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China’s new strategic positioning

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 While China is “narrowing” its production lines at national or international levels, a very important signal is the new relationship established between Turkey and the United States to replace China as a supply chain.

 Obviously the new “cold war” between China and the United States cannot but create good opportunities for countries such as Turkey which aspire to establish their hegemony over Central Asia and hence to reduce China’s weight both in global and regional trade.

 This is the price that Turkey pays happily and without particular problems to the United States for affording its autonomous policy in the Maghreb region, in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the Balkans and in Central Asia, up to supporting the Xinjiang Muslims in China above all to nip the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative in the bud.

 Meanwhile Botas, the state-owned distributor of Turkish natural gas, has proposed the construction of a pipeline from its Northern Turkish coast to Nakhicevan, Armenia, so as to reduce Armenia’s imports from Iran and thus slowly distancing from Iran. This is music to American ears.

 Therefore, Erdogan’s Turkey also bets on the new “cold war” between the United States and China, thus proposing itself as a third wheel and hence as the basis for the technical and commercial replacement of the production networks from China itself to the area controlled by Turkey.

There is a “but”, however: Turkey has a public deficit of 5.6 billion U.S. dollars (according to April 2020 data), but so far only Chinese capital and funds have arrived to support a 400 million swap between the renmimbi and the Turkish Lira.

 A Chinese company bought the Kumport Terminal, on the Sea of Marmara, for 940 million, and in November 2019 Turkey saw the first train arriving from Xi’an, through the Maramay tunnel built and funded by China, which allows to have a non-stop line from China to Europe. An asset not to be overlooked.

 The Turkish e-commerce platform, Trendyol, was later acquired by Alibaba but, as all Turkish finance experts say, it would require a further and probably strong devaluation of the Turkish lira which, however, needs substantial “fresh” investment from abroad.

Therefore, it is unlikely for an economy such as Turkey’s to take harsh and definitive action against Chinese interests.

Nevertheless, what does Donald J. Trump’s America really want from China?

 The US Presidency’ Strategic Approach to China, published on May 26, 2020, maintains that the threat posed by the CPC to U.S. economic, military and strategic interests, as well as to its “values” is a primary danger.

 If we look at the history of such statements, only in the days of the harshest “Cold War” with the USSR were such terms used.

As to economic competition, the United States accuses not the State, but directly the CPC, of overtly “protectionist State policies that have harmed American workers and businesses”.

 With damage caused also to global markets, the environment and global trade law. Nevertheless,the sanctions imposed by China on U.S. goods in 2019 were anyway adopted by the WTO, whose negotiation system has been called into question by the United States itself.

 In fact, Trump’s America accuses particularly the CPC of “taking advantage of its WTO membership to become the world’s largest exporter, but systematically and harshly protecting its domestic market”.

What is the United States doing? The U.S. real and deep accusation is against the Belt & Road Initiative: the United States interprets this great commercial-strategic operation as an attempt to reshape the world market according to the internal needs of the Communist regime in China.

 Moreover, as the United States always maintains, China wants to use not the international networks, but its own courts, as arbitration courts. Is it true or false? Obviously there is the ICC, but other courts of reference are also formally possible, based on UN-type commercial law.

As to the Chinese challenge to American values, the U.S. document states that “China is engaged in an ideological competition with the West”.

The U.S. current idea is based on President Xi Jinping’s old statement (dating back to 2013) whereby China must prepare for a “long phase of cooperation and conflict” with the capitalist West, and it is always stated that “capitalism is dying and Socialism will triumph”. It could not be otherwise considering his Marxist background and ideas.

 Obviously so, since President Xi does not certainly come from a salon in Manhattan.

Moreover, the United States never wants China to project itself as a world leader and a country of great global influence. Here again it wants the fight against corruption to stop, since for the United States it was only and exclusively a way to eliminate president Xi’s opponents.

Is it true? Yes, but obviously not only so. One and a half million corrupt people punished by the State, but many of them are real, while others are certainly “enemies” of President Xi’s policy line.

