Prime Minister Abe Works Asian Security: Laying a Foundation for Navigating the Future


2017-01-15 By Robbin Laird

Notably, Prime Minister Abe visited Donald Trump shortly after his electoral victory.

After a meeting at Trump Tower in mid-November 2016, Abe had this to say:

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described Donald Trump as a “trustworthy leader” after meeting the U.S. president-elect on Thursday to get clarity on statements Trump had made while campaigning that had caused concern about the alliance.

Abe, speaking after the hastily arranged 90-minute meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, reporters: “The talks made me feel sure that we can build a relationship of trust.”

Then in a landmark visit, he joined President Barak Obama at Pearl Harbor to remember the past in order to shape the future.

Prime Minister Abe thanked the United States for helping to rebuild Japan after the attacks.

“Under the leadership of the United States, Japan, as a member of the free world, was able to enjoy peace and prosperity,” Mr. Abe said.

“The good will and assistance you extended to us Japanese, the enemy you had fought so fiercely, together with the tremendous spirit of tolerance, were etched deeply into the hearts and minds of our grandfathers and mothers.”

U.S. President Barack Obama listens as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks on Kilo Pier overlooking the USS Arizona Memorial, part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, adjacent to Honolulu, Hawaii, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, as part of a ceremony to honor those killed in the Japanese attack on the naval harbor. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (The Associated Press)

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Japanese Prime Minister obviously was highlighting the importance of the farsighted role the United States played after the war, it would be good to see again at this period of significant change.

It is difficult not to believe that we face a year of upheaval.

Contemporary history is learned on the fly; it is not about inherited skills; it is about shaping skills appropriate to one’s age and with an old one ending a new one opening we shall see if we are up to the challenge.

Abe’s current trip in the region is about reinforcing frameworks and shaping practical ways ahead to deal with regional challenges.

This month Prime Minister Abe has gone on the road to meet with the leaders of the Philippines, and Australia to lay the ground work for moving a strengthened security relationship forward prior to the emergence of any Trump Administration policies for the region.

He is also visiting Vietnam and Indonesia as well.

The visit to the Philippines from January 12-13 2017 followed an earlier visit by President Duterte last October.

In both visits, Abe made it clear that he was concerned about Chinese influence in the Philippines and offered aid and other support for the Philippines to shape a strengthened Japanese-Filipino relationship.

In an interview with the Manila Bulletin, Prime Minister Abe highlighted that he would support the Philippines in a number of key ways.

Japanese Prime Minister (PM) Shinzo Abe promised to be the Philippines’ strategic partner in nation-building through the expansion of trade and investment links between the two countries and by providing sustainable development efforts in infrastructure, public safety and counter-terrorism, and anti-illegal drugs measure…..

Prime Minister Abe also wants to take on an active role in ensuring adherence to the rule of law and to maintain “peaceful, stable, free, and open seas” particularly in disputed areas in the South China Sea, by closely working with regional country leaders, including President Rodrigo Duterte who is chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year.

“The Philippines and Japan are both island countries and maritime nations. Thus, our countries’ safety and prosperity depend exactly on ‘peaceful, stable, free, and open seas’,” he emphasized.

“It is for this reason that Japan has consistently been advocating for respecting the rule of law at sea,” Abe stressed.

According to the Japanese leader, the conflict over the sovereignty of a large portion of the South China Sea has become a common concern to members of the international community, including Japan; as such matters are directly linked to regional peace and stability.

“The South China Sea holds sea lanes that are crucial not only to the regions around it, but also to the growth of global economy,” Abe pointed out…..

 The two leaders also emphasized the need to ensure maritime safety and security which are vital elements for the peace, stability and continued prosperity of both countries in the region.

Maintaining open and stable seas is essential in the region. The two leaders shared the view that the South China Sea holds sea lanes vital for global economic activity and viability. In this regard, the two leaders stressed the importance of freedom of navigation and over flight, as well as anti-piracy efforts and cooperation.

Prime Minister Abe then visited Australia and met with his counterpart from January 13-15 2017.

A key development was the deepening of the defense agreement signed with previous governments.

Significantly, the agreement deepened the kind logistical and support arrangements for the joint forces which can expand their capabilities to work together, notably as new systems are added to the forces. 

The importance of the Japanese and Australian relationship in the defense and security of the Pacific region is growing in it significance.

And this dyadic relationship may well turn out to be even more important as the Trump Administration is working through its way ahead in dealing with the defense and security challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

As Secretary Wynne noted with regard to the intersection of the evolving Aussie-Japanese relationship and the coming Trump Administration:

“The US should welcome the camaraderie and potential leadership of both Japan and Australia in addressing Freedom of the Seas.  

They can bring stability and strength integrating their region around the core principle of free and open transit for commerce between the rest of the world and in the region.

Coupled with a common front line F-35 aircraft and mutually supportive Naval fleets, the two countries capabilities and leadership will allow for great negotiation strength.

This is a trait that the incoming U.S. administration values world class partners.”

