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Japan is Back on the World Stage

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The National Interest, Nottingham_iAPS, 4 February, 2018

Just over a month after the foreign and defence ministers of Britain and Japan stood side-by-side in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in December 2017, Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kano, and defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, were standing with their French counterparts in Tokyo. As with the UK-Japan 2+2, the meeting focused on maritime security, with their joint statement calling for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and reiterating their “common interest” in the rules-based order. The two meetings are in themselves striking by the number of nodes that match: the United States and Japan are strong allies; the United Kingdom and France have strong defence links; France, the United States and the United Kingdom are strong NATO member states; and the United Kingdom and the United States are in the Five Eyes with Australia, a country that now has defence bilateral links with Japan, the United Kingdom and France.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the much-vaunted diminishment of the liberal rules-based order—much of it at the hands of Beijing and Moscow—has become a defining feature of the age. Just a few years ago, pundits sought to frame international relations with the more prosaic-sounding “rise of the rest” and there were suitable and necessary debates on how the rules-based order should evolve to match the new power realities. Those debates were right and proper, and even morally necessary for the system to maintain coherence and legitimacy. After 2014, much of what should have been about rules-based evolution became power-based revolution. In February 2014, Russia “annexed” Crimea, and their “Little Green Men” marched into eastern Ukraine, breaking the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. In early September 2014, Chinese vessels began “reclamation” work on Johnson South Reef, a part of a busy shipping route to which they had no legal right.

While statements have been made to condemn these events, the fact is that the West is dismayed and confused in how to react. The election of a nonconformist president on trade and Brexit have not helped. Nonetheless, it is clear from the France-Japan 2+2 and the UK-Japan 2+2 that liberal democracies are beginning to band together. Not, as some would have it, to “contain” China, but rather to attempt to deter further adventurism and to buttress the rules-based aspect of the order. One can also see this in the scope and content of the U.S.-Japan-Australia trilateral and the U.S.-Japan-Australia-India quadrilateral.

What has perhaps been most remarkable about these groupings is the pivotal role played by Japan in them. After all, as recently as 1991, Japan had no close security partners besides the United States, and remained entrenched and immobilized by the pacifist Constitution and foreign policy that it had inherited from the postwar settlement. China and the Koreas notwithstanding, the revival of Japanese hard power and diplomacy has been welcomed and encouraged by the United States, Australia, and India as a return to normalcy—an unsurprising reintroduction of Japan to the family of nations. This has also characterized the views of many of those Japanese leaders inside the LDP, Japan’s ruling party, including Junichiro Koizumi, Taro Aso and Shinzo Abe. While Koizumi is the first post-Yoshida Prime Minister of Japan, Abe has been in many ways, the most revolutionary and dynamic in terms of Japan’s security policy regionally but also in Europe.

Under Abe’s watch, Japan has not only passed significant legislation developing a national security apparatus, he has also passed legislation allowing for collective security with regional partners and introduced intelligence reforms that inhibit espionage inside the country. It is said that Japan is on the cusp of far-ranging intelligence reforms as well, particularly centred around the creation of a civilian-led intelligence agency, overseen by some sort of parliamentary process. Much of this has been done in consultation with those countries that Japan considers partners if not allies, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and of course, the United States.

Japan’s push into Europe is now said to be beginning in earnest and one can see this in a number of ways. First of all, Japan and the EU are going to sign a free trade agreement—it is said, by the summer. This will immediately push Japan past China, South Korea, and even the United States, in the EU’s estimation as an economic partner of significance. China is currently the second largest partner, while the United States is the first largest partner, with Japan coming in at a modest seventh place. Layered atop this new economic importance to Europe, Japan’s ties with France and United Kingdom are proceeding steadily.