The U.S. Presidency, however, is mainly afraid of the Chinese Military-Civil Fusion and hence of the commercial-security blockade that, in the very long run, could put an end to the traditional U.S. hegemony in the Pacific.

 Moreover, the two military games made by the RAND Corporation, about a year ago, concerning a clash in the South Pacific between U.S. and Chinese-Russian forces, demonstrated that the United States would soon be defeated.

Hence, as usual, for the United States once again it is primarily a matter of “protecting the People, the Homeland, the American way of life”. There is great fear for Chinese “propaganda” in the United States, as if it could not be opposed at all. A sweeping analysis was made for Chinese students, the largest foreign community in the United States, and a regulation called Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act was enacted. In January 2020 the United States and China signed also the “Phase One” of a major trade agreement that, according to the United States, is expected to change Chinese business practices significantly. In fact, the agreement provides that the CPC cannot force or orient foreign companies to transfer their technology to keep on producing or selling in China. It also strengthens the rules on the protection of intellectual data in China and finally opens up Chinese markets to U.S. agricultural products, on which it has much relied for its foreign policy.

 On the military level, the U.S. Administration (and it would be anyway the same if there were another President) wants a new relationship with “similar” and “friendly” countries so as to counter the Chinese military build-up and develop the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report. In other words, obviously the U.S. block of every “One China Policy”, but hence implicit support to internal factionalism, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as proposing a stop to the Chinese expansion between Xinjiang and Pakistan’s maritime network.

Furthermore, as to the ideological struggle, support for Religious Freedom, the usual fight for “human rights”, the U.S. protections for “minorities’ liberties”. That is all. But we do not think it will be enough.

 Certainly, Chinese infrastructural investment is currently designed to competing with the United States and better controlling civil society.

 The 55-kilometre bridge going from Hong Kong to Macao, with two artificial islands that allow the road to sink 7 kilometres into a very long underwater tunnel is an eminently political and strategic project.

 Obviously, it is in fact a matter of building a Unified Commercial Zone, like the one in New York or Tokyo.

 But it is also a matter of creating a strategic control zone to currently protect those coasts, which are currently more economically important than China. However, it is precisely in this area that as much as 4% of the regional and national GDP is dedicated to the construction of quantum computer networks and encryption. The classic civil-military dual objective.

 Currently China is already a leading country in quantum communications between Space and Earth. It has already built a Quantum Computing Laboratory in Hefei, Anhui Province, with 10 billion U.S. dollars, while the China-U.S. Economic and Security Commission has established that, as early as 2000, China had bridged the technological gap with the United States with regard to quantum computing.

Is it true? We do not know for sure, but this is certainly where the real economic and intelligence war between China and the United States is developing.

As Krugman maintained in an old article for Foreign Affairs, nations are not corporationsand they do not compete one another as companies always do. Nations, however, certainly compete for market outlets, for financial resources, for technologies and for cultural or influence operations.

 There is nothing else. Nevertheless, we must never forget that the major countries’ strategic “policy line”, to which Italy adapts in a sheep like way, envisages variables – also for the small and medium countries – which are not at all negligible.

Also at military level, China’s operations in Ladakh and Tibet are an example of the interest – dating back to Mao Zedong’s times – in using Tibet as “the palm of the Chinese hand” to expand China’s influence throughout South Asia, which is a primary strategic axis.

 It is a matter of encircling India and later stable geo-economic blocs are built, just against India, with the Chinese expansion in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

 There must always be a spatial logic – we would classically define as geopolitics – which follows the definition of a country’s primary interest. When it knows how to evaluate it,however, which certainly does not happen currently in Italy.

In any case Tibet would have been India’s first natural defence line, if China had not already taken itas early as 1950.

Hence Tibet, with its strategic “five fingers”, i.e. Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, will be China’s checkpoint from the South, and we do not believe it will be easily opened by India’s collaboration with other countries, such as the United States.

Without Tibet available, economic, military and intelligence operations against the Belt&Road Initiative will be largely blocked.

