Japan has only been allowed to export defence products since 2014. (US Army: Markus Castaneda)
Japan’s newly-minted Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has accomplished his inaugural state visits this week.
They have been to Indonesia and Vietnam, a non-traditional alternative for Japanese leaders who’ve traditionally made Washington their first go to.
In Hanoi, Mr Suga clinched a defence export deal — solely the second for Japan since an export ban was lifted in 2014 — whereas in Jakarta, he pledged a 50 billion yen ($670 million) low-interest mortgage to help the nation with the COVID-19 financial fallout.
It was additionally reported that Japan and Indonesia sped up talks to land the same defence export deal.
This comes as quite a few Asian international locations face strain from an more and more assertive China, which is most keenly felt within the South China Sea, the place Beijing’s territorial claims lower by a swathe of overlapping claims amongst South-East Asian nations.
It is one thing that Mr Suga famous in each Hanoi and Jakarta, repeating Japan’s intention for a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. It echoes the international coverage agenda of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, who significantly raised Japan’s political presence globally.
Following his visits, there was appreciable commentary about what Japan’s intentions are in South-East Asia, with some coming to the conclusion that this quantities to a containment of China.
However to what extent are these conclusions true? And what implications will nearer Japanese ties to South-East Asia imply for the area?
Are we seeing Japan’s containment of China?
Mr Suga’s (left) state visit to Vietnam was his first as Japan’s new Prime Minister. (AP, pool)
There is not any definitive reply to this.
Yuki Tatsumi, a senior fellow and director of the Japan program at US safety think-tank the Stimson Centre, informed the ABC Mr Suga’s latest visits and cope with Vietnam represents Tokyo’s coverage “evolution” within the Indo-Pacific.
“This isn’t a brand new trajectory. Slightly, that is very a lot in step with their ongoing efforts with South-East Asian international locations to assist these international locations improve their functionality to fend off assertive behaviour by China in THE South China Sea,” Ms Tatsumi stated.
“[Mr Suga] selecting Vietnam and Indonesia alerts the significance he attaches to South-East Asia for his international coverage agenda.”
For Sue Thompson, an professional in South-East Asia’s regional cooperation on the Australian Nationwide College’s (ANU) Nationwide Safety Faculty, even using the time period “containment” with Japan’s latest visits ought to be seen critically.
“It is such an outdated Chilly Warfare time period, which leads lots of people to ask, ‘Are we in a brand new Chilly Warfare or not?’ — I do not suppose we’re,” Dr Thompson stated.
As a substitute, she stated Japan is not concerned in “containment”, however merely “attempting to ascertain itself, security-wise, and economically” to scale back its financial dependence on China.
Many international locations, together with Japan, stay economically depending on China each as an export market and supply of producing labour for giant nationwide corporations similar to Sony or Toyota.
In July, a report from world consultancy agency McKinsey discovered that South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have been notably depending on China for financial survival.
China’s efforts to become a global manufacturing hub have made many countries dependent on it. (Reuters: File)
Cumulatively, Dr Thompson stated Japan gives different states equally depending on China with an alternate commerce supply, in addition to giving smaller states an opportunity to keep away from getting drawn right into a US-China binary.
However for David Envall, a Japan specialist and professional in Asia-Pacific safety on the ANU’s Coral Bell College of Asia Pacific Affairs, the topic of Japan’s latest strikes are “clearly addressed at China”.
“The proposed offers are a part of Japan’s technique of regional ‘capability constructing’, which covers not solely arms exports but in addition infrastructure, help, and different commerce initiatives,” he stated.
“By boosting connections to the international locations of South-East Asia on this manner, Tokyo hopes to raised counter China’s affect within the area.”
What has been China’s response?
Disapproving, as you would possibly count on.
A report by Chinese language state-owned tabloid World Instances cited Da Zhingang, North-East Asia specialist at China’s Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, as saying Japan’s defence settlement with Vietnam and Indonesia would “forged a shadow over regional stability and peace” within the South China Sea.
Mr Da additionally claimed that Mr Suga’s visits uncovered Japan’s “trick”, which he stated concerned getting “extra international locations to meddle within the South China Sea”.
Beijing has beforehand accused Tokyo of searching for to construct a “mini-NATO” in Asia, which is in reference to the Quad — a military alliance involving India, Australia, Japan and the US.
NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is a defence alliance involving international locations in North America and Europe which binds all members to mutual self-defence.
Prime Minister Suga denied Mr Da’s accusations throughout his go to to Jakarta, and informed reporters Japan’s “response within the South China Sea is just not aimed toward anybody nation”.
However Dr Envall stated “the rising regional affect of China” was an “underlying theme” of Mr Suga’s visits.
“Though Suga acknowledged in Jakarta that Japan’s place on the South China Sea ‘is just not aimed toward anybody nation’, he additionally repeated the place that Japan opposes any actions within the South China Sea that go towards the rule of legislation or the precept of openness endorsed by ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations],” he stated.
Why are the offers vital, and what’s in it for the recipients?
Japan’s defence export gross sales have only been legal since 2014.
In 1976, the nation introduced a self-imposed arms export ban — other than know-how sharing with allies — stemming from the nation’s post-war constitutional commitment to pacifism.
Because the ban was lifted in 2014, Japan had tried to promote defence craft to Australia and the UK, however with out success.
It was solely this 12 months that Japan secured its first defence export deal, with the Philippines, adopted by an settlement with Vietnam this week. Indonesia and Thailand are reportedly subsequent in line.
In late August, Japan’s Mitsubishi Electrical signed a $US100 million ($141 million) cope with the Philippines to produce 4 radar techniques.
In Vietnam, official particulars of the deal are scant. Japanese information company Kyodo Information reported patrol vessels and maritime security gear have been a part of Japan’s providing, in accordance with Japanese officers.
