Since assuming office at the end of 2012, Japan’s new prime minister has started conducting a diplomatic offensive to counteract China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Abe advocates ‘security diamond’ against China
It is usually traditional for a new Japanese prime minister to make his first foreign trip to the US, but Shinzo Abe broke with tradition and made his first trip to Southeast Asia. After his finance minister went to Myanmar, and his foreign minister went to Singapore, Brunei, Australia and the Philippines, Japan’s new head of state set off for Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
This diplomatic offensive is an indication of the new Japanese administration’s growing economic and strategic interests in Southeast Asia. Abe wants to curb China’s growing military and commercial clout in the region. He wants to expand Japan’s maritime competence and combine it with the country’s economic strengths.
“Currently, the strategic environment in the Asia-Pacific region is going through a dynamic change,” he said ahead of his four-day trip. “During this change, having closer relations with ASEAN countries contributes to the region’s peace and stability and is in Japan’s national interest.”
‘Democratic security diamond’
Last year before the elections, Abe outlined his ideas about national security in the Asia-Pacific region in an essay that received little attention. An English translation was published by Project Syndicate at the end of the year. The hawkish politician argued for more assertiveness in foreign policy, more confrontation than reconciliation.
His core idea is to form a “democratic security diamond” and thus curtail China’s strive for hegemony. “I envisage a strategy 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,” he wrote. “I am prepared to invest, to the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capacities in this security diamond.”