Many uncertainties exist surrounding the courses that the world’s two top economic powerhouses, the US and China, could take in the future. These uncertainties are significant, for they have the power to influence and shape both the foreign policy pursued by East Asian countries and universal international norms. Of the two, it is China’s future course, which is perennially difficult to predict.
Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) policy is at the centre of Tokyo’s economic and security strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region. Although Japanese policymakers do not admit to that in public, the FOIP is not only aimed at enabling Tokyo to economically compete with China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) but is also – and indeed equally importantly – ‘about China’, so to speak. Next to what is referred to as ‘Quality Infrastructure’, i.e.
The expansion of Tokyo’s security and defence ties in East, Southeast and South Asia inspired Washington – together with India and Australia – to get on board Tokyo’s strategy to deter or indeed contain China. Japanese policymakers and the pro-defence government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continue to invest enormous political capital and resources into seeking to keep China’s economic, territorial and security ambitions in the region in check.
The Asia-Pacific has become the Indo-Pacific region as the US, Japan, Australia and India have decided to join forces and scale-up their political, economic and security cooperation. The message coming from Washington, Tokyo, Canberra and New Delhi is clear: China’s Belt and Road Initiative is no longer the only game in town and Beijing’s policymakers better get ready for fierce competition.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe got the message. The Japanese public and electorate are really not that interested in his constitutional amendment revising Article 9 (which renounces war) with a view to turning Japan into what Abe and his revisionist followers claim would then be a ‘normal’ country. Instead, good old bread-and-butter issues like the rapidly ageing society, labour market reforms and other structural reforms are what concern the Japanese people far more.
The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed by the European Union and Japan on July 17th2018 in Tokyo, represents the most significant development in the context of global economic-commercial relations in recent years. It is an agreement that guarantees benefits to Italy and, at the same time, provides an important message in a historical global context characterized by renewed commercial tensions and protectionist tendencies.
Tokyo is paying a hefty price. The price for the country's prime minister's near-obsession to follow Trump's erratic and ever-changing policy lead on North Korea. The devote Shinzo Abe for a long time bragged about being in constant touch with Trump on respective policies towards North Korea. Too bad, however, that Trump decided to kiss good sense and even remotely rational behaviour good-bye for good changing his mind on and policies towards Pyongyang on a daily basis.
"Indo-Pacific", originally a geographic concept that spans two regions of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is not a new concept in itself. 10 years ago, Gurpreet s. Khurana, who used the word" Indo-Pacific Strategy" for the first time, was a marine strategist and executive director of the New Delhi National Marine Foundation. Recently, he wrote in the Washington Post that the new term has changed the new strategic mind map since China’s “reform and opening up” in the 1980s. “Asia Pacific” has shaped the image of a community of interests linking the United States and East Asia.
While the term "Indo-Pacific" is still new in Japan’s foreign and security policy discourse, the "free and open Indo-Pacific strategy" has rapidly become an established concept under the government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The vision has a strong set of strategic rationale for Tokyo and there are few in the foreign and security policy community who directly oppose it. Yet, there remain a set of challenges as well.
Tokyo's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" (FOIP) concept, Tokyo claims, has taken shape and is turning from a concept into a concrete strategy jointly implemented by Japan, the U.S., India and Australia. But not so fast. And that not only because U.S. President Trump could endorse and cheer the concept in a morning tweet and dismiss it as irrelevant in the evening, but also because coordinated and institutionalized security cooperation between the four countries in the Indo-Pacific region has yet a long way to go to be referred as such.