Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Building a New Japan-ASEAN Relationship within the “Indo-Pacific” Context
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

December 26, 2017
Japan’s popularity rating within ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has reached new heights, according to an opinion poll of ten ASEAN countries published recently by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The poll surveyed 3,017 men and women aged 18 to 59, mainly via the internet. The results, for example, showed that a combined 89% of respondents felt their relationship with Japan was either “friendly” or “relatively friendly” – up from 75% in the previous poll, and that a combined 91% saw Japan as being either “extremely trustworthy” or “relatively trustworthy” – up from 73% in the last poll. These are high ratings indeed, which allow us to reconfirm the broadening of Japan’s positive image within ASEAN.

2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the Fukuda Doctrine, which championed “heart to heart” relations and “equal partnership” between Japan and ASEAN, as well as the 50th anniversary of the creation of ASEAN itself, so the results certainly give us reason to celebrate. Nevertheless, in view of the current international climate surrounding Japan and ASEAN, they give us no cause for complacency, either. How should Japan and ASEAN ensure peace and stability in our shared region to attain continued prosperity? It is not too much to say that 2017 was a year that raised fundamental questions with respect to this point.

For more than seventy years after World War II, the region had existed under an international order led by the United States. And yet, it was not until November that US President Donald Trump paid his first visit to the region since his inauguration, touring Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines to coincide with the meetings of ASEAN and APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). The visit revealed that President Trump’s sole interest lay in clinching profitable deals to achieve a trade surplus for his country, and offered little hope that the United States would place a priority on its responsibility and role in ensuring the peace, stability and prosperity of the region.

We should not rush to conclusions about whether to view this as an anomaly owing to the unorthodox nature of the Trump administration, or as part of the ongoing US withdrawal from this region. But there was yet another revelation in 2017 - China was now openly demonstrating its intentions of seizing this opportunity to reorganize the international order.

This was symbolized by the Chinese vision of a “new model of great power relations.” During the previous Obama Presidency, China had sought on numerous occasions to win US recognition for the idea and had failed. However, through his insensitive behavior, President Trump had created the impression that the United States now gave de facto approval to the idea, disappointing Japan and other countries. On his part, General Secretary Xi Jinping had the audacity to openly declare that “the Pacific is big enough to accommodate both China and the United States” during his meeting with President Trump.

China is a country of words, but we should never be insensitive to its deeds. It is certain that beyond these words lie its vision of a divided Asia-Pacific ruled by the United States and China. It is reminiscent of an episode from the past, in which a senior official of the Chinese Navy – while premising his remarks by saying it was only a joke - suggested dividing control over the West Pacific to the former head of the US Pacific Command. China had meant it; the “joke” part had been a camouflage for its true intentions.

Japan and ASEAN are now confronted with the common agenda of coming to terms with a resolute China that had stopped “joking.” Here, we should note that during his speech at the APEC meeting, President Trump referred to sharing the “Indo-Pacific” vision, and it will be important for Japan and ASEAN to firmly share this vision in the years ahead.

“Indo-Pacific” was a concept intended to replace “Asia-Pacific” that was originally proposed by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo during his previous administration, in a policy speech titled “Confluence of the Two Seas,” which he presented while visiting India in August 2007. The two seas being the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, the idea focused on the respective roles and strategic alliance between Japan and India, two democratic countries situated at either end of the two seas.

The concept was followed up by the second Abe administration, and reference was made to it in the policy speech titled “The Bounty of the Open Seas: Five New Principles for Japanese Diplomacy,” which Abe gave during his first overseas visit to Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia – in January 2013. In one of the principles, Abe upheld “protecting freedom of thought, expression, and speech in this region where two oceans meet,” stating that “these are universal values that humanity has gained and they must be allowed to flower to the fullest.” The “region” mentioned here was Indonesia, the scheduled location where the speech was to be made. In other words, this was a strategy for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The “Indo-Pacific” concept clearly positions India - which was barely recognized in the “Asia-Pacific” context - as an actor in the region, and reconfirms the role of Australia at the same time. Yet, we must not forget that ASEAN is in fact the region that lies in the middle of the two seas, and has the potential to play a pivotal role in the strategy.

Unfortunately, within ASEAN there is currently little interest in the Indo-Pacific vision. ASEAN’s relationship with India is not nearly as strong as its relations with Japan, China or South Korea, and neither is it particularly motivated to seek closer ties with India. On the other hand, ASEAN now stands at the crossroads of whether it can continue to retain its central role after spending half a century in the driver’s seat providing forward momentum as the cornerstone of multilateral diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific. ASEAN itself is facing challenging times that demand change.

Without overreacting to the words and deeds of President Trump, Japan must firmly recognize its position as a stakeholder and realize the Indo-Pacific vision through active engagement with ASEAN. Japan should not just satisfy itself with the sense of amity and trust with which it is regarded by ASEAN. What actions Japan and ASEAN will take to build upon this relationship of trust is of greater importance and need.

Keiko Chino is a freelance journalist and Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

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2017年 12月 26日













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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Building a New Japan-ASEAN Relationship within the “Indo-Pacific” Context