Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Experts say ASEAN centrality is key to Japan’s regional policy

Japan strongly supports ASEAN centrality as part of its core approach to Asian regional cooperation.

From left: Hosoya Yuichi, Nakanishi Hiroshi and Kano Yoichi speak at the ASEAN-Japan Dialogue in Tokyo last week. Photo - SuppliedFrom left: Hosoya Yuichi, Nakanishi Hiroshi and Kano Yoichi speak at the ASEAN-Japan Dialogue in Tokyo last week. Photo - Supplied

“Japan is perhaps the only major player in this region that has respected ASEAN centrality for four decades, since the establishment of ASEAN,” Professor Hosoya Yuichi of Keio University said.

Mr Hosoya said that one of the most important aspects of the Asia-Pacific transformation is the rapid change in the balance of power in the region. “China has been expanding its military power and international influence in the region. The US has been presenting its limits in responding to military challenges from three nuclear powers, namely China, Russia and North Korea,” he added.

He said that in this situation it is difficult for Japan to maintain economic growth and provide stability in the region.

Mr Hosoya was speaking at the ASEAN-Japan Dialogue last week organised by the Japan Forum on International Relations, the Global Forum of Japan, the S. Rajaretnam School of International Studies and Vietnam National University.

The Trump Administration has caused uncertainty about the U.S. security commitment to East Asia and has threatened the liberal international order, he added.

According to Professor Nakanishi Hiroshi of Kyoto University, the strategic landscape in the region has changed radically since the Trump Administration withdrew its support of postwar international institutions built around U.S. hegemony. “U.S. foreign policy is still unclear, but withdrawing from the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) and Paris Climate Change agreements shows the fundamental philosophy of this presidency,” he said.

In South-East Asia, he said, domestic concerns continue with the rise of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the challenges posed by the Rohingya problem, and the death of King Bhumibhol of Thailand. Therefore, he said, Japan needs to step up cooperation with and support of ASEAN and its members to strengthen the law-based international order based on liberal democracy and free market access.

“Japan needs to promote both the TPP-11 and the RCEP to cap trade liberalisation,” he said. TPP-11 refers to the TPP deal without US participation, and the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation deal is expected to be completed next year.

Mr Nakanishi also said that Japan must beef up cooperation with countries in the South China Sea to strengthen maritime governance.

Mr Hosoya called on ASEAN and Japan to be more proactive and enhance their defence capabilities as partners in promoting peace in the Asia-Pacific.

Kano Yoichi, senior research fellow at the Asia Pacific Initiative Foundation, said Japan has three strategic choices – internal balancing, external balancing and ‘bandwagoning’.

He said the first entails increasing Japan’s defence capabilities to be independent of the US, which would generate anti-Trump sentiment. The second choice would be to pursue an alternative alliance or coalition of middle powers. Finally, ‘bandwagoning’ means to accept and accommodate China’s growing influence and dominance.

Japan marked its 40th anniversary of relations with ASEAN last year. It is a dialogue partner and a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit and ASEAN Defence Ministerial Conference Plus.