The France-Japan 2+2 began in 2014, the same year that China and Russia began to use military force to challenge the rules based order. The following year, the UK-Japan 2+2 began meeting. Both bilaterals bear more than a striking resemblance to the Japan-Australia bilateral in that they remain noncommittal, but nevertheless seek to institutionalize cooperation in the types of sectors traditionally reserved for close allies. Thus, both London and Paris have agreed to Arms Transfer Agreements with Tokyo, allowing for greater defence collaboration at the defence industrial level. With France, the Japanese are exploring a possible undersea mine-clearing UAV, while with the United Kingdom, the Japanese have looked into putting Mitsubishi Electric sensors into the British Meteor missile. Since both are top-tier partners on the American F-35 programme, they are now carrying out a study to see if the resulting missile will be interoperable with the fighter.

There have also been a number of other small steps. The United Kingdom, for example, signed a logistics agreement in 2015 known as an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). The ACSA enables British forces and their Japanese counterparts to exchange food, fuel, ammunition and carry out other logistical practices together. The defining purpose is interoperability. While France and Japan have not yet signed an ACSA, their joint statement implied that progress was being made on the logistical agreement.

So what are the drivers for Japan in all this? Well, as has been mentioned, insecurity has played the primary role. Tokyo sees these security partnerships and defence industrial collaboration as a way of developing quasi-alliance ties with a number of Western states as a means of balancing against what may become a threatening Chinese rise. But not all is grand strategy. Japan faces—like other advanced economies—defence inflation, that’s to say the growing research and development costs of defence industrial capacity. One need only look at the computing power of the most recent advanced fighters, compared to their ancestors sixty years ago. In moving towards mid-sized defence industrial powers, like France and the United Kingdom, Japan is clearly looking to pick up tips on how to make a leaner R&D process, how to create open tenders and how to structure the acquisition process internally. The question will be of course, whether these security partnerships morph into full-blown alliances. At their present state, it is not clear that they are sufficient to buttress the much-needed rules-based order.

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UK-Japan Cooperation in Preserving the Liberal Order

Asia Pacific Bulletin, 11 January, 2018

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While much has been written on the apparent diminishment of the liberal global order, and on the rise of Chinese and Russian revisionism in Ukraine and the South China Sea, comparatively little has been written about how liberal democracies around the world have responded to these mini-attacks on the international system. One of the most prominent and interesting trends has been in the security realm, where new “virtual” and “quasi-alliances”, trilaterals, and quadrilaterals have sprung up between states with previously-weak security ties. While few of these relationship can be defined as actual alliances – they lack mutual defense commitments after all – they have many “alliance-like” features, including cooperation in sensitive intelligence and defense sectors. Australian scholar, William Tow, calls them a “unique theoretical challenge” for international relations theorists since they do not accord with our traditional understanding of what constitutes an alliance.

The foreign and defense ministerial (2+2) meeting between Japan and the United Kingdom is one such grouping, and shares a number of common features with its counterparts in the Indo-Pacific region. The first of these is the evolving nature of security cooperation, with London and Tokyo developing ever-closer levels of strategic dialogue and interoperability. A second feature is that both countries are in formal alliances with the United States, and theses dyads lead to trilateralism with Washington across a range of sectors. However, one key difference between the UK-Japan, UK-Japan-US, US-Japan-Australia trilateral, and US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral, are that the latter two are both centered in and around the Indo-Pacific region. It is therefore, worth examining the strategic rationales for the UK-Japan bilateral as well as the UK-Japan-US trilateral, while also discussing challenges to future cooperation.

So, what exactly are the strategic rationales and challenges for closer UK-Japan and UK-Japan-US security cooperation? As has already been mentioned, the driver for much of this is the insecurity created by Russian and Chinese challenges to the traditional rules-based order. Beijing’s military takeover of the South China Sea – a major global trade route connecting Europe and Asia accounting for 12% of total British trade and 19% of total Japanese trade – has promoted strategic discussions between Britain and Japan. The Joint Statement of the 3rd UK-Japan 2+2 explicitly raises concerns over the South China Sea as well as a commitment to a “rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes through diplomatic and legal means.” Such messaging is an important component of showing the resolve of states, and could potentially check or at least slow future Chinese expansion.