Furthermore, President Xi Jinping – who knows the Party and State apparatus very well – has recently launched a campaign of “Security Apparatus Clean-up”. Since November 2012, President Xi Jinping has also marginalised the old leader of the Chinese security apparatus, Zhou Yongkang, directly acquiring an assignment from Politburo and not from Politburo Standing Committee.

Nowadays, China’s security apparatus budget is officially estimated at 183,272 million yuan, equivalent to 26.6 billion U.S. dollars.

While Zhou Yongkang, a man of Hua Guofeng and later of Deng Xiaoping, was arrested in 2012, Hu Jintao himself sent as many as 3,000 Intelligence Service executives to re-education camps.

 3,000 executives in a total of 1.97 million officials and operatives.

Nevertheless, this year the turning point has been the establishment of the Safe China Construction Coordinating Small Group, now led by Guo Shengkun.

Later Lin Rui came. President Xi Jinping still trusts him and, however, he is a computer engineer.

Nevertheless, the “clean-up of the security apparatus”in Xi Jinping’s hands will most likely be completed next year.

 A new “Yan’an Rectification Movement”, like the one that Mao Zedong promoted.

Rectification campaigns, collection of Xi Jinping’s sayings to “set the policy line”, with the collection of the “four consciences” (ideology, the whole country, principles and policies) and the four trusts (Socialism with Chinese characteristics; trust in a system that proposes the nature of Chinese Socialism; trust in its own culture and values).

Hence this will be the intellectual and operative scenario with which Xi Jinping will fight against the United States. A fight which will not be easy, but not even with a predictable result.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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East Asia

Kishida and Japan-Indonesia Security Relations: The Prospects

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image source: twitter @kishida230

In October, Japan had inaugurated Fumio Kishida as the new prime minister after winning the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election earlier. Surely this new statesmanship will consequently influence Tokyo’s trajectory in international and regional affairs, including Southeast Asia.

Not only that Japan has much intensive strategic cooperation with Southeast Asians for decades, but the region’s importance has also been increasing under Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). Southeast Asia, as a linchpin connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is key to Japan’s geostrategic interest and vision.

Since the LDP presidential election debate, many have identified Kishida’s policy trajectory, including in the defense and security aspect. Being bold, Kishida reflected its hawkish stance on China, North Korea, and its commitment to strengthening its alliance with Washington. Furthermore, Kishida also aimed to advance the geostrategic and security initiatives with like-minded countries, especially under FOIP.

One of the like-minded countries for Japan is Indonesia, which is key Japan’s key partner in Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific.

This article maps the prospect of Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia under the new prime minister. It argues that Prime Minister Kishida will continue to grow Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia to adjust to the changing security environment in Indo-Pacific.

Japan – Indonesia Common Ground

In its basic principle, Japan and Indonesia shared the same values in democracy, rules-based order, and freedom of navigation in developing strategic cooperation, especially in the maritime security aspect. 

In the geostrategic context, Japan and Indonesia also have significant similarities. Both countries are maritime countries and seeking to maximize their maritime power, as well as having formally synchronized geostrategic vision. While Japan has FOIP, Indonesia has Global Maritime Fulcrum (Poros Maritim Dunia) and leading initiator for ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

In capitalizing on this shared vision, since Shinzo Abe and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo era, Japan and Indonesia have initiated much new security cooperation ranging from a high-level framework such as 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting in 2015 and 2021 to capacity building assistances and joint exercises. Furthermore, defense equipment transfers and joint technology development were also kicked off under Abe-Jokowi.

Kishida’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Profile

Compared to his predecessor, Suga Yoshihide, Prime Minister Kishida is more familiar with foreign affairs.

Personally, Kishida comes from a political family and spent several years living in the United States, reflecting his exposure to the international and political environment from an early age. This is significantly different from Suga, who grew up in a strawberry farmer family in a rural area in Akita Prefecture.

Politically, served as foreign minister under Shinzo Abe, Fumio Kishida is the longest-serving foreign minister in Japan’s history. This reflects his extensive understanding of current world affairs, compared to Suga who spent most of his prime political career in the domestic area such as being chief cabinet secretary and minister for internal affairs & communication.

