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Column: Japan needs to bolster ‘maritime coalition’

By Yuichi Hosoya / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun


The world situation is increasingly confusing. In northeast Asia, North Korea has become more reclusive and hostile to the international community. Across the Pacific, U.S. President Donald Trump’s foreign policy is still so unpredictable that many allies of the United States remain baffled.


How should Japan proceed with its foreign policy when the global geopolitical environment is as opaque as it now appears? I am of the opinion that a “three-stage” approach should be considered.


3-stage approach essential


The first stage is to accurately grasp the prevailing trends in the international situation.


The second stage is to conceive a new international order that can fit the new world situation and follow the current one in which the stability of the world is collapsing.


The third stage is for Japan to devise and implement a foreign policy that can contribute to the making of a new world order.


Japan’s national power and resources are obviously limited. Nonetheless, I am confident that our country will be able to play a leading role in contributing to the creation of a new world order provided that it will formulate a foreign policy based on the three-stage approach.


To that end, we need to first know as deeply and accurately as possible what kind of situation we are faced with today.


However, the world is challenged by too many uncertain and unknown factors to have a clear perspective about where it is eventually headed. For this reason, it is important to understand exactly what the world’s major powers have in mind and what they seek to attain.


Since the turn of the year, I have visited the United States, Australia and India to participate in international conferences, exchanging views on the tumultuous world situation with specialists and government officials from various parts of the world.


In recent years, Australia and India have strengthened security cooperation with the United States. However, both countries now appear to be perplexed by and apprehensive about a Trump-style foreign policy approach that differs from the approaches of previous U.S. administrations. On this matter, Japan shares the Australian and Indian perspectives.


Along with Japan, the United States, Australia and India are the core democracies in the Indo-Pacific region. It is noteworthy that these three countries have made the most prominent moves in recent years to expand security cooperation with Japan.


‘Security Diamond’


A little more than four years ago — just days after he returned to power in December 2012 — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrote an article titled “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond” for Project Syndicate, a prominent global op-ed syndication service. In it, he emphasized the necessity to enhance strategic security cooperation among Japan, the United States, Australia and India to ensure peace, stability and freedom of navigation.


True to his word, Abe has steadily pursued his strategic proposal by advancing security cooperation with the United States, Australia and India.


In August 2016, the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) was held in Nairobi, Kenya. In his speech before its opening session, Abe stressed the importance of the “confluence” of the Pacific and Indian Oceans as “two free and open oceans.”


Indeed, Japan, as a maritime nation, aims at securing the safety of “free and open oceans.” From the Japanese perspective, the United States, Australia and India are the most important partners with which to foster security cooperation.


Will the Trump administration strengthen security cooperation with Japan, Australia and India in the Indo-Pacific? Though we do not yet have a definite answer, the future of cooperation within the coalition of the four maritime nations will certainly become one of the keys to determining the future of the world situation.


New geopolitical dynamism


By the way, I wrote this article in Russia. I traveled across the vast Eurasian continent from Vladivostok to Moscow, making stopovers in a few cities where I met researchers and students to exchange views.


Russia, too, is in a pivotal position when viewed from the standpoint of scrutinizing the current state of world affairs and that of working out Japan’s foreign policy under such circumstances.


For its part, Russia has been deepening relations with both China and India in recent years. During the Cold War, India, leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, remained close to the then Soviet Union. Against such a background, India has a tradition of maintaining a close relationship with Russia.


Russia and China are the leading members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, established in 2001. India joined the Eurasian political, economic and security forum in 2015. The SCO has often taken a hostile posture toward the United States and Western Europe and continued to pursue principles for shaping a world order that are different from those upheld by the Group of Seven industrialized countries, including Japan and the United States.


India is thus strengthening security cooperation with Japan, the United States and Australia on the one hand and expanding a partnership with China and Russia on the other hand. It is true that a continental coalition led by China, India and Russia is taking the lead in setting a regional order and promoting economic cooperation in Eurasia.


As just mentioned, two groups of nations are consolidating solidarity among their respective members. The emergence of the maritime coalition of Japan, the United States, Australia and India that seeks security cooperation and that of the Eurasian partnership spearheaded by China and Russia are typical geopolitical developments. Such developments in turn are a primary driving force behind the world situation.


Land power vs sea power


In recent years, the revival of geopolitics and the rise of geoeconomics, defined as the study of how economic factors impact the international environment, have often been pointed out.


Their impact differs greatly from the image that went hand in hand with the post-Cold War world order — an order prompted by the trend of liberalism that accelerated international cooperation as more countries got aboard the bandwagon of globalism.


Today, China and Russia are increasing their influence while the United States and Britain are seeing their influence decrease. As a result, the liberal world order governed by the rule of law is on the decline.


The world situation we now have is quite similar to what British geographer Halford John Mackinder described in his 1919 book Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction. Mackinder, regarded as one of the founders of geopolitics, characterized the evolution of history as that of confrontation between land power and sea power in Eurasia. His approach remains valid to some extent even today.


Japan as a catalyst


As we observe the global landscape of today from a Mackinder-type viewpoint, the strategies in Japan’s foreign policy toward China and Russia are gaining in importance.


Japan should pursue strategies to help avert, to some extent, a situation that will allow the continental coalition of China and Russia to undermine the liberal world order and instead revitalize power politics. Moreover, the strategies should help promote the upholding of international law and respect for the rule of law.


Japan should ultimately contribute to consolidating an international order where the world’s major powers can continue to cooperate with one another, keeping the crux of the post-Cold War world order unchanged while allowing the structure to be modified somewhat.


In other words, Japan should assume a role of initiating a certain level of harmony between the maritime and continental coalitions of powers.


This particular process will make Japan’s strategic relations with the United States, China and Russia much more important. At the same time, to ensure that it will be able to play the abovementioned role, Japan will continue to require the unwavering support of the maritime coalition.


We usually have a very strong tendency to regard foreign policy as a means for two countries to resolve disputes, or promote friendly relations, on a bilateral basis. Rather, it is important for us to regard the world order as a single but complex entity that is interwoven by various forms of bilateral relationships.


As Prime Minister Abe seems likely to stay in office longer, his administration must be aware that the stage has now come where it is required to pursue a foreign policy from this viewpoint.


Hosoya is a professor of international politics at Keio University and the author of numerous books on British, European and Japanese politics and foreign affairs, including his latest book, “Meisosuru Igirisu: EU Ridatsu to Oshu no Kiki” (Whither Britain? — The Brexit and the EU in Crisis).

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