Japan’s new defense chief reiterates commitment to Free and Open Indo-Pacific

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Felix Kim

Japan’s new defense minister reiterated the nation’s commitment to advancing a Free and Open Indo-Pacific through diplomacy with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Pacific Island Countries, Europe and the United States.
During his first news conference in August 2022, Yasukazu Hamada, pictured, said Japan will expand defense cooperation in space, cyberspace and advanced technology exchanges, with the U.S.-Japan alliance as the cornerstone.

Hamada, who was defense minister from 2008-09 under then-Prime Minister Taro Aso, has said the international community has entered a new era of crisis — with growing threats from North Korea, the People’s Republic of China and Russia — that has prompted Japan to rethink its approach to security, The Japan Times newspaper reported in August 2022.

“The international community as a whole has entered the most trying time since the end of the previous war, and the existing order is being seriously challenged,” Hamada said, according to The Japan Times.

Upholding international law, particularly in the areas of maritime and air space, and supporting ASEAN’s capabilities in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and search and rescue are central to Japan’s Vientiane Vision, the guiding principle for its defense cooperation with ASEAN, according to the Ministry of Defense (MOD). Announced during the second ASEAN-Japan Defense Ministers’ Informal Meeting in Laos in 2016, the vision outlines a framework for cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity and to address increasingly complex and diverse security matters, according to the MOD.

Between September 2021 and June 2022, Tokyo reached defense agreements or resolutions with the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Japan and Singapore agreed to increase defense exchanges related to defense technology, chemical, biological, radiological and explosive threats, strategic communications, and maritime security.

Japan and Vietnam, meanwhile, reached a deal on the mutual transfer of defense equipment and technology in September 2021, and a similar agreement was reached with Thailand in May 2022.

Tokyo and Manila in April 2022 reached a host of resolutions at their inaugural 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting. These included strengthening defense relations through joint capacity building, reciprocal port visits, and increased transfer of defense equipment and technology.

In keeping with the framework, the MOD emphasized the importance of finalizing a maritime code of conduct to reduce the risk of conflict in the South China Sea. It also announced two initiatives with ASEAN: a seminar targeting climate change and a cybersecurity training program for defense authorities. Japanese and ASEAN officials have also aligned in calling for an end to the violence in Myanmar, where the military has ruled since a February 2021 coup.

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

IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS

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