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Japan’s precarious Indo-Pacific balance

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Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department released a report titled “Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision.”

It highlighted the U.S. core understandings of the Indo-Pacific, which includes: 1) respect for sovereignty and independence of all nations; 2) peaceful resolution of disputes; 3) free, fair and reciprocal trade based on open investment, transparent agreements and connectivity; and 4) adherence to international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight.

For Japan and other states in the Indo-Pacific, the document clearly articulates their ongoing concern that “authoritarian revisionist powers seek to advance their parochial interests at others’ expense.” To be clear, in the short term this means Russia and China. In the long term, as Russia’s power fades it’s clear that it is China that looms most heavily in the minds of the United States and Indo-Pacific stakeholders like Japan.

The clear articulation of the U.S. vision of its core principles of the Indo-Pacific will be welcome by proponents of the Indo-Pacific formulation. At the same time, it demonstrates the gap that exists between the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy and those of ASEAN, Japan and others.

Japan prefers the use of “vision” instead of strategy. Japan also places a higher priority on infrastructure, connectivity, rules-based behavior in the maritime domain and inclusiveness. In short, Japan does not want its Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision (FOIP) to be conflated with a China-containment strategy or an Indo-Pacific formulation that is security focused.

The rationale is simple: Japan’s sustained economic growth and regional stability will not be served if Japan-China relations are securitized. This is despite real concerns about China’s long-term intentions in the region and disquietude over domestic policies exemplified by the removal of presidential term limits, the incarceration of Uighurs in “re-education camps” and the unrest in Hong Kong.

Even Japan’s leadership in multilateral trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP 11), the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership are not enough to replace the giant Chinese consumer market, which Japan depends on for........

© The Japan Times