Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to conduct “rule-making diplomacy” in which Japan proposes common standards for the international community to adhere to amid the destabilization of the global order due to the rise of China. He has achieved a certain degree of success in this endeavor.
On June 28, U.S. President Donald Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Abe exchanged handshakes and smiles in Osaka. India is particularly cautious because it traditionally adopts a nonalignment policy. This was the second meeting of the three leaders following their first one at the end of November last year.
Modi created an acronym by taking the first letter of each of the three countries and called them “JAI.” He went on to say: “JAI means ‘victory’ in Hindi. We’d like to achieve peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.” The Indian leader also stressed the significance of India’s participation in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) initiative promoted by Japan.
India is apparently trying to insure the Indo-Pacific region against being swallowed up by China’s “Belt and Road” initiative to build a giant economic bloc by participating in the Japan-led initiative.
The FOIP concept went through many twists and turns before it began to take hold.
Abe delivered a speech before the Indian parliament during his first cabinet in August 2007 and proposed cooperation between Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India in a “broader Asia,” where the Pacific and the Indian oceans meet. He also released “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond,” a paper in English on the same concept, when he returned to the premiership in December 2012. But both strategies were seen as promoting an “anti-China network” and failed to gain enthusiastic approval either from New Delhi or from Washington and Canberra.
Abe recompiled the two strategies into the FOIP by making it seem less like an anti-China network in August 2016. But the biggest turning point came in 2017, when the Trump administration, which takes a hardline approach to China, came into power in the U.S.
The Trump administration was seeking an Asia strategy that differed from the “rebalance” strategy advocated by the previous administration of President Barack Obama. When Satoshi Suzuki, Director General of the Foreign Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained the FOIP to Brian Hook, Policy Planning Director of the Department of State, the American official reportedly jumped at the initiative, saying, “This is good. We want to use it too.”
While Japan and the U.S. promoted joint efforts, Japan stopped calling the FOIP a “strategy” and began calling it an “initiative.” Furthermore, Japan started to ask China to join the initiative.
In response to these moves, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which had distanced itself from the FOIP, adopted the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” which is similar to the FOIP, in June this year. As such, FOIP has achieved international penetration.
Abe is also establishing economic rules through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that took effect in December 2018. Although the Trump administration, which has been taking an increasingly protectionist approach, withdrew from the pact, Japan finalized it with the remaining 11 nations. Abe underscored the significance of the trade agreement, saying, “We’ll create fair rules of a new era for the global market.”
The spread of the FOIP was largely the result of good luck; namely, the change of administration in the U.S. But the prime minister handled the the TPP more actively and many foreign policy experts give high marks to Abe’s accomplishment in effectuating the TPP.
But the FOIP and the TPP cannot solve everything.
At the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) held in Yokohama at the end of August, Japan promoted the philosophy of the FOIP. But African nations openly expressed dissatisfaction with the level of Japan’s investment, which is lower than China’s. Whether Japan can deal with the rise of China by taking advantage of the FOIP and the TPP hinges on Japan’s future efforts.