Japan’s new leaders stand firm on Free and Open Indo-Pacific

Japan’s new leaders stand firm on Free and Open Indo-Pacific

Felix Kim

The vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific continues to guide Japan’s defense policy after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent departure from office and the arrival of Nobuo Kishi as the country’s defense minister.

Under Abe, who was widely credited with authoring the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision, Japan’s Ministry of Defense characterized Indo-Pacific waters in a 2020 white paper as “a free and open global commons to secure peace and prosperity in the region as a whole.” The ministry and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) are expected to enhance defense cooperation and exchanges with other Indo-Pacific countries to promote the vision, the paper added.

“We will contribute to regional stability through the vigilant activities of the Self-Defense Forces in the Indo-Pacific region,” Kishi, pictured, said September 16, 2020, adding that his ministry will “strengthen the ties of the Japan-U.S. alliance and promote bilateral and multilateral defense cooperation and exchanges.”

Kishi, who is Abe’s younger brother, made the comments in his first news conference since being appointed defense minister by Yoshihide Suga, who was elected prime minister by Japan’s Diet on September 14, 2020. Abe resigned in late August 2020 due to health concerns.

The Defense Ministry in October 2020 emphasized in its official journal, Japan Defense Focus, that the region needs stable and autonomous development. That will require Japan and its regional partners to modernize their militaries and intensify military activity.

“As part of such efforts,” the ministry stated, “Japan will actively leverage its defense capability to work on defense cooperation and exchanges, which include joint training and exercises, defense equipment and technology cooperation, capacity building assistance, and interchanges among military branches.”

This “multilayered security cooperation” will enable Japan and its partners to foster a favorable security environment with the pursuit of three objectives: ensuring the stable use of major sea lanes; preventing contingencies through confidence building and mutual understanding; and promoting regional peace and stability through multilateral activities.

Japan will continue its defense cooperation and exchanges with the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

A cooperative approach is also being embraced by South Asian states and the Pacific islands, the ministry added, citing the recent examples of Sri Lanka Air Force observation of exercises conducted by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force air rescue unit, and JSDF disaster relief operations in Micronesia, Palau and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.