US, Japan, Taiwan To Share Real-Time Drone Intel: Report

(MENAFN- Asia Times) The US plans to share real-time data with Taiwan and Japan's drone fleets, marking a significant evolution in US-led regional security minilateralism in the Pacific in its quest to contain China.

financial times reported this week that Japan, Taiwan and the US will share real-time data from naval reconnaissance drones, with Taiwan's future MQ-9 Sea Guardian drones to be delivered in 2025 integrated into the same system used by US forces and Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) in the region, according to four anonymous sources familiar with the project cited in the report.

The report says the arrangement would allow the US and its partners to observe the same picture the drones capture, giving all three access to a common operating picture. The report also cites a source saying that the US and its partners will take a practical approach to the project to ensure that integration is done as quickly as possible.

At the same time, the Financial Times report quotes a senior US military official saying that including Taiwan in US interoperability structures risks provoking China, with intelligence-sharing between Japan, Taiwan, the US and also the Philippines will likely be perceived as escalatory by Beijing.

The report also says that the US Department of Defense initially refused to comment on the matter, with a spokesperson saying that the US is not currently planning to facilitate MQ-9 information sharing between Taiwan and Japan while reiterating its commitment to bilateral information sharing between the US and Japan.

The Financial Times report says Taiwan's defense ministry stated that it had not been informed of plans to share real-time data from naval reconnaissance drones between the US and Japan.

Other reports quoted Taiwanese defense ministry as denying that its new MQ-9B drones will be part of any trilateral intel-sharing initiative. Japan's defense ministry did not comment.

Military helicopters carrying large Taiwan flags do a flyby rehearsal on October 5, 2021, ahead of National Day celebrations amid escalating tensions between Taipei and Beijing. Photo: AFP / Ceng Shou Yi / NurPhoto

Predictably, China criticized the reputed move. Financial Times noted that China's foreign ministry spokesperson said the US and Japan should stop creating military tensions and causing instability in the Taiwan Strait.

Integrating Japan and Taiwan into a US-led intelligence-sharing mechanism could bring the two closer to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Originally founded during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union, its purpose has since changed and focuses largely on signals intelligence (SIGINT), which includes the interception, decryption, and analysis of encrypted messages.

While Taiwan is not a member of the Five Eyes, it purportedly maintains close links with the alliance. focus taiwan reported on april 2023 that Taiwan maintains real-time intelligence-sharing with the Five Eyes, with Taiwan's National Security Bureau upgrading its computer units to a level used by intelligence units in the alliance's member countries.

The report notes that Taiwan's upgraded computers can be used to better connect to the Five Eyes through a secure and encrypted instant online reporting and communication mechanism.

However, several factors work against Taiwan being formally invited as a Five Eyes member. Admitting Taiwan as a Five Eyes member would no doubt infuriate China, as doing so would be equivalent to giving Taiwan legitimacy as an independent state actor.

China has also extensively infiltrated Taiwan's military, presenting severe risks for intelligence-sharing with Taiwan. Admitting Taiwan to Five Eyes may also bring extra complexity to the organization's decision-making processes and add a level of risk current members are unwilling to accept.

While Taiwan's complicated international status may prevent it from formally joining the Five Eyes, Japan can potentially become the sixth member of the alliance.

in a paper for the us air university, james ao notes that the most immediate benefit Five Eyes can get from Japan would be information collected from Tokyo's extensive intelligence network in East Asia.

At the diplomatic level, Ao says that Japan's inclusion into the Five Eyes could pave the way for future multilateral security agreements, something which Japan is hesitant to enter due to until now strong pacifist sentiments.

Ao also mentions that Japan's membership in the Five Eyes would effectively link critical intelligence earlier to support better the Japanese leadership's ability to present a narrative to the Japanese people relating the operational threats to Taiwan to Japan's own survival.

Despite those upsides, Japan has remained a non-member for various reasons. Five Eyes members are Anglophone countries with a common language, legal systems, culture and history that do not extend to Japan.

Given their long history of conflict and ongoing territorial disputes, Japan's potential accession into the Five Eyes may also inflame regional tensions between Japan, China and South Korea.

To date, a NATO-like security organization has not emerged in East Asia due to the region's diverse political systems and interests, historical tensions between major regional powers, balance of power concerns against China and Russia, the different roles of the US in NATO and East Asia, and ASEAN's firm adherence to non-intervention in its members' internal affairs.

AUKUS nuclear submarine deal is already making ripples across the Indo-Pacific. Image: US Embassy in China

US-led multilateral efforts to date include the Quad Alliance encompassing the US, Australia, Japan and India, and AUKUS consisting of the US, Australia and the UK.

The emerging intelligence-sharing arrangement between the US, Japan and Taiwan may eventually evolve into a more formal agreement that can set a precedent for future similar agreements, an example of which is the“New Quad” featuring Australia, Japan, the Philippines and the US.

That new inchoate arrangement is being billed as more military-focused and anti-China in orientation.

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