Japan’s ‘Masterstroke’ Against China; Boosts Its Position In ASEAN & QUAD By Opening Its Defense Sector

By Amb. Gurjit Singh

While delivering the keynote lecture at the Shangri La dialogue, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio spoke about the current world order being subject to severe concerns.

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To achieve realistic diplomacy for the current era, which is both pragmatic and adheres to Japan’s ideals, he announced the “Kishida Vision for Peace” (KVP), aiming to promote Japan’s diplomatic and security role in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Kishida Vision has five aspects. These include strengthening the rules-based, free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).

First, it will help enhance security by reinforcing Japanese defense capacities. Second, supporting the Japan-US Alliance and strengthening security cooperation with like-minded countries, including the Quad.

Third, to make further efforts to denuclearize the world. The fourth is strengthening the UN, mainly through Security Council reform, and the fifth is economic cooperation for international security.

With this initiative, Japan aims to work towards a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific plan for peace’ by April 2023. It will further align Japanese efforts to promote the FOIP, mainly through the supply of patrol vessels and increased ‘maritime law enforcement capabilities.

File Image: Japanese F-15 Fighters

These will go along with cybersecurity with their partners, utilizing their Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments. In recent years, Japan has increased its support for maritime security efforts by using its satellites, AI, and UAV advanced technologies. Kishida promised to continue sharing such knowledge and experience with its partner countries.

Over the next three years, till 2025, Japan will increase its technical cooperation, training, and the strengthening of ‘maritime law enforcement capabilities’ of at least 20 countries in the region.

Kishida has committed to providing $2 billion for the supply of patrol vessels and developing maritime transportation infrastructure to countries in the Indo-Pacific in the same time frame, in partnership with QUAD, when needed.

At the keynote address, Kishida elaborated on Japan’s defense capacities expansion. He acknowledged that due to the Ukraine crisis, Germany has altered its defense policy and increased its defense budget.

Japan has decided to shift its Russian policy in line with its allies. They would do this through dialogue but would prepare Japan to deal more firmly with threats or use of force beyond the international rules-based order.

Chinese aggression in the East China Sea directly impacts Japan. Enhanced Russian-Chinese activity around the Japanese islands and the Pacific is threatening. The aggressive Chinese posture on Taiwan increases Japanese responsibility under the defense agreement with the US.

As far as the ASEAN countries and the Quad partners are concerned, Japan would be now willing to provide an enormous amount of defense equipment to its key allies.

It has not yet considered funding ASEAN countries, for instance, to buy US-made weaponry, but would use ODA to support security enhancement as it has done with the Philippines and Vietnam.

Thus, increasing capabilities to respond and provide deterrence would be essential for Japan. Kishida confirmed that Japan would enunciate the National Security Strategy (NSS) by the end of 2022. It would be a template for increasing Japanese defense capabilities by 2027.

Kishida proposes to secure a much higher defense budget to implement the national security strategy. Interestingly, despite Article Nine of the Constitution not being amended and Japan being called upon to maintain a defensive posture, the new NSS will likely allow the development of counter-strike and responsive capabilities. It will permit the Japanese defense to have a first-strike capacity in conventional weaponry.

Air to Air refueling between F-2 and KC-30A (via Twitter)

During his visit, Kishida also announced that negotiations with Singapore for defense equipment and technology transfer agreements were starting. Japan will offer other ASEAN countries specific defense cooperation projects per their requirements. Additionally, Japan is pursuing reciprocal access agreements.

Japan has signed agreements with Australia and UK. The country already has a treaty in place with the US.

Japan is not restricting its collaboration only with countries in the Indo-Pacific but reaching out to European countries. Japan is considering attending the Madrid NATO summit in late June.

In his keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue, Kishida saw no contradiction between Japan’s national security and the harsh realities of the security environment beyond Japan.

Before the Shangri La dialogue, Japan decided to permit exports of lethal weaponry to 12 partner countries, including India, Australia, the ASEAN countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and the UK, Germany, France, and Italy in Europe.

It is part of their strengthening of defense capabilities through economies of scale and the increased deterrence they could provide against China. Japan feels like a better contributor through cooperation with countries with bilateral security agreements.

A 2014 regulation curtailed the export of lethal weapons but allowed some, which governs Japan’s export of defense equipment.

These principles will be revised and finalized in the national security strategy by the end of 2022 and incorporated into the Japanese government’s fiscal management and reform policy. Japan is developing new fighter jets and medium-range anti-aircraft missiles with the US and the UK.

File Image: FX-Japan

Without economies of scale, it gobbles the increased defense budget. Japan believes in enhancing its security arrangements with its partner countries if it could assist them in a more robust defensive posture. If they can challenge the availability and pricing of Chinese fighters, they will challenge China in ASEAN countries.

Sea-launched interceptor missiles could also be of interest to the ASEAN countries, at least three of which, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, are interested in the land-based version of the BrahMos so far. Given that Brahmos is a partnership with Russia, India and Japan cannot cooperate on it, but they could fill gaps in the maritime security of ASEAN countries.

To avoid a competitive race between India and Japan for the defense market in ASEAN, it would be preferable if some Indo-Japanese collaboration could first emerge. Then they may woo the ASEAN market as they do for manufactured exports from India.

In its recent defense white papers, Japan has tried to assuage the United States by purchasing more US-made weaponry rather than developing their own. It is now changing, with joint weapons development with the US and the UK and the willingness to do it with other countries in the region.

  • The author is the former Ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN and the African Union. He is the Chair, CII Task Force on Trilateral Cooperation in Africa, and a Professor, IIT Indore.)
  • Email EurAsian Times at: etdesk@eurasiantimes.com