Mon, 19 Apr 2021

Japan emerges as silent leader in Indo-Pacific

03 Mar 2021, 04:19 GMT+10

Tokyo [Japan], March 2 (ANI): Amid intense provocations by China and North Korea, Japan has emerged as a quiet leader in the Indo-Pacific, establishing itself as a stalwart of the liberal, rules-based international order.

According to Foreign Affairs, Japan's inconspicuous ascent to regional leadership has gone mostly unnoticed in an era of Chinese bellicosity, North Korea's provocations and a raging COVID-19 pandemic. Yet Tokyo has deepened ties with neighbours, expanded multilateral initiative and set the regional agenda on trade and digital governance, among other issues.

Since the signing of a security agreement in 1951 between Japan and the US, Tokyo has pursued a largely reactive foreign policy that Japanese diplomats described, on various occasions, as 'sterile' or 'naive'. In the 1960s-70s, Japan began a miraculous climb to become the second-largest economy in the world, partly due to which other Western powers began to push it to play a larger role in regional security.

Since 2000, a group of nationalist politicians led by former Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and later by Shinzo Abe consolidated power, bolstered Japan's self-defense capabilities, and strengthened the executive branch of government at the expense of the country's once-powerful bureaucracies, wrote Chang Che for the Foreign Affairs.

Shortly after taking office, former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade agreement championed by former President Barack Obama.

However, Japan managed to salvage the deal, convincing the remaining countries to go ahead with another version of the pact, renamed as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which established new rules on trade, intellectual property, and data governance that stand in stark contrast to China's illiberal vision for the region. Biden has indicated that his administration is interested in joining the CPTPP.

Japan has further raised its profile by lavishing countries in the region with economic assistance at levels competitive with China. Between 2001 and 2011, Japanese development agencies funneled a total of USD 12.7 billion in aid to countries in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific--more than double the USD 5.9 billion China spent on aid in those years, reported Foreign Affairs.

While Chinese aid and investments have ramped up since then, in 2015, Tokyo established the USD 110 billion Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, whose recipients have territorial and maritime disputes with China and are concerned about Chinese expansionism.

Prioritising transparency, environmental sustainability, and accountability, Japan's infrastructure programme stands in stark contrast to China's notoriously opaque Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), writes Chang.

Apart from economic leadership, Japan has assumed a role in shaping international norms in opposition to those of an illiberal competitor.

During the Osaka G20 summit in 2019, in contrast to China's vision of "cyber-sovereignty," an Internet splintered along national boundaries, former Prime Minister Abe laid out a vision for a future where data flow freely and securely across borders.

As US President Joe Biden's administration seeks to repair damaged alliances, Japan has become the key to restoring American credibility in Asia.

"Only by solidifying relations with its longtime Asian ally and collaborating on multilateral efforts can the United States repair its damaged reputation in the Indo-Pacific and regain a foothold in the region's future," wrote Chang.

Chang further wrote that over the last four years, Japan has built up a reservoir of trust and goodwill with Asian countries and the US can access that goodwill, but only if it learns to listen and follow the lead of its longtime ally, instead of attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Amicably renewing the under which Japan hosts US troops would send a strong message to China as well as other Asian countries that there are little differences between Washington and Tokyo. The US should also supercharge Japan's Partnership for Quality Infrastructure programme that is already a competitive alternative to China's BRI. (ANI)

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