Another strategic rationale for both nations is to relieve some of the pressure on their defense industries. Given defense budgets must deal with ever-increasing defense inflation and rising research and development costs, cooperative ventures are touted as cost-saving. They can also exploit pooled technologies. A UK-Japan study on a new Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) Phase 2, promises to put a Japanese engine in British Meteor missiles, creating what some experts predict will be the best missile in allied inventories. There is also ongoing research in chemical and biological protection technology, and there could also be further cooperation in amphibious capability, giving UK forces – slated for cuts – an urgently needed lifeline. Then there is cyber security cooperation that becomes more urgent as each year passes, as advances in technologies like artificial intelligence create new emerging threats to national infrastructure and national economies.

Finally, there is the ability for closer UK-Japanese cooperation to pave the way to trilateralism with the US, creating a healthy synergy between three liberal democracies vested in the current global order. There is a sort of geostrategic logic to this, with all three sharing intelligence about their respective hemispheres. There are also other drivers. The United States and the UK are part of the Five Eyes intelligence group, and can help shape Japan’s ongoing quest to develop a strong intelligence community institutionalizing cooperation and socializing Japan’s intelligence agencies in Five Eye’s standards of intelligence-sharing, operations, and classification. The three also rely on the maritime global commons for trade. The signing of a trilateral naval agreement in November 2016 indicates increasing attempts to control such spaces, and a willingness for the three to resist such efforts.

Despite the apparent strength of these various drivers toward cooperation, sceptics of the budding UK-Japan bilateral point to the disparate set of security goals and the geographical challenges. London and Tokyo differ, for example, in how they regard Russia and China. Post-Brexit Britain, for example, still views China as an important trade partner, and Russia as its most pressing security issue. Tokyo, in nearly perfect contrast, views Russia as a diplomatic opportunity, and China as its most pressing security challenge. Other naysayers point to the scarcity of resources that each can commit to the other’s region. The visit of four British Eurofighters to take part in the Guardian North 16 exercise in Japan seemed underwhelming, while Japan – for its part – has tended to view the relationship as a means of bring Britain to Asia rather than helping to contribute more to Britain’s own regional security. For those policymakers at the forefront of such debates, justifying the time and resource expenditure seems to push bureaucracies toward short-term, “low-hanging fruit” objectives, but states must start somewhere, and these relationships allow for incremental evolution.

Perhaps the largest challenge to future UK-Japan-US trilateralism is a lack of sustained interest in Washington. Part of this is geostrategic – American policymakers are yet to grasp the benefits of such a partnership  – and part of it is bureaucratic. It may sound simplistic, but the co-location of regional desks in the Pentagon and State Department made Indo-Pacific trilaterals (under PACOM leadership) much less troublesome than a trilateral that stretches across two different regions and unified combatant commands. The original trilateral – the US-ROK-Japan variant – was relatively easy to do since DOD desk officers who worked on Japan and Korea shared an office. Similarly, Washington think tanks tend to frame research by sector or geographic region. So few of the influential think tanks that currently research trilateralism (like CSIS, Brookings, and AEI) have researchers with a background in both UK and Japanese security policy. It is a larger leap than Japan–India security policy.

Despite these challenges, it is clear that US-Japan-UK and UK-Japan security cooperation will continue to be a growth business. This is primarily because the international system is going through a deeply unstable period, and insecure states naturally seek out allies and partners to help alleviate their insecurity. As long as Russia and China continue to use salami-slicing tactics and the threat of military force to break down the liberal rules-based order, democratic allies of the United States like Britain and Japan will continue to develop these loose security ties. The real question is whether such relationships are sufficient. Will they actually deter would-be aggressors when all is said and done? It is a truism of modern history that alliances caused the First World War. In actual fact, we know that Great Britain remained uncommitted to its Triple Entente partners, France and Russia, in 1914 and to France, again, in 1939. In both cases, London was compelled to go to war despite its wishes. It all depends on the level of commitment and the level of messaging that status quo powers are willing to commit. The more committed the UK and Japan are, the stronger the message.


