Japan’s ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept another platform for containing China

By Lü Yaodong Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-13 20:23:01

With the concept of an "Indo-Pacific" evolving into a reality in the international political arena, delicate changes in the Asia-Pacific configuration have compelled some countries in the region to adjust their foreign relations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Japan for a five-day tour in early September. During the visit, the two leaders decided to strengthen bilateral cooperation on maritime security and hold regular joint naval exercises, an example of how the concept of an "Indo-Pacific" sphere is becoming reality.

The core of Japan's maritime strategy is its sea power alliance with the US. But Tokyo is also seeking regional partnerships with Indo-Pacific countries with similar values.

In this way, it can expand the reach of the area in which it exercises its right to self-defense from the Western Pacific to the Indo-Pacific region, ultimately building a comprehensive system to guarantee its maritime security.

To this end, Abe unveiled the concept of an "Asia Democratic Security Diamond," whereby Australia, India, Japan and the US state of Hawaii form a diamond to "safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the Western Pacific."

Abe vowed to invest Japan's capabilities to the greatest possible extent in this security diamond, highlighting Japan's intention to contain China's maritime strategy.

Some theories of sea power in Japanese academic and security circles define China as a landlocked country, so as to exclude it from "Maritime Asia."

This is an attempt to deprive China of its legitimate maritime rights, and vie with China for peripheral sea power.

These theorists believe that Japan will be forced to yield to China if Beijing controls the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, and their ideas have guided Japan's ruling conservative party and government in devising maritime policies and strategies.

Japanese conservatives are on the one hand attempting to make their country a "maritime nation," building the image of a maritime power that safeguards the international order; on the other hand they are trying to suppress China's maritime rights by organizing alliances and courting India, Australia, South Korea, Southeast Asian countries and Pacific island nations through so-called "values diplomacy."

This diplomatic approach has been a critical tool for Japan to achieve its strategic goal of transforming from an "island country" into a "maritime country."

Abe announced five new principles of Japanese diplomacy during his trip to Indonesia, in which he noted that Japan would work together with ASEAN members to establish and expand universal values such as freedom, democracy and basic human rights.

Abe's recent effort to strengthen Japan's ties with Indo-Pacific nations involves both the economic interests in regional cooperation and its strategy in beefing up maritime security cooperation to counter China.

This is particularly true when it comes to the technology and equipment for maritime security. Tokyo has provided unprecedented support for the military capabilities of emerging maritime countries of the Southern Pacific and the Indian Ocean, also apparently targeted at China.

It's fair to say that Japan has moved from protecting traditional sea routes to exerting larger influence on the wide Indo-Pacific region as the emphasis of its maritime strategy. To this end, it will continue to paint itself as a defender of freedom of navigation and rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region.

In the long run, Japan will continue to make shared values the basis of maritime security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and disrupt stability by driving wedges between countries in the region.

The author is director of the diplomacy studies office at the Institute of Japanese Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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