To promote the “free and open Indo-Pacific” initiative Japan is backing, it is essential to cooperate with countries that share with Japan such values as freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Japan should utilize the growing involvement of major European countries in the security of the Indo-Pacific region to help stabilize the area.
The German defense minister has expressed to Japan its plan for Germany to dispatch naval ships to the Indo-Pacific region this year. In a written interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, the minister also revealed that Germany is considering participating in military exercises in the region.
Last year, the German government worked out new policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region, establishing a plan for active involvement in the region and closer ties with democratic countries, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and India.
France was among the first countries, in 2018, to put forward the concept of the Indo-Pacific in a national security policy. The country has increased its presence by actively participating in a crackdown on North Korea’s maritime smuggling in violation of U.N. sanctions.
Britain plans to invite the leaders of South Korea, Australia and India to summit talks of the Group of Seven countries, as the host of this year’s summit. It also has been reported that Britain is considering dispatching an aircraft carrier to waters near Japan for a long-term stay.
What these countries have in common are the principles of freedom of navigation, rule-based order and multilateralism. It is obvious that they are trying to restrain China’s attempts to change the status quo by force.
There is no change in Europe’s emphasis on economic relations with China. This is indicated by the fact that the European Union reached a broad investment agreement with China last December. The perception of China’s military threat also tends to be small because of the long distance.
However, if China’s aggressive maritime expansion in the South China Sea and other areas is left unchecked, the stability of the sea-lanes that support the distribution system between Asia and Europe will be undermined, and Europe’s economic interests will be harmed.
This sense of crisis may be behind the aligning of European countries to prioritize the Indo-Pacific region.
A decisive factor in the strengthening of cooperation between European countries and countries in the Indo-Pacific region is the United States, which is continuing the forward deployment of its military in the region.
In telephone talks with the leaders of Japan and other countries concerned, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has expressed his intention to cooperate for peace and stability in the region. This stance was likely prompted by the fact that the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump excessively heightened tensions with China, without consulting sufficiently with other countries.
Japan, together with the United States, must exert its diplomatic abilities to contribute to help maintain maritime order.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 17, 2021.