Japan woos Southeast Asia as alliesPrime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, plagued by political strife with China that has barred a bilateral summit since he took office, is overseeing an unprecedented expansion of ties with Southeast Asia as a counterbalance.
Abe, who heads to Indonesia next week for a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders, has already visited Southeast Asia three times since taking office in December.
His administration is building on Japan’s economic links with the region to develop security relationships, offering coast guard vessels to the Philippines, conducting counter-terrorism exercises with Indonesia and considering the provision of ships for Vietnam.
The broadening relationships come two generations after Abe’s grandfather, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, reopened ties with the region after World War II and its millions of deaths caused by Japan’s forces across the continent. The initiative may be giving China an incentive to dial back its aggression in pressing maritime-jurisdiction claims in the region.
“Japan’s power is being eclipsed by China’s and it needs friends and allies beyond just the United States,” said Michael Green, who served on the National Security Council and is senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The new element with Abe is that he is now prepared to help them on the defense side” in Southeast Asia, rather than focus just on economic ties.
Abe’s efforts to broaden the interpretation of Japan’s constitution - which bans an official military and has until now been regarded as barring defense of an ally - raise the possibility of further security links with Southeast Asia. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is discussing the adoption of so-called collective defense, though no deadline has been set for a decision.