Looking to create a ‘Global Britain’? Japan and the Royal Navy might hold the answer

The Telegraph, 15 December, 2017

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The image of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson shaking hands with their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera in the National Maritime Museum yesterday was heavy in symbolism.

Taking place in Greenwich, resplendent in all its naval glory, pointed not only the two countries’ shared naval history, but to a common naval future. The fact that global geopolitics is increasingly maritime in nature means that a post-Brexit Britain, a “Global Britain”, may need to look increasingly to the sea.

According to Dr Alessio Patalano of King’s College London, it makes sense for Britain to work with Japan given “the nature of their export-oriented economics and reliance on the maritime commons for national wealth.”

Given Britain’s geography and growing naval capabilities, its security posture may be increasingly maritime in nature. To some, this may sound like harking back to Britain’s imperial past, but it is actually about securing Britain’s future.

Around 80 percent of global trade is seaborne at present and predicted to continue increasing.

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In an Era of Brexit and Chinese Power, is it time for a New UK–India ‘special relationship’?

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RUSI Newsbrief, with Jack Wright, 23 November, 2017

At the launch of the Access India Programme in late September, the assistant vice president of Invest India, Vivek Abraham, announced that India hopes to increase UK exports by ensuring that the ‘red carpet is rolled out’ to British small- and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to invest in India. Launched by the High Commission of India in London, together with the India Business Council, the initiative is a hopeful sign that New Delhi is willing to expand its current relations with the UK as the latter continues to negotiate Brexit and reformulate its place in the world.

While it is true that Brexit has seen the UK mired in deep uncertainty at the domestic level, leaving the EU offers a historically unique opportunity for Britain’s foreign policymakers to sit down and think of a new global role for the country at a time of great international flux – a role apart from the Europe-centred approach adopted since the end of the Second World War. It is also a timely opportunity for New Delhi – which has discovered that its traditional non-aligned policy has left it with few allies.

The main cause of the flux in the global order is, without a doubt, the rise of China, which has both the ambition and the means to re-order the liberal, rules-based international order to its liking. As an outward-reaching authoritarian power that is increasingly intolerant of liberal values, China’s ambitions do not bode well for the liberal part of the order. The fact that Beijing seems to view both domestic and international law as subject to Communist Party control does not bode well for the rules-based part of the global order. It has ignored or selectively interpreted aspects of international law – such as Beijing’s sovereignty-expanding interpretation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – or simply sought to change facts on the ground unilaterally, using salami-slicing tactics. Its island-building across a major global trade route is one example, its attempts to shift the Sino-Indian border using troops on the ground is another.

It will therefore increasingly fall to powers such as the US, Japan, India, the UK and the EU to attempt to constrain – and re-direct – China’s efforts to construct an authoritarian global order. India – another rising power within the current liberal order – is an ideal partner in this endeavour. While India does not – strictly speaking – consider itself liberal, Indian society is informed by classical liberal principles and is relatively tolerant, with a secular constitution promising justice, equality and liberty to its nine major religious groups. India also has a strong democratic tradition, a nominally independent judiciary and a (albeit partial) free press, among the most liberal in South Asia. Given that two major economic and security partners of the UK – Japan and the US – are fostering closer ties with India, there is also the possibility of strategic complementarity between London, Washington, Tokyo and Delhi on Chinese efforts to control global trade routes.

Going ‘East of Aden’, a UK shorn of its EU identity will want to redefine itself in ways that complement its strengths. In addition to becoming a bulwark for the liberal, rules based order, the UK also has more pressing business with India in the form of cooperation on cyber and counter terrorism. However, there are many gaps in the relationship that will require work before such lofty strategic dialogues can have meaning. Delhi has not always been open to cultivating such a close relationship with London. During the Cold War, India followed Nehru’s non-alignment posture and also formed a burgeoning security partnership with Moscow, aided by the strong residue of post-imperial resentment. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, India began its own economic reforms of the ‘Licence Raj’ – the excessive regulations on setting up and running businesses – in a bid to escape the economic chaos that had characterised the 1980s; but Delhi remained uncertain of what type of foreign policy it should pursue. The result was non-alignment by default, causing a regrettable absence of a major Asian power in regional politics.

