Now Japan’s Prime Minister (again), Mr Shinzo Abe is inviting a European security ‘comeback’ to Asia (full text can be read here ©2012/Project Syndicate) –
“I would also invite Britain and France to stage a comeback in terms of participating in strengthening Asia’s security. The sea-faring democracies in Japan’s part of the world would be much better off with their renewed presence. The UK still finds value in the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. I want Japan to join this group, gather annually for talks with its members, and participate with them in small-sized military drills. Meanwhile, France’s Pacific Fleet in Tahiti operates on a minimal budget but could well punch above its weight.”
This came in an OpEd entitled “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond” (four points are Australia, India, Japan, Hawaii) that Abe published since being re-elected. It raises the alarm on China seeking to dominate the South China Sea, making it a ‘Lake Beijing’ and identifies the expansion of the country’s strategic horizons as “Japan’s top foreign policy priority” – hence the appeal to India, Australia as well as FPDA members and France to join Japan in resisting the threat from China. Abe identifies the China threat in remarkably blunt terms.
Compared to his first term, the changes in this list is interesting. His tour around the four points of the ‘diamond’ puts emphasis on India, which is consistent with his past strategic thought (the ‘quadrilateral initiative’ including India, Australia, Japan and USA). Sticking with the Democracy theme, he includes Australia. Finally, Abe returns to the old US alliance in the penultimate paragraph (after all, Hawaii is the fourth point of his Diamond). So much for continuity. In 2007, Abe broke new ground advocating better links between Japan and NATO, but not much came of it. He now seems to be shifting expectations from Euro-Atlantic institutions to a Euro-Asia-Pacific institution, and bilateral relations. The really new element here is inviting Britain & France (‘not Europe’) to get involved, and seeking to put Japan’s partnership with Britain into a multilateral institutional form for the first time since the Anglo-Japan alliance that expired around a century ago. This seems to mirror recent moves from London (also see here, here and here) – How will Cameron and Hague respond? Watch this space. How will Australia and NZ and the SE Asian members of the Five Power Defence Agreements react? Stay tuned.
[Sincere thanks to James Rogers for the tip on Mr. Abe’s OpEd – how did I miss this?]