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.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in association with the Institute for European Studies (IES), is organizing a conference on Europe, Japan and Asian Security, which will take place at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on 8 April 2014. This joint initiative aims at promoting European-Japanese dialogue on security issues.
Participation is free of charge, but registration is required. Please register here.
What does the present crisis in Ukraine have to do with Asian security?
Here (link) is an article that provides some ideas: Ukraine’s Lessons for Asia.
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.
An article of interest by Maaike Okano-Heijmans and Frans-Paul van der Putten in the Europe’s World site -
The EU should stay its independent course in East Asia
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:
The Chinese military machine’s secret to success: European engineering
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.
China plays war memory card to enlist UK in territorial dispute against Japan
China’s Ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming
Sibling blog anglojapanalliance.com draws attention to a letter from China’s Ambassador in London to the Telegraph newspaper, which links China’s dispute with Japan in the East China Sea to the theme of Japan’s war record and PM Abe’s position on WWII and recent visit to Yasukuni shrine. Interesting to watch if and how London reacts.
Good blog post out by TPL:
There is Nothing Soft About Power
Sir Humphrey describes the practical challenges facing a European Navy in the disaster relief role in Asia, specifically the current situation in the Philippines. The UK’s Royal Navy happened to have a ship in the area (HMS Daring), and is sending another (Helicopter Carrier HMS Illustrious).
One difficulty facing the far flung fleet is sustainment – getting the re-supply at sea of fuel, spares, food, etc. that you need to keep doing the job, rather than having to head back to port to stock up (also known as RAS or Replenishment at Sea). The auxiliary ships that normally do this job take longer to steam around the other side of the world. And you don’t just learn RAS overnight. It requires some technique and practice, making commercial services a second-best option.
So what? So why don’t we leverage our ‘new type of alliance‘ with Japan, our Defence relations with other Asian nations (Australia, Vietnam, etc.) and organize a joint re-supply plan for such events? A re-supply ship sailing from Yokohama would be there sooner, and after all that experience in the Indian Ocean (last time Mr. Abe was in power), interoperability should be no problem. Time to use that ‘hotline‘?
Shada Islam gives us a useful summing up of where EU-Asia relations are headed, and offers some proposals on how to go further:
Not yet a “pivot” – but EU-Asia relations get more active and intense
Shada strikes a sober tone -
“Developing a truly European strategy for sustained engagement with Asia, however, will require more than a few discussions, visits and communiques. EU policymakers need to undertake a more in-depth reflection of Europe’s many interests, significant strengths and weaknesses in dealing with a more self-confident Asia. Yes, there is a marked improvement in EU-Asia engagement-and this should be celebrated. But much still remains to be done.”
Indeed. For all the talk of ‘strategic’ this and ‘comprehensive’ that in this article and in the official documents, most of the EU action is still about trade and investment. So-called ‘non-traditional’ security may play to EU strengths, but I can’t help wondering – how much interest can it excite from Asian nations with increasingly serious ‘traditional’ security worries?
This reminded me of another article on ‘friends of Europe‘ by former EU Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, who takes quite a different view -
‘…in order to restart, Europe needs decisions and leaders, and in reference to Europe’s international influence, this means engaging simultaneously in a soft, smart and also hard power game.”