Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met and agreed to further strengthen their bilateral alliance toward “a free and open Indo-Pacific.” For Asian prosperity and stability, it will be important to partner more with Australia and other countries as well. We would like to see Japan make the series of summit diplomacy opportunities this week into such gatherings.
Vice President Pence visited Japan prior to participating in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summits. There were concerns that U.S. influence would fade because President Donald Trump put off his Asia tour.
However, Vice President Pence, the President’s delegate, delivered a comprehensive speech in October on the Trump administration’s China policy, and U.S. interest in Asia seems quite high. It was in Japan, the first stop on his tour, that the U.S. representative expressed his nation’s desire to be involved in Asia, and this can be called a major achievement for Abe’s foreign policy.
The term “free and open Indo-Pacific” is a concept confirmed with President Trump when he visited Japan last year. At that time, however, its core significance was security, including containing China’s militarization in the South China Sea.
In contrast, this year, the economic element was emphasized, as reflected in Prime Minister Abe’s reference to “realizing the economic development of a free and open Indo-Pacific that is based upon fair rules.” At the front of his mind was the “Belt and Road” concept, China’s initiative to create a wide-area economic zone. As long as it looks like only China will benefit, it will not possible for this plan to gain the understanding of the international community.
Whether China, the world’s second-largest economic power, will be able to become a country that acts in accordance with international rules both politically and economically will affect the world order in the 21st century.
For this reason as well, it is important to completely solidify the unshakable framework centered on the Japan-U.S. relationship. Countries to partner with include the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India. The Japan-Australia summit scheduled for Nov. 16 is also likely to be a forum that gives the sense of advancing a quasi-alliance relationship.
In the midst of further advancing this series of diplomatic initiatives, it is important not to allow trade friction to erupt between Japan and the U.S. At the joint press conference after the summit meeting with Prime Minister Abe, Vice President Pence revealed some frustration. “The United States has had a trade imbalance with Japan for too long,” he said. Both Japan and the United States must make efforts to pool their wisdom to harmoniously resolve the trade friction.
Vice President Pence also announced U.S. cooperation for the early resolution of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea. Japan and the U.S. must address this matter in a united fashion so that North Korea can’t give an evasive answer.