Specifically, in defense and security posture, Prime Minister Kishida is willing to go beyond the status quo and not blocking any key options in order “to protect citizens”. During his policy speeches, he stated that he is not ruling out the option to build attacking capabilities due to the severe security environment surrounding Japan. Also, Kishida will not limit the defense budget under 1% of Japan’s gross domestic product if necessary.

Future Security Cooperation Trajectory with Indonesia 

In short, policy continuity will play a huge role. One of the reasons why Kishida was able to win over more popular Kono was due to his moderate liberalness, demonstrating stability over change. This was more preferred by faction leaders in LDP.

In defense and foreign affairs, the continuity is boldly shown as despite appointing entirely new ministers in his cabinet, the only two ministers retained by Kishida are Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi. By this, it sent the narrative to the international community that there will not be significant turbulence caused by the changing leadership on Japan’s side.

As a background context on Indonesia, Fumio Kishida was the foreign minister from the Japanese side behind the 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting with Indonesia in 2015. Indonesia is the only country Japan has such a high-level security framework within Southeast Asia. This framework has led Japan and Indonesia to have a second edition of the 2+2 meeting in 2021, resulting in many practical cooperation deals in defense and security.

The other setting supporting Kishida’s policy continuity, especially in the context with Indonesia is that his foreign minister’s counterpart, Retno Marsudi, was still in charge from the last time Kishida left the foreign minister post in 2017, until today. Initiating the 2+2 framework together, it will be easier for Kishida to resume his relationship with both President Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno in advancing its strategic cooperation with Indonesia, especially in the defense and security area.

The prospect of continuity is also reflected in Kishida’s commitment to continue the geostrategy relay of both his predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Suga Yoshihide, in achieving the FOIP vision.

Not only that Indonesia is having a similar vision of maritime prosperity and values with Japan, but Indonesia is also concerned with South China Sea dynamics as it started to threaten Indonesia’s remote islands, especially Natuna Islands. As this is a crucial cooperation opportunity, Kishida needs to continue assisting Indonesia to improve the security and prosperity of its remote islands. Thus, as Kishida also admitted that Indonesia is a major country in ASEAN, having favorable relations with Indonesia is important for Japan’s geostrategy.

Challenges

To capitalize on the potentials with Indonesia, Kishida needs to support Indonesia’s strategic independence as well as to make the best of his position as one of the United States’ allies in Asia.

Despite his tougher stance on China and Taiwan issues, Kishida cannot fully project Japan’s rivalry with China to Indonesia. In addition to its strategic independence, Indonesia has and needs strong strategic relations with China to support many of the vital development projects surrounding Indonesia. This cannot be touched.

Also, Japan needs to bridge Indonesia, as well as other like-minded Southeast Asian countries, with the Quad and AUKUS proponents. Indonesia is formally stated that it is concerned about the ownership of nuclear-powered weapons by its neighboring countries. On the other side, Japan supported AUKUS and is a close ally of the U.S. Kishida’s ability to grab this opportunity will solidify Japan’s credibility and position among Southeast Asians.

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Will There Be an End to the War in Korea?

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On September 21, 2021, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in addressed the UN General Assembly, calling for a formal end to the Korean War of 1950–1953. “I … propose that the three parties of the two Koreas and the U.S. or the four parties of the two Koreas, the U.S. and China come together and declare that the war on the Korean Peninsula is over,” Moon Jae-in said.

President Moon’s call appeared more relevant than ever before. For decades, the military stand-off on the Korean Peninsula has been haunted by the threat of a “big war” that could involve nuclear weapons. Resolving the issue also presents a crucial political and legal problem, as the UN has from the outset been involved in the conflict. On the one hand, the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement only meant the cessation of military hostilities, not an end to the war as such. On the other hand, the absurd truth is that it is the United Nations, rather than South Korea, that is officially locked in a military stand-off with North Korea—something certainly needs to be done about this. During the war, South Korea received assistance in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 84 passed on July 7, 1950, establishing the UN Command, multinational armed forces of 16 states led by the United States. These forces fought in the Korean War under the UN flag and signed the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement as the adversary of the Korean People’s Army and China’s People’s Volunteer Army. The Command effectively signed the agreement on behalf of the United Nations, meaning that the latter is still formally at war with North Korea, a full-fledged UN member state since 1991.

