Japan has laid out plans to strengthen collaboration with India, Australia and ASEAN nations while China continues to make headlines for its increasing hostile presence in the East China Sea attracting conflict with Tokyo.
In an attempt to advance regional strategy with the US, India and Australia, Japan’s Ministry of Defence has intended to establish a new team solely responsible for the Indo-Pacific affairs.
It is reported that the change expected to be implemented by next month will also see the ministry assigning another international affairs officer to its Bureau of Defence Policy, which will eventually double its staff for coordination with countries other than the US.
The primary focus of the new official in the bureau’s International Policy Division will be to focus on cooperation with quasi-allies India and Australia, as well as Southeast Asian nations. It is also reported that the U.S. has also been looking speed-up country’s cooperation with the Quad that involves Australia, India and Japan.
In the past 2 months, Japan’s defence minister Taro Kono called on the respective counterparts in India, Southeast Asian nations and other nations that all along the Indian Ocean sea lanes to garner support against China’s alleged presence.
As reported by EurAsian Times previously, Japanese coastguards had recently announced that Chinese government ships had been spotted in the waters near the Senakaku/Diaoyu Islands every day since mid-April.
The conflict on the uninhabited disputed islands has been brewing for decades and could see the involvement of the US due to its mutual defence treaty with Japan. Japan’s media notes that the organizational expansion by the Ministry showcases the importance that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government pays to the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”.
The US-China rivalry
The Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy often viewed as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative was launched by the Japanese PM at the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in 2016. However, China’s trillion-dollar BRI stands much higher than Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy.
The U.S. also a partner in the strategy is perceived by international experts as a counter to Beijing’s increasing global influence on trade and technology.
“The accumulation of economic power and digital influence is the greatest concern in the next decade because it gives Beijing new tools as a revisionist power to try to coerce their neighbours and rewrite the order. It could impact the balance of national security,” tells Eric Sayers, former special assistant to the commander of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).
Experts speculate that since the U.S. does not hold much experience in investing in Southeast Asia and the Pacific nations due to which it relies on allies like Japan. To rate and certify infrastructure plans in the Asia-Pacific, the United States, Japan and Australia also established the Blue Dot Network (BDN) in November 2019.
U.S. President Donald Trump said that the BDN was “a major initiative to ensure countries around the world have access to private sector-led, sustainable and trustworthy options for high-quality infrastructure development.”