Khmer Times, June 12, 2014
PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – Japan, which exercised a low-profile foreign policy during post-World War II, has recently taken ambitious steps to take up regional and global security roles. Such a move is generated by both domestic political and leadership changes, and also rising regional security complexity and uncertainty.
Regional peace appears to hang in the balance. Regional security order is being challenged by powers rivalries which may lead to a new arm races. The factors of instability seem to outweigh those for stability.
After being re-elected as the Prime Minister of Japan in late December 2012, Mr. Shinzo Abe, seen as a strong nationalist leader, initiated one core security agenda: the reinterpretation of the pacific constitution article 9, to allow for collective self-defence regardless of the opposition by other main political parties and the reservation of the majority of the Japanese people.
Other security policies include the establishment of the National Security Council, the adoption of the National Security Strategy, and the National Defence Program Guidelines. This is a significant development in regional security landscape.
The re-emergence of an assertive security role by Japan largely has brought wariness from China and Korea, which were under Japanese colonialism and imperialism before the end of the Second World War. China bluntly accuses Japan of provoking regional instability and tensions, and trying to divide Asian countries.
For Japan to concretize its ambition, it requires strong and true partnership with all of its Asian neighbours. The key questions therefore are to what extent and how Japan can earn strategic trust from its neighbours and earnestly contribute to strengthening regional peace and stability.
In the meantime, Japan has to effectively solve the remaining sensitive historical issues with its neighbours before it can realize such a security role. Visiting the historically controversial Yasukuni shrine definitely does not serve Japan’s foreign policy objectives and interests.
For the Southeast Asian countries, Japan is generally perceived as a benign regional power. Japan’s soft power has gained a strong hold in Southeast Asia through the provision of development assistance, trade and investment, human resources development and volunteerism.
Japan is one of the major trading and development partners of ASEAN. Moreover, Japan has always supported ASEAN’s centrality role in shaping regional economic and security architectures.
Traditionally, Japan plays a significant role in regional community building through helping to deepen regional production network driven by intra-regional trade and investment flows, human resources development and institution building, and narrowing the development gaps in the region.
Japan initiates and supports various sub-regional cooperation and integration schemes especially the development of growth triangles and the Greater Mekong Sub-regional cooperation. Japan also supports regional countries in connecting infrastructure particularly the East-West Economic Corridor and Southern Economic Corridor.
To realize its community building, ASEAN looks outwards to garner support from all dialogue partners. Japan, one of the key development partners of ASEAN, has played significant role in providing development assistance to Southeast Asian countries, in particular the less developed economies (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam).
Japanese foreign direct investment in the region has contributed to socio-economic development and poverty reduction. Moreover, Japan has been involved in regional peace building efforts such as sending its peacekeeping forces to Cambodia and Timor Lester.
Strategically, Japan has been approaching the Southeast Asian countries more aggressively in the last two years. Mr. Abe made his first overseas state visits to the Southeast Asian region in early 2013.
In January, he visited Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Later, he visited Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines in July, Brunei in October, and Cambodia and Lao PDR in November.
He was the first Japanese Prime Minister who visited all ten-member states of ASEAN within less than a year. Japan becomes assertive and determined in projecting its regional comprehensive power by linking economic and cultural ties with strategic and security interests.
Although Japan-US security treaty alliance remains the foundation of Japan’s defence policy, Japan is trying to diversify its strategic and security partners. Japan-ASEAN security partnership compliments well with the Japan-US alliance. Japan’s increasing interests and proactive engagement with the region primarily aims at checking the rising power and influence of China in the region.
The Japan-ASEAN relationship started with the informal forum on synthetic rubber in 1973. Then the dialogue was formalized in 1977 when the first Japan-ASEAN forum was convened. In the same year, Japan, inspired by the Fukuda’s doctrine, showed its political will and commitment to build regional peace, stability, and partnership of mutual confidence and trust. A “heart-to-heart” relationship is the guiding principle of Japan-ASEAN cooperation.
Over the last four decades, the foundation of partnership of mutual respect and interests have been constructed and enhanced. In January 2013, Mr. Abe outlined five principles diplomacy towards ASEAN: protect and promote together with ASEAN member states universal values, ensure in cooperation with ASEAN member states that there are free and open seas, further promote trade and investment, protect and nurture Asia’s diverse cultural heritages and traditions, and promote exchanges among the young generations to further foster mutual understanding.
At the 16th ASEAN-Japan Summit in October 2013 in Brunei, the leaders acknowledged the achievements and reaffirmed their commitment to maintain peace and development through cooperation and partnership.
They also underlined the importance of maritime security, freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce, and ensured the resolution of disputes by peaceful means in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Japan-ASEAN relations, the leaders from Japan and ASEAN also held their commemorative summit in Tokyo in December 2013, to uplift their partnership to a new height.
In their joint statement, the leaders from ASEAN and Japan committed to work together to collectively address regional and global issues. Regional security architecture and maritime security cooperation were the focus of a regional cooperation framework.
At the Shangri-La dialogue in late May 2014, Mr. Abe reaffirmed Japanese interests in playing a larger role in regional security affairs. He said, “Japan intends to play an even greater and more proactive role than it has until now in making peace in Asia and the world something more certain.”
He went on to emphasize that a Japan-US alliance was the cornerstone for regional peace and stability. He added, “Taking our alliance with the United States as the foundation and respecting our partnership with ASEAN, Japan will spare no effort to make regional stability, peace and prosperity into something rock solid.”
On the ground, Japan started providing technical and equipment support to the defence sectors throughout Southeast Asia. For instance, Japan will deliver 10 brand-new multi-patrol boats to the Philippines and a similar amount of boats to Vietnam in 2015. Both the Philippines and Vietnam are locked in a bitter territorial spat and dangerous naval standoff with China.
Japan together with the United States is going to challenge and square off against China in regional and global power projection. Japan stands together with the US in carrying out the US’s rebalancing strategy towards Asia through the introduction of a collective self-defence and strategic partnership with ASEAN.