Japan steps up in its global role

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

In the early 70s, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger mistakenly believed that as China grew in wealth on the back of the free trade system, the communist nation would abandon its Maoist principles and embrace western values. Upon Kissinger’s advice, President Nixon ushered in China’s entry into the free trade system. Years later, President Clinton took it a step further by facilitating China’s membership in the World Trade Organization. China’s economic miracle followed.

It was a disastrous miscalculation on America’s part. China never abandoned its Maoist values even amid its newfound prosperity. Instead, it used its wealth to build its military and political influence. Its purpose? To dismantle the US-led world order and replace it with a system that reflects the values of the Chinese Communist Party.

Japan, however, has been more circumspect about China since the beginning. It knows too well what it takes to change a people’s mindset from one that wages war for hegemonic ambitions to one that operates with humility and abides by the rules.

With first-hand experience, Japan knows that a country needs to lose a war and have its economy demolished. It needs to infuse democratic principles into its constitution. It needs to de-militarize or at least, re-orient its military from one whose purpose is offensive combat to one that operates for territorial defense. Above all, it must purge the radicals in government. Only then will its people have a change of values.

None of these have happened to China – not yet, at least. Until this happens, China will persist with its streak of bad behavior and operate for its sole interest.

PM Shinzo Abe saw it coming

Even during the early days of China’s economic ascent, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recognized China’s threat to global security. To this, he proposed that four great democracies – Japan, India, Australia and the United States – work together to quell China’s hegemonic ambitions. This was in 2006. It was then that the world adopted Abe’s concept of a Pacific region that included India and Australia.

In 2018, the US changed the name of its Pacific combatant from the “Pacific Command” to the “Indo Pacific Command.” Abe was the first foreign leader whose doctrine became the center of American strategic thinking.

Following a face-to-face meeting between PM Abe and President Trump, Japan and the US agreed that no single country should have sole dominion over the Pacific region. That the free flow of trade must be preserved at all cost, the same with the freedom of navigation and overflight in common waters. It was then that America adopted its Indo Pacific Strategy. Other democracies followed with their respective strategies.

Abe’s views were largely influenced by his grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi. In the early 60s, PM Kishi recognized the threat of Russia and China to global security. He knew that Japan and the US needed to cooperate to keep the peace. PM Abe picked up where his grandfather left off.

Japan’s changing foreign policy

Since the end of World War 2, Japan’s foreign policy has been aligned, to a great extent, to the policies of the United Nations.

Japan’s foreign policy first began to shift under prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in the 80s. PM Nakasone developed a close relationship with president Ronald Reagan. Both heads of state cooperated to blunt Russia’s growing influence in Northeast Asia.

In the 2000’s, PM Abe realized that Japan and the US could not be the sole defender of democracy in the Far East. Allies of like-minded nations needed to be established to strengthen the democratic resistance.

With this in mind, PM Abe traveled to 70 countries during his term in an ally-building offensive. This turned Japan into a global diplomatic player with a strong voice in global affairs. Japan became the US’s important ally in maintaining peace and security in the Asia Pacific.

Fast forward to present day and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida continues to elevate Japan’s posture as a global diplomatic player and peace maker. His leadership in the G7 was remarkable in that he focused not only on Indo Pacific issues, but also on global security threats. Kishida was one of the first to visit the Ukraine following the Russian invasion.

Japan-America tag team in ASEAN

Japan believes that a free and open Indo Pacific can only be achieved if ASEAN is economically and militarily empowered.

There is a strong sense in Southeast Asia that America has been absent from the region since the Vietnam War. There is also a sense that the US counts Taiwan as more important than ASEAN, given the extent of military support Taipei receives versus ASEAN. In the Philippines, many believe that the US bagged the expanded EDCA on the cheap.

Japan steps up where America falls short. Japan continues to fill the void by extending military and economic aid to ASEAN, especially to the Philippines, which forms part of the first island chain.

Japan’s close cooperation with ASEAN has resulted in a convergence. Today, most ASEAN members, along with Japan, the US, Australia and South Korea, comprise the wall of resistance against China’s expansionism and hegemonic ambitions.

Stepping up to its role as regional peace keeper, Japan committed to spend 60 percent more on defense over five years – the highest defense buildup the world has seen since the Russia-America cold war. The Philippines benefits from this by way of the Official Security Assistance Agreement signed between President Marcos and Prime Minister Kishida last November 2023.

Japan has stepped up in its global role. It is now taking the lead, among Asian nations, in the defense of a free and open Indo Pacific. Prime minister Shinzo Abe knew this day would come.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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