A series of elections are taking place in the major countries from this fall to next year. Japan has an important role to play in ensuring that these countries do not become inward-looking and in maintaining diplomatic and security cooperation.
Following the U.S. presidential election this November, France and the ROK will also elect new presidents in 2017. The Communist Party of China is also holding its quinquennial congress in fall 2017, where there will be changes in the party leadership.
The spread of the seeds of conflict must be avoided while leaders of various countries are preoccupied with domestic politics. Serious crises, such as the South China Sea and North Korea issues, persist in Asia and the Pacific.
After the ruling parties won a major victory in the House of Councillors election last July, Japan is one of the few major powers where the administration has a strong political base. The most important role of Japan is to provide support to ensure that U.S. engagement in this region will not be interrupted.
The TPP is precisely the economic framework for this engagement. Likewise, it is essential to strengthen security ties between the U.S. and Asia.
The U.S. is now in an inward-looking mode, partly because of fatigue with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Under the circumstances, what Japan needs to do is to move forward its policies for strengthening the bilateral alliance and take timely steps to prevent the regression of U.S. security engagement.
With the completion in April 2015 of the first revision of the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines in 18 years, Japan and the U.S. now have a permanent consultation system called the “Alliance Coordination Mechanism.”
This is a framework for the two sides to share their information and analysis in peacetime. We hope that this system will be utilized in determining how to respond to the situation in the South and East China Seas and the Korean peninsula.
To be sure, Japan can exercise only limited influence on U.S. actions through the strengthening of the bilateral alliance alone. Therefore, what is important is to broaden security cooperation by involving the U.S.’s other allies and partners.
The foundation for this process is already in place. The Japan-U.S.-Australia, Japan-U.S.-India, and Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation frameworks are part of this.
In particular, Japan, the U.S., and Australia have been holding dialogues at the ministerial level and deepening their cooperation in tangible ways. For instance, these three countries held joint exercises in sea areas near Indonesia in late April.
A trilateral Japan-U.S.-India foreign ministerial was held for the first time in September 2015. The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) also started participating regularly in the annual U.S.-India joint exercises this year.
In light of the Japan-ROK agreement on the comfort women issue in late 2015, cooperation between the two countries has been revived. Conditions are becoming ripe for them to cooperate on missile defense.
The next step is to involve the Southeast Asian countries in these “Japan-U.S. + 1” cooperation frameworks. The development of a loose security cooperation network will serve as a bulwark against isolationism.
There are certainly other things that Japan can do alone, such as providing aid to enhance the developing countries’ contributions to the international community. Japan set up a training system for the techniques and knowledge necessary for disaster rescue and UN peacekeeping operations (PKO) five years ago.
This system is now available to 11 countries, mostly in Asia. Transfer of knowhow takes place through the dispatch of SDF officers or by inviting military officers from other countries to Japan. This is a significant aid project for improving other countries’ international contribution capability and for the development of a system for joint maintenance of regional stability.
In addition, Japan must not neglect efforts to encourage China’s positive involvement and to urge it to behave responsibly. It is important for Japan and the other countries to demand that China take no further aggressive actions in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
Japan will be the first one to be affected if conflicts spread all over the world and the sea lanes become unstable. Taking the lead in efforts to prevent the regression of globalization is also in Japan’s own interest. (Slightly abridged)