President Moon has done his outmost best to build bridges between the two Koreas. The inter-Korean summits of 2018 yielded some positive results—in the near future, there will be no war in Korea, whether nuclear or conventional. That said, the two Koreas have recently tested ballistic missiles, thus demonstrating that Pyongyang and Seoul are both ready for dialogue and for confrontation. South Korea has accepted the existence of North Korea to adopt a policy of peaceful co-existence towards its closest neighbor. However, the parties have proved unable to take the most important step, which is to move the inter-Korean relations to a bilateral format. Moreover, Seoul still refuses to recognize the status of North Korea as that of an equal sovereign state, with a legitimate and constitutional leadership.

Some premises for this seem to be there. Nationalism is what brings the two Korean states closer. Even their first joint statement, dating back to July 4, 1972, said that the Korean unification must be achieved independently, without outside interference, which means peacefully and on the basis of “national consolidation.” In December 1991, the heads of government of the two Koreas signed the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation between South and North Korea, formally acknowledging the equal co-existence of the two Korean states. Five inter-Korean summits were held between 2000 and 2018, with joint declarations adopted at each of them. These were essentially programmes to cultivate bilateral relations that would see the two countries move away from confrontation towards reconciliation and eventual rapprochement. None of the documents envisioned any participation of third states in the inter-Korean communication. The relations between North and South Korea have always been conceptualized in an exclusively bilateral dimension, a practice that should persist.

President Moon has also proposed to establish some multilateral organization to include North Korea. “I propose today launching a Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health, whereby North Korea participates as a member along with China, Japan, Mongolia and the Republic of Korea.” He emphasized that states can no longer handle their national security issues individually. “A cooperative architecture that guarantees collective protection of life and safety will lay the groundwork for North Korea to have its security guaranteed by engaging with the international community.” The President believes that “the end-of-war declaration will indeed open the door to complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Inter-Korean normalization would be impossible without the sanctions lifted, which requires certain progress towards resolving the nuclear issue. North Korea’s nuclear status is enshrined in its constitution—for today’s Pyongyang, this topic cannot be subject to any discussion. It would be wise to adopt a step-by-step approach here—first limiting North Korea’s nuclear missiles, then reducing their numbers to eliminate them all in the end. Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang should be replaced with the “six-party” talks that sought to resolve the nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula in 2003–2008. For a humble beginning, the parties could discuss the prospects of putting a freeze on missile development, guaranteeing the non-proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies. Pyongyang could cease its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and intermediate- or shorter-range missiles, opening its nuclear facilities for international inspections. In exchange, Washington, Tokyo and Seoul would formally recognize North Korea, establishing diplomatic relations, exchanging diplomatic missions, easing and ultimately lifting sanctions, rather choosing to provide economic and energy assistance to North Korea. A secure and stable North Korea is a far more reliable partner for talks on any subject, including on nuclear issues, than a country cornered by sanctions.

Today’s Northeast Asia is the only region in the world that lacks a multilateral framework to discuss matters of mutual interest or settle conflicts between regional parties. The main obstacle in the way of creating a security system in Northeast Asia is the little trust between the parties. Trust cannot appear without a dialogue on the specific issues of common interest.

In this respect, President Moon’s proposal to establish a multilateral organization that would include North Korea is worthy of note, as it is clearly an attempt to engage with North Korea in international affairs.

As part of its “New Northern Policy”, South Korea could complement President Moon’s current initiative by becoming an intermediary for other Northeast Asian states in assisting in their long-term projects in regional security, energy security, safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy, transportation security and cybersecurity. Setting up legally binding partnerships in the region in these areas, as well as fine-tuning their procedural mechanisms, would allow the parties to build mutual trust to move on to discussions of a broader range of regional issues concerning peace, development and security.