According to a piece published in the Japan Times published on January 14, 2017, the upgraded agrrement was highlighted.

Under the revised Japan-Australia acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA), the Self-Defense Forces will now be able to supply ammunition to the Australian military.

At a news conference, Abe and Turnbull underscored the importance of their cooperation, as well as trilateral cooperation with the United States, and its significance for the Asia-Pacific region.

Turnbull said the agreement “improves the capacity of our defense forces to provide each other with logistical support during exercises, operations and other activities.”

Abe also said the two nations are “working to sign an agreement by the end of this year” to allow better cooperation on training and joint operation between the SDF and Australia’s military forces.

The move is also in line with Abe’s drive for “proactive pacifism,” characterized by new security legislation expanding the role of the SDF in various areas.

The legislation, which has prompted public criticism that Abe seeks to erode the pacifist Constitution, allows Japan to supply ammunition to foreign defense forces responding to situations deemed to have an “important influence on Japan’s peace and security.”

The provision of weapons and ammunition was excluded from the past version of the ACSA, which came into force in January 2013. The pact enabled the SDF and Australian military to share food, fuel and other supplies during U.N. peacekeeping operations, international relief operations and joint exercises.

Both leaders confirmed their intention to work together with the incoming Trump administration. In a statement, they affirmed that their respective alliances with the United States “remain as relevant and important today as they have been for over six decades.”

“We will work closely with the coming administration, as we have been, to advance the region’s interests and our shared goals,” Turnbull said at a joint news conference after the summit.

Abe said he and Turnbull had “confirmed our intention to solidly coordinate with the incoming Trump administration….

 “It is more necessary than ever before for Japan and Australia, as special strategic partners, to play a leading role for regional peace and prosperity, as we both share common values such as freedom, rule of law and democracy,” Abe said.

“We’ve confirmed our commitment to the rule of law, free trade, open markets in our region — the foundation upon which our prosperity, and that of billions of other people in our region, depends,” Turnbull added.

Abe next visited Indonesia.

The trip to Indonesia also underscored the importance of the Japanese-Indonesian working relationship to support the rule of law in the maritime domain.

As an article published by The Japan Times which focused on the meeting between Prime Minister Abe and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo highlighted:

The two countries will also strengthen maritime cooperation with regard to the Indonesian Navy’s patrolling of areas in the vicinity of the Natuna Islands.

“Maritime cooperations is the top priority” for Tokyo, Abe told reporters.

The Indonesian Navy has been alert in monitoring and patrolling near the Natuna Islands. It has also been cracking down on Chinese fishing boats operating illegally in its exclusive economic zone.

Abe also announced that Tokyo will provide Indonesia with yen loans worth ¥73.9 billion for irrigation and coastal protection construction projects.

In response, Jokowi said the two leaders had agreed to hold a “two plus two” meeting of their defense and foreign ministers in Jakarta by the end of the year.

China recognizes Indonesian sovereignty over the Natuna Islands but at the same time argues that the two countries have overlapping claims on maritime rights and interests in the area that need to be resolved — an assertion Indonesia rejects.

Indonesia has also proposed cooperating with Japan on oil and gas exploration in the isles’ vicinity.

On other matters, Jokowi and Abe both agreed to closely communicate with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. They also reportedly agreed on the importance of the “rule of law” and peacefully solving disputes — an apparent allusion to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Finally, on January 16, 2017, Prime Minister visited Vietnam and met with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc..

This completed his regional tour and laid out a clear way ahead with regard to maritime security and enforcing a rules based international regime.

According to The Japan Times, Abe pledged new security related aid to Vietnam during his visit.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that Japan will provide six patrol vessels to Vietnam as a part of a fresh yen loan offer totaling ¥120 billion to the Southeast Asian country to help its maritime safety efforts amid China’s expanding activities at sea.

The patrol vessels are aimed at enhancing bilateral cooperation, Abe said at a news conference following talks with his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, in Hanoi, held at a time when uncertainty is looming over incoming U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to the stability of the Asia-Pacific region.

Vietnam is embroiled in a territorial row with China in the contested South China Sea, along with four other governments.

Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. Abe is on a two-day official visit to Vietnam. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)

Although Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, it remains concerned about China’s growing military presence in the busy shipping lane and is keen to maintain a rules-based order at sea.

Tokyo meanwhile is involved in a dispute with Beijing over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China…..

 On the South China Sea, Abe stressed that Japan places a high level of importance on upholding the law and solving disputes peacefully.

“The issue of the South China Sea has drawn the attention of the international community and directly affects the peace in the region,” Abe said.

Maritime security cooperation is of the utmost importance for fellow maritime nations Japan and Indonesia, he added.

“Japan will actively encourage cooperation in maritime security and the development of the remote islands in Indonesia,” he said.

In short, Abe is not sitting on his hands waiting for the Trump Administration.

He is actively working to strengthen relationships in the region in and of themselves  but also to strengthen his hand with Washington and to prepare the ground for evolving relationships with China as well.