitical tensions.

As the U.S.-China relationship intensifies, the Indo-Pacific security framework is undergoing a transformation. Countries like South Korea and the Philippines have rejoined the U.S. alliance, forming an “economic NATO.” The First Island Chain has evolved into a crescent-shaped encirclement aimed at containing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This multi-layered alliance structure is known as the “12345” security structure, consisting of independent defense systems, bilateral defense collaborations, the AUKUS alliance, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), and the Five Eyes Alliance (FVEY) intelligence-sharing network.

President Biden’s diplomatic strategy centers on building strong alliances in the western Pacific. Increased military cooperation among Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines strengthens the First Island Chain’s defensive capabilities. The objective is to compel China to abide by international norms, not incite war.

China has announced a military budget of $224 billion for 2023, the highest in four years. In response, the U.S. has unveiled a defense budget of $842 billion for 2024, the highest in American history. This increase focuses on countering China’s military modernization in the Indo-Pacific region.

China’s assertive expansion in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and the broader Indo-Pacific region challenges the existing world order. As a countermeasure, the United States and Japan are strengthening the First Island Chain to maintain regional and global stability.

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