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Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, left, commander of 3rd Marine Division, speaks with Taiwanese delegates during the Pacific Amphibious Leaders Symposium '22 at Camp Kisarazu, Japan, on June 16, 2022.

Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, left, commander of 3rd Marine Division, speaks with Taiwanese delegates during the Pacific Amphibious Leaders Symposium '22 at Camp Kisarazu, Japan, on June 16, 2022. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP KISARAZU, Japan — Scores of military officials representing 19 countries, including Taiwan, concluded a four-day conference on Thursday intended to build partnerships among nations concerned with an increasingly aggressive climate in the Indo-Pacific.

The Pacific Amphibious Leaders Symposium ‘22 kicked off on Monday, hosted by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Marine Corps. Throughout the week, the participants discussed the state of affairs in the region, amphibious strategies and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, among other topics. 

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Pacific, and Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of staff of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force, speak to reporters during the PALS '22 closing ceremony at Camp Kisarazu, Japan, on June 16, 2022.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Pacific, and Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of staff of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force, speak to reporters during the PALS '22 closing ceremony at Camp Kisarazu, Japan, on June 16, 2022. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

Indonesian officers observe a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System demonstration by U.S. Marines at Camp Kisarazu in Tokyo on May 16, 2022.

Indonesian officers observe a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System demonstration by U.S. Marines at Camp Kisarazu in Tokyo on May 16, 2022. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

Along with armed forces representatives from Thailand, South Korea, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and France, a discreet contingent of Taiwanese representatives were also present as unofficial observers. A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force officer confirmed the Taiwanese representatives were present but declined to identify them by name.

The amphibious leader symposium, now in its eighth year, may not rank as a marquee event compared to headline international summits but it remains relevant, according to James Brown, an international affairs expert at Temple University’s Japan campus.

The Taiwanese have attended previous amphibious symposiums but their presence this year renders it “all the more significant,” Brown said Friday by email to Stars and Stripes. 

“[This] puts PALS in the category of forums where the United States, Japan and others can engage productively with the Taiwanese side in a quasi-official way,” he said.

The symposium convened just after the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual Asian defense summit over the weekend in Singapore, where increasing tension around Taiwan was a cardinal topic.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on June 11 warned of “growing coercion” by China, including “a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan.”

The following day, China’s Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe said Beijing would fight to prevent self-governed Taiwan from going its own way. “We will fight at all costs. And we will fight to the very end. This is the only choice for China,” he said.

The U.S. “One China” policy officially acknowledges Beijing’s view that it has sovereignty over Taiwan, but also considers Taiwan’s status as unsettled. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must be politically reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. 

Military officers from 18 countries gathered in Tokyo to attend the four-day Pacific Amphibious Leaders Symposium 22, which concluded on June 16, 2022.

Military officers from 18 countries gathered in Tokyo to attend the four-day Pacific Amphibious Leaders Symposium 22, which concluded on June 16, 2022. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

While almost every participant at the amphibious leaders conference wore their nation’s uniform, the Taiwanese delegates dressed as civilians. A spokesperson for the Marine Corps did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Taiwan delegation’s presence.

However, the Taipei Times newspaper identified Rear Admiral Chang Shih-hsing, commander of the Taiwan navy’s 151st Amphibious Fleet, as a delegate, along with unidentified officers from Taiwan’s navy and marines, according to a report Wednesday.

Brown said the attendance by British and French representatives was also worth noting.

“This fits with Japan’s ambition to encourage European countries to play a more prominent role in upholding security in East Asia,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, and Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of staff for Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force, at a news conference Thursday said the symposium’s primary goals are to build partnerships and uphold a “rules-based” order in the region.

“The security environment is rapidly changing; this is why you’ll hear Gen. Yoshida and all the participants we had here this week say that the relationships and the interoperability with allies and partners is oh-so-critical,” Rudder said. “We continue to advocate as a group for a free and open Indo-Pacific, international law and all the things that go into a rule-based relationship.”

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Joseph Ditzler is a Marine Corps veteran and the Pacific editor for Stars and Stripes. He’s a native of Pennsylvania and has written for newspapers and websites in Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. He studied journalism at Penn State and international relations at the University of Oklahoma.
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