However the deal is not the primary time that Hanoi has obtained defence items from Japan.
In early August, Japan’s help company provided Vietnam a 36.6 billion yen ($492.4 billion) mortgage to buy six Japanese maritime patrol boats.
Japan’s defence exports, and anticipated export markets, are all with international locations it occupied throughout World Warfare II, which Dr Thompson stated was indicative of how a lot South-East Asia had moved on from fears about Japanese energy.
“After the struggle, when Japan was re-establishing itself economically in South-East Asia, there have been main regional issues about any form of Japanese financial dominance,” she stated.
“Now now we have related fears that China will do what [South-East Asia] was nervous about Japan doing again within the Sixties.”
Are the offers associated to China’s claims within the South China Sea?
Chinese soldiers patrol a South China Sea atoll near a sign reading: “Nansha is our national land, sacred and inviolable.” (Reuters)
Each Vietnam’s and the Philippines’ defence offers give attention to maritime surveillance, which means that each international locations on both aspect of the South China Sea are involved about what could occur in it.
Lately, China has ramped up its annexation of its disputed claims, which has concerned the construction of artificial islands on low-lying coral reefs, in addition to the construction of a prefecture-level city, Sansha.
Vietnam, China, Malaysia have eyes on the prize
Rich in resources and traversed by a quarter of global shipping, the South China Sea is the stage for several territorial disputes that threaten to escalate tensions in the region.
At the heart of these disputes are a series of barren islands in two groups – the Spratly Islands, off the coast of the Philippines, and the Paracel Islands, off the coasts of Vietnam and China.
Both chains are essentially uninhabitable, but are claimed by no fewer than seven countries, eager to gain control of the vast oil and gas fields below them, as well as some of the region’s best fishing grounds.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have made claims to part of the Spratlys based on the internationally recognised Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles from a country’s coastline.
Based on the EEZ, the Philippines has the strongest claim on the Spratlys and their resources, with its EEZ covering much of the area.
However the lure of resources, and prospect of exerting greater control over shipping in the region, means that greater powers are contesting the Philippines’ claims.
China has made extensive sovereignty claims on both the Spratlys and the Paracels to the north, based largely on historic claims outlined in a map from the middle part of the 20th Century known as the ‘Nine Dash Map’.
Taiwan also makes claims based on the same map, as it was created by the nationalist Kuomintang government, which fled to Taiwan after the communists seized power in China.
Vietnam also claims the Spratlys and the Paracels as sovereign territory, extending Vietnam’s EEZ across much of the region and bringing it into direct conflict with China.
There have been deadly protests in Vietnam over China’s decision to build an oil rig off the Paracels.
One Chinese worker in Vietnam was killed and a dozen injured in riots targeting Chinese and Taiwanese owned factories, prompting 3,000 Chinese nationals to flee the country.
EEZ can only be imposed based on boundaries of inhabitable land, and this has prompted all the countries making claims on the region to station personnel, and in some cases build military bases out of the water, to bolster their claim.
Building and protecting these structures has resulted in a series of stand-offs between countries in the region, each with the potential to escalate.
China has been leading the charge with these installations, and has deployed vessels to the region to protect their interests.
Chinese coast guard vessels have used a water cannon on Vietnamese vessels, as well as blockading an island where the Philippines has deployed military personnel.
Chinese vessels have also rammed and sunk Philippine and Vietnamese ships within the sea.
In 2016, The Hague discovered that China’s claims had “no legal basis“, a landmark ruling which Beijing later dismissed.
China boycotted the hearings and one official accused the judges of corruption to reach the verdict.
Whereas Indonesia has been traditionally impartial in regional conflicts, it has additionally pushed again towards Chinese language encroachment in Indonesia’s parts of the South China Sea.
A slither of Indonesian maritime claims conflict with China’s huge claims within the South China Sea, although Jakarta is just not a proper claimant within the dispute.
This regional context was not misplaced on Mr Suga throughout a speech to Hanoi’s Vietnam-Japan College this week.
“Sadly, on this area, developments opposite to the rule of legislation and openness upheld by the ASEAN Outlook have been unfolding within the South China Sea,” he stated.
What do Japan’s ties to South-East Asia imply for the area?
Mr Suga (centre-left) met with his Indonesian counterpart, Joko Widodo (centre-right) on Tuesday. (Antara Foto, Setpres-Laily Rachev/pras.)
Small Asian states similar to Singapore have additionally previously raised the importance of strengthening multilateralism because the US-China rivalry grows in depth.
Hikmahanto Juwana, a global legislation professional at Indonesia’s Jenderal Achmad Yani College, informed the ABC that Tokyo ties gave Jakarta an opportunity to indicate that it will not simply be overwhelmed in a fantastic energy rivalry.
“America, Australia, Japan and different international locations see an inclination for Indonesia to fall into the lure of China by their financial relationship,” Dr Juwana stated.
“[But] by welcoming Japan, Indonesia additionally needs to indicate the world that Indonesia stays impartial and ship a transparent message that it’s not below China’s shadow.”
That is one thing that Indonesian President Joko Widodo alluded to in a joint press convention with Mr Suga this week.
“I emphasised the significance of the spirit of cooperation to be strengthened, particularly amidst the more and more sharp rivalry between the world’s nice powers,” he stated.
However whether or not Japan’s involvement in South-East Asia leads to de-escalating tensions within the area stays to be seen, and for Dr Thompson, it would irritate one thing that was final seen within the Chilly Warfare.
“Sure, militaries do modernise, they usually do improve their gear,” Dr Thompson stated.
“However I feel there may be some fact to the very fact that there’s a little bit of an arms race exterior of simply army enchancment.
“Individuals are conserving a watch out for what China is doing.”