Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Europe in May (link). What should he be getting out of this trip?
- The idea is to strengthen relations with the European Union , sign a few free trade agreements and finalize the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. Considering Japan’s desire for a more strategic relationship with Europe, why not go a bit further? PM Abe has talked about making some changes in policies that will lead to Japan becoming even more proactive in global peacekeeping efforts, and so far there is little to show for it. UN Peacekeeping is one option, but why not kill two birds with one stone (peacekeeping and Euro-Japan concord) and agree to pursue a Framework Partnership Agreement with the EU that would allow Japanese civilians and members of the Self Defence Forces to participate in EU crisis management missions and operations? Korea is on track to do so, then why not Japan? Approximately two thirds of CSDP efforts are civilian missions, so well within the ‘human security’ paradigm MOFA has supported through the UN. Also, following the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan (an alliance apparently in no hurry to do anything similar again), the EU is still launching missions left, right and centre, and may offer more opportunities for Japan to bond with a European security platform.
- To gain international support in light of territorial disputes with China and South Korea and deflect critical remarks from both countries over historical issues, Japan has to start thinking outside the box. This visit is an opportunity to change the narrative from Yasukuni and sex slaves onto something more positive. Abe could counter China’s propaganda offensive by organizing an event in the UK to showcase post-WWII reconciliation between Japan and Great Britain. What if Abe and Cameron together attend a screening of the recent movie based on the true life story of Anglo-Japan reconciliation “The Railway Man”? Abe can give a speech about how Britain and Japan managed to squarely face up to the tragedies of that war and become, united by common values, allies once again. This would have two advantages: (1) refute the image of Abe as being in denial about Japan’s past; and (2) showcase an example of how Japan has managed to rebuild its international relations with an important ally.
- Abe is also planning to meet with French President Hollande. This will be interesting because Japan and France have been working hard on their relationship, which is elevated to a 2+2 meeting with a roadmap for security cooperation. This offers a chance to get an indication of which basket (UK, France, EU, V4, NATO) Japan is putting most of its eggs, or if it will continue to distribute them rather evenly across this set.
- Abe is set to participate in the Ministerial Council Meeting of the OECD in Paris on May 6 – 7. Events in Ukraine will probably set the atmosphere for this. Russia will be out of the G8. It is a shame for Abe, who wanted to settle the northern islands dispute with Russia and secure an alternative source of hydrocarbon energy supplies from Russia. However, Vladimir Putin has gone too far in Ukraine. Abe has to take a stand on this because (1) that is the essence of his narrative about values (rule of law, democracy, free speech, free market); and because (2) Japan has to back up the present world order in case China starts to feel the rules have changed. OECD is about economies, so maybe hopefully there will be more to talk about than handling the fallout from sanctioning Russia.
At the latest annual ‘two plus two’ Australia-UK (AUKMIN) meeting on March 11, there were more signs confirming the UK pivot to Asia.
According to the UK Foreign office website, a “critical element of these talks will be opportunities for collaborating on defence engagement in the Asia Pacific region”.
Here are the highlights based on a subsequent report -
- When the Australian Minister of defence was asked about the possibility of a permanent UK base in Australia, he extended a broad invitation to British forces. “It will not be a basing, it’s an opportunity for them to utilise our facilities.“(And) we welcome such a similar utilisation at every opportunity for the Royal Navy or any other of the services from the United Kingdom to come to Australia and to interoperate with us, to train with us and to do things that are mutually beneficial.”
- UK Minister of Defence Hammond confirmed the UK is ready: “As our focus increasingly turns to the Asia Pacific, I would expect us to send ships more regularly in future into the Pacific, but I wouldn’t envisage at the present time basing ships in the Pacific. Extending visits on a more regular basis is likely to be our immediate objective.”
- The four ministers also launched a new dialogue on Asia, based (according to the UK Foreign Office website) on “a partnership between the British Ditchley Foundation and the Sydney-based think tank, the Lowy Institute for International Policy”. The first meeting will take place at Ditchley Park in June. “Its aim will be to promote our common interest in a stable and prosperous region.”
- The two governments signed a new agreement on diplomatic network co-operation that will see the Australian embassy in Baghdad move into the British embassy building to cut security costs.“This is about identifying the synergies that make our respective diplomatic efforts more efficient and effective,” UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
What does the present crisis in Ukraine have to do with Asian security?
For me the main point to take away is that China’s choice not to condemn Russia’s action reveals that its rhetoric about standing up for the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign nations is tactical and expedient, rather than a genuinely held ideological position. Bonnie Glaser at CSIS thinks Beijing is agonizing about this, but so far their actions speak louder than words. It is therefore reasonable to assume that China will not be constrained by this principle against taking action similar to that currently under way in Crimea. Russia may, ironically, be among those to suffer the consequences.
Lessons so far:
1. China’s support for non-interference principle is a tactical rather than a genuinely ideological position.
2. UN Security Council members and the international community are not willing to uphold UN Charter principles to defend sovereignty where the interests of a militarily powerful and/or nuclear armed state are at stake.
3. NATO, US and EU are war-wary and cannot be relied on to back up talk with action on the ground in support of a partner or just cause.
4. Putin’s Russia is a gambler emboldened by success. Fuse of over-reach is lit and burning down.
5. Ethnic solidarity is the stratcom successor to the ‘humanitarian intervention’ trope. Beware passport diplomacy and ‘protection of nationals’ narratives.
Maaike and Frans-Paul look at recent EU moves and observe that “the EU is not afraid to criticise the major Asian powers when it perceives their actions to be harmful to East Asia’s regional stability… [and] the EU is not taking sides with Japan against China or vice versa”.
Gradually and without attracting much attention the European Union is building a strategy on East Asian security affairs that is more focused and ambitious than it has ever been. Even without a military presence in the region the EU can make a difference. The challenge now is for Brussels to keep up its engagement, develop an independent voice and to uphold a long-term commitment to strengthening stability in the region. Asian governments have not hidden their disappointment with the EU about its rather half-hearted approach in the past decades, but may well be willing to give the EU a second chance – one that should not be wasted.
Some commentary on the Japanese side of the debate here.
Following up on a previous post about the European contribution to the Asian arms race (and shifts in the military balance in the Asia-Pacific), readers may find this Reuters study by David Lague of interest:
This just about sums it up:
“The distance between Europe and Asia means there is ambivalence about the rapid growth of Chinese military power. From Europe, China looks like an opportunity, not a threat.”
The article points out the value of ‘dual use’ goods and their significance in undermining the strategic purpose of the EU embargo on China, imposed after the Tiananmen square crack-down in 1989.
If you liked this report, you may also like this one on how European space tech has been transferred to China too.