The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is stepping up efforts to strength Japan’s security cooperation with Australia, India and the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. With China’s maritime aggression and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development complicating the regional situation, it is of great significance for Japan to increase its “quasi-allies” based on the Japan-U.S. alliance.
On Oct. 10, Japan and Australia held a two-plus-two meeting of foreign affairs and defense ministers in Sydney and affirmed that they will promote Prime Minister Aber’s signature “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.”
The ministers of Japan and Australia agreed to conclude at an early stage a “Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” which sets forth legal procedures for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military to carry out joint activities. In 2019, they are scheduled to conduct a joint fighter-jet drill for the first time. In November, Prime Minister Abe will visit Darwin, a northern city in Australia, to discuss bilateral cooperation in a range of fields including the economy and security.
The Japan-Australia partnership is primarily propelled by the presence of the Chinese military, which has been expanding its reach in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The “rule-based” freedom of navigation in surrounding waters is of extreme importance to Japan and Australia. Meanwhile, the eclipse of the U.S. leadership is becoming visible under the Trump administration.
Japan is supplying patrol ships to the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia as it emphasizes cooperation with them to strengthen defense exchanges and maritime security capabilities with Southeast Asian partners. Prime Minister Abe is having frequent meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to strengthen the Japan-India ties via cooperation in maritime security and social infrastructure projects.
Meanwhile, China has been broadening its economic cooperation with Asia and African nations via its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which is aimed at building a wide-area economic zone. But opposition and wariness are growing within several nations toward Chinese firms’ excessive entry into their markets, increases in accumulated debts and long-term contracts to lend ports in exchange for financial aid. Thus the active engagement of Japan, Australia and India will help make the region stable from a long-term perspective.
The Abe government is also expanding cooperation with the U.K. and France in the development of defense equipment. It aims to deepen Japan’s partnerships with like-minded nations in the compliance of international law and other fields to curb China. In parallel with efforts to improve the Japan-China ties, it simultaneously needs to continue to make steady efforts.