Bringing South Korea’s “New Northern Policy” in line with the existing programmes for international economic integration, which are already “tied-in” to each other (such as the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative), could bring about positive results. Openness, transparency and respect for each other’s interests could go a long way to establishing an effective framework for dialogue as well as a Eurasian Economic Partnership that would include both Koreas. However, how feasible is such an aligning of South Korea’s policies with more global initiatives given the country’s current alliance with the United States?

President Moon Jae-in proposed his initiative against the background of major malfunctions in international communication. The coronavirus pandemic has uprooted everyday life throughout the world. The entire system of international organizations turned out to be totally ineffective, if not completely paralyzed. At the same time, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has struck quite a heavy blow to the entire system of international relations. And it is not so much the U.S. defeat that matters here. Rather, it is the circumstances under which this defeat took place. In leaving Afghanistan, the Americans effectively presented their Afghan clients and their NATO allies, who had been fighting alongside them for 20 years, with a fait accompli.

The Afghan debacle will certainly have repercussions for the situation on the Korean peninsula. Currently, Washington seems to be incapable of proposing new initiatives on the nuclear issue, especially as it faces a number of far more urgent challenges across a broad geographic perimeter, stretching from China to Afghanistan. Still, no matter how interested Russia or China might be in the Korean sanctions being eased or lifted, this cannot be resolved without the United States.

However, the ancients used to say that a crisis can be both a disaster and an opportunity. Like any global crisis, not only do the pandemic and the U.S. fiasco in Afghanistan generate additional risks and challenges for the international community, but they also come with fresh opportunities, opening up new prospects. This applies to the current initiatives proposed by President Moon Jae-in just as well.

From our partner RIAC

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The United States and Japan in Multilateral Asia: Forging Relations and Binding Ties

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Bilateral relations between the world’s sole superpower, the United States of America (US, USA), and the world’s third-largest economic power, the East Asian powerhouse of Japan, are premised on forging healthy relations and binding with the rest of Asia impeccably. This would involve deepening existing ties and forging new ones with the many notable actors professing to vital stakes and vested interests across the length and breadth of the world’s largest continent, as also the Indo-Pacific region (IPR). As on date, owing to evident differings and conflictual circumstances between countries such as Japan and South Korea, Washington D. C. is compelled to calculate its forays in Asia while aspiring for long-term amicability between belligerent countries. However, this factor has not stopped Washington from establishing, entertaining, and evolving its mini/multi-lateral relationships in Asia, especially in the eastern geography of the continent. The United States has implemented a ‘Hub-and-Spokes’ alliance system in the security environs of the Asia-Pacific, with Japan a critical, if not the most critical, ‘spoke’ in this system (see Figure 1 below).

Fig. 1  The US ‘Hub-and-Spokes’ Arrangement in Asia. Source:  The ASEAN Post

America and Japan are not just involved bilaterally, but have enforced an effective multilateral impression leading to having exercised their geopolitical influence across Asia. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, better known as the QUAD) is an initiative of four democracies, which was the brainchild of Japan in the mid-2000s, with pressing commonalities and engaging objectives in the Indo-Pacific in particular. Its four member democracies are the US, Japan, Australia, and India. It was heralded in 2007 courtesy promptings from Japan about the state of maritime security and apprehensions about the upsetting rise of a determined emerging superpower in the Peoples’ Republic of China, despite having initially focussed on disaster relief in the high seas (The Indian Ocean tsunami, December 2004). Of late, the QUAD has been given a much-needed impetus with the as-yet unstructured grouping having adopted a sole security motive to offset the rise of an increasingly influential, overbearing, and overpowering China. A first-ever in-person meeting was organised between its members in Washington D. C., with the capital of the United States signifying just how far the QUAD has come in terms of sustained minilateral activism. This in-person meeting has followed meetings between senior-level officials such as the respective foreign ministers of the four partner countries.

