Indo-Pacific “Strategies” and Their Implication for Taiwan: A Japanese perspective

Indo-Pacific “Strategies” and Their Implication for Taiwan: A Japanese perspective

Indo-Pacific “Strategies” and Their Implication for Taiwan: A Japanese perspective

There are multiple Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategies (FOIP). The United States, Australia, India, and Japan all have somewhat different ideas for a free and open Indo-Pacific as a concept—including its geographic coverage—and all four countries use FOIP in various ways to achieve different objectives. The purpose of this brief is to provide a Japanese perspective of Japan’s FOIP and its implications for Taiwan.

Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategies

The intellectual origin of FOIP can be traced back to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech “Confluence of the Two Seas,” which he delivered during a visit to India in 2007. He further developed the idea and published an article titled “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond” immediately after his re-inauguration as prime minister of Japan in 2012. Prime Minister Abe described the strategy as follows: “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. I am prepared to invest, to the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in this security diamond.” It was obviously a counterbalancing strategy to China, which was rapidly expanding its influence and presence in both the East and South China Seas. Abe invited both Britain and France to embrace this concept—notably Taiwan was not mentioned.

An important element to remember when considering how Prime Minister Abe fashioned his foreign policy is that Sino-Japanese relations was perhaps at its lowest point since the normalization of relations in 1972 when Mr. Abe was re-inaugurated as prime minister of Japan in late 2012. Under Abe’s leadership, the Indo-Pacific Strategy gradually evolved and was reintroduced at the 2016 Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Kenya. The United States and Australia acknowledged this concept in the following year. The US Pacific Command has since changed its name to the Indo-Pacific Command. On September 25, 2018, Prime Minister Abe delivered an address at the 71st UN General Assembly where he promoted FOIP and its areas of cooperation and infrastructure development. Now, both the United States and Japan share similar regional strategies in the the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy and Indo-Pacific Economic Vision. Although Taiwan was not explicitly mentioned in the official documents related to these strategies, it may well serve as a strong, yet unnamed feature.

Also important to note is that Japanese official documents on FOIP and materials on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seldom mention China. The Japanese government avoids mentioning China due to diplomatic considerations. It is not a state secret that China has not welcomed the development of FOIP and has actively pressured other states not to support this concept. There are few countries in Southeast Asia that explicitly endorse FOIP and pacific nations have publicly refused to support it—while India nominally maintains its neutrality. Tokyo also began to use FOIP as a tool when it sought rapprochement with China in late 2017—and the Abe administration maintained that this concept was not a strategy to contain China. The Indo-Pacific Strategy has already become a very sensitive term in the region. Therefore, Taiwan’s position in this policy concept is also extremely sensitive.

Instead of mentioning specific countries, Japan is focusing on how stability and prosperity of the international community are strengthened by combining “Two Continents”: Asia that is rapidly growing and Africa that possesses huge potential for growth; as well as “Two Oceans”: the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. This approach broadens the horizons of Japanese foreign policy by envisioning the above as an overarching, comprehensive, and inclusive concept.

Mr. Abe recently paid his first visit since 2011 to Beijing as prime minister of Japan. At that time, both governments jointly announced a new concept called the “Third Market Cooperation Initiative,” and concluded dozens of joint investment programs worth many billions of dollars. During these negotiations, China wanted to use the name “One-Belt, One-Road” (OBOR) for this initiative, but Japan opposed this and insisted on using FOIP. In the end, China agreed to create the new Third Market concept for these initiatives. In this context, FOIP clearly served as a counterbalance to the OBOR initiative.

As described above, Japan is using FOIP in multiple ways and for different purposes. However, this does not necessarily mean that Japan’s foreign policy is situational and fragmented. Rather, it means that many different goals, instruments, and ideas flow together in creating FOIP. Mr. Abe wrote in 2012 that “to improve Sino-Japanese relations, Japan must first anchor its ties on the other side of the Pacific.” Today, FOIP as a multipronged approach of both hedging and engagement towards China.

NDPG 2019

The Japanese government released the National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2019 and beyond in December 2018. In the report, “Asia-Pacific” was replaced by “Indo-Pacific,” and the “vision of free and open Indo-Pacific” was mentioned as a key concept rather than “strategy” in the document. China is mentioned in the context of how it “engages in unilateral, coercive attempts to alter the status quo based on its own assertions that are incompatible with existing international order,” but Taiwan is, again, not mentioned. Is Taiwan really non-existent in Japan’s defense strategy? Does Japan say nothing even after Chinese President Xi Jinping made an extremely hawkish speech on Taiwan issue, mentioning the possibility of “use of force” against Taiwan at the 40th anniversary event of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” delivered in early January 2019?

It is perhaps worth noting that when Japanese Minister of Defense Takeshi Iwaya visited Washington, DC in January 2019, he gave a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Defense Minister Iwaya did not mention Taiwan in his speech. However, he was asked if Japan’s work with other like-minded countries to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” included Taiwan and whether Japan would come to Taipei’s assistance if China attacked. While Mr. Iwaya did not say whether Tokyo would help defend Taiwan, he said: “We would like to see a peaceful resolution, peaceful discussions, peaceful actions. Certainly, as with the US, Japan would support such actions.”

Implications for Taiwan

What are the implications for Taiwan? Based on the sensitivity of the concept and the bilateral dynamic between Japan and China, Taiwan may likely only have an explicit presence in the United States’ FOIP but not in Japan’s. I believe Japan and the United States share an understanding on this front. While it is not likely for Japan to mention Taiwan directly, it is surely not impossible to place Taiwan within its shared strategy with the United States. Taiwan is a hidden but still important element in Japan’s FOIP.

FOIP is a concept built on values such as free trade, transparency, and the rule of law. Indeed, Taiwan shares these values. Additionally, an important area of FOIP is environmental and infrastructure cooperation and Taiwan has excellent technology and know-how in some of these fields. In many ways, there is synergy between FOIP and Taiwan’s values, interests, and capabilities. While it is unlikely that Tokyo will directly mention Taiwan in connection with FOIP, there are many areas where Taiwan may play an active role behind the scenes.

The main point: It is unlikely that Tokyo will directly mention Taiwan in connection with its free and open Indo-Pacific strategy, but Taiwan is a hidden but still important element in Japan’s FOIP.