MELBOURNE, Australia — In a first, Japan’s annual defense whitepaper has explicitly cited Taiwan’s stability as “important for Japan’s security” and that of the international community, warning officials to “pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis.”

The language in the July 13 document differs from previous versions, which would carefully choose their use of words on the matter.

The English-language summary of the whitepaper also said the “overall military balance between China and Taiwan is tilting in China’s favour, and the gap appears to be growing year by year.” China considers the self-ruled island of Taiwan a rogue province and has vowed to return it under the control of the mainland.

The whitepaper added that Japan must pay attention to the strengthening of Chinese and Taiwanese forces, the sale of arms to the latter by the United States, and Taiwan’s indigenous weapons developments.

The whitepaper comes in the wake of recent remarks by Japanese defense officials, including Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, linking Taiwan’s security situation directly to that of Japan, and amid reports Japan has asked the U.S. to share details of its plans to defend Taiwan. U.S. officials “demurred,” according to London’s Financial Times, although it also reported that the U.S. preferred to improve coordination with Japan over Taiwan “in phases.”

Meanwhile, U.S.-Japan military exercises are becoming increasingly complex, with the eventual goal being an integrated plan to defend Taiwan should a military force invade the island.

Taiwan has welcomed Japan’s unusually blunt assessment, but Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described the whitepaper’s wording as “extremely wrong and irresponsible.”

The English-language summary also positioned climate change as a security issue for Japan for the first time, noting that the effects of climate change may induce or exacerbate conflicts over land and resources, along with social tensions and conflicts due to large-scale migration.

It also warned of climate change directly impacting militaries, including the increased need to deploy forces for rescue operations, an increased burden on equipment and bases, and growing demands to implement environmental measures.

The full whitepaper, which was only released in Japanese with the full document in English expected to follow the July 13 summary in the next few weeks, also noted that neighboring South Korea’s defense budget is higher than Japan’s in absolute terms and on current trends will be 50 percent higher than Japan’s in 25 years.

This is despite nine straight years of increases in Japan’s defense budget as it seeks to counter China’s growing might and North Korea’s ballistic missile program, which Japan traditionally sees as its most critical security concerns.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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