The US and Japan have also extensively associated with Southeast Asia as far as the political, geopolitical, economic, geoeconomic, security, and geostrategic situations of the region are concerned. The US remains on exceedingly and improvingly good terms with South China Sea countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore – which are the four major countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or the ASEAN. These relationships are centred upon the military, and especially maritime-military, domain given that Southeast Asia largely involves routine and menacing Chinese infringements in the form of the brazen excursions of its many maritime entities such as the Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). An interest in Southeast Asia for Tokyo and Washington caters to a diverse array of initiations and involvement ranging from economic and trade relations to investments and financial outlays for very specific purposes. Timely and responsive military assistance in the form of equipment donations and technology transfers have also become a staple of the US and Japan’s association with Southeast Asian countries. A wary approach is pursued in the perplexing domain of the South and East China Seas with freedom of navigation considered to be an imperative of the vast maritime-naval forces deployed by Washington and Tokyo.

The United States was one of the first Dialogue Partners of the ASEAN (since 1977), and this is also when Japan formalised its till-then-informal dialogue partnership with ASEAN. The US has been involved in several ASEAN-driven maritime-allied formal platforms such as the East Asia Summit (2005), the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (since 2012), and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (which is held with all of the ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners and first took place in Vietnam in 2010). Japan is involved integrally in all of the above forums and the ASEAN+3, an exclusive between ASEAN and China, the Republic of Korea, plus Japan itself. In the broader respect, American involvement has helped forge a unity among the participants of such pioneering political, economic, and security mechanisms amongst, primarily, Southeast and east Asian nations, ably assisted by Japan wherever feasible. America’s (in)famous 2011 ‘pivot to Asia’, officially named a ‘Rebalance’, was meant to re-tune and re-focus its attention to the world’s largest and most important continent as far as the twenty-first century is concerned. This was due to the twin reasons of dealing with the emerging security imperatives related to erasing the extra-sovereign Chinese strategic footprint and devising new paradigms of mutually-beneficial economic cooperation with like-minded Asian countries. Southeast Asia was deemed to be the geographical launchpad of this strategy which has since evolved under succeeding administrations.

Other multilateral involvements which help address issues bearing a commonality and a convergence of maritime interests include the US-Australia-Japan Trilateral Security Dialogue (TSD). Australia is a country which is increasingly being viewed as an actor with the required level of capacities and capabilities befitting a broader and deeper Indo-Pacific institution of itself, and the recent announcement of an Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) arrangement has just critically elevated its nuclear threshold. Within the ambit of the Indo-Pacific region in which all three profess to geopolitical stakes, both the US and Japan are highly committed friends of Australia. The TSD was founded in the late 2000s and was focussed on elevating cooperation between the three major Indo-Pacific players in the broader domain of security, which also includes the diplomatic, economic, social, and political arenas. A concerted and concentrated focus on China was also one of the themes of the security domain of the TSD. The last meeting of this trilateral took place in August 2019, a few months prior to the onset of the novel Coronavirus pandemic in Japan. A joint ministerial statement issued by the three parties was ASEAN-centric and endorsed the ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’. This last meeting had actually co-incided with the circulation of the ‘Outlook’ document by the ASEAN community.

It is certain that the US and Japan have, since time immemorial, indicated a tendency to align key and emerging players in regions of critical geopolitical importance, such as Southeast Asia, and this has considerably vitalised multilateralism. This optimism has been consistently backed by strategies entailing day-to-day participation and the US has emerged as an oddly Asian country in itself through a multitude of ever-growing endeavours. It has expended considerable bandwidth to Asia since the end of the warring years and there is much to both gain and learn from such a grand venture by a foreign superpower. The US remains immensely close to the ASEAN, as does Japan. The extent to which Washington and Tokyo have aided, abetted, assisted, and assured their friends and allies either jointly or individually is worth commendation and furthers a welcome duopoly in the Indo-Pacific region. Most of Southeast Asia remains in an emerging form, with a few prosperous exceptions such as the city-state of Singapore which are responsible for the rise of ASEAN as a worthy participant in the Indo-Pacific’s ‘Great Game’.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not reflect those of his employers in the National Maritime Foundation or Modern Diplomacy.

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