While the past two decades have been dominated by the rise of China, the rise of India as an active global power might be no less important: of the original four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), only India and China have realised the growth predicted by economist Jim O’Neill – who coined the term ‘BRIC’ – in the early 2000s. As a consequence of its ongoing rise, India has gradually recognised the need to play a regional and diplomatic role on the international stage. Delhi has either strengthened or built strong relationships with a number of middling powers across Asia, including Vietnam, South Korea and Japan, as part of its ‘Look East’ policy. The visit to India in early September by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was hailed by many Indian broadsheets as the start of a potential alliance with the world’s third largest economy. It came almost exactly three years after the two states agreed to double by 2019 both the amount of Japanese direct investment in India and the number of companies working there. When it comes to China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected in May 2014, has sought a nuanced approach, balancing a firm line on India’s northern borders with an openness to Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI); Chinese FDI increased in 2014 and 2015, with the May 2015 signing of cooperation deals worth £14 billion the most obvious success.

By comparison, London has failed to capitalise on India’s rise from middle to regional power: although former Prime Minister David Cameron secured rising levels of investment before his resignation in June 2016, the UK remains only India’s 12th biggest trading partner — and there are signs that this ranking may drop even further. The inability by Theresa May to secure a comprehensive economic bilateral agreement during her visit to India in November 2016 was regarded by many British commentators as a relative failure, caused mostly by an inability to exchange continued visas for Indians to the UK for UK access to India’s growing services sector. Now many young Indians are choosing to turn towards Germany, Australia and the US – rather than the UK – for educational and employment opportunities.

Despite this, there is much to gain in attempting to foster closer ties. A Commonwealth report entitled ‘Brexit: Opportunities for India’ asserted that a free trade agreement between the UK and India could see the value of British exports to India increase from £4.2 billion (in 2015) to £6.3 billion, an increase of 33%. Much of this bump would simply come off existing trade, since a UK–India free trade agreement could dispose of the high tariffs that currently exist (British exports into India average around 14.8%, while Indian exports into the UK average 8.4%). The UK has significant human resources that might help to develop this new relationship with India. There are approximately 1.5 million Britons of Indian origin, and so the UK has a strong diaspora that can act as human bridges in a policy environment where trust is pivotal. Key policy leaders – including Alok Sharma and (despite her recent fall from grace) Priti Patel – reveal the depth of this growing network, which could prove instrumental in efforts to mutually enrich the ties between India and the UK.

Moreover, according to a British Council report, young Indians continue to identify with British culture, ranking the UK as the second-most attractive global economy after the US. With an immediate application rate of 4,000 in 2014 alone for the Generation UK–India programme for shortterm study and work placements, it is clear that the UK should tap into the diaspora to strengthen its longstanding historical connections with India in the era of ‘Global Britain’.

In a recent report on global capabilities, James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society, created a power index using seven key indices, including economic clout, diplomatic leverage and military strength. With its strong assets, unique geographical advantages, far-flung network of bases and strong defence-industrial complex, he argued that British hard power could be formidable. The UK has clearly looked to bolster its ‘strategic ambition’ in the Asia-Pacific through its naval capacity: in an address at the Defence Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair in September 2017, First Sea Lord Sir Philip Jones insisted that the implementation of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (published by the Ministry of Defence) would be a vital precursor to any substantial future regional presence. Although the UK currently has established defensive relationships (Five Eyes, ANZUS, FPDA) with a string of US allies (including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei), India should be considered as a future security partner of the first order.

The global landscape is reconfiguring itself as a number of states gain increasing power and as the US, Japan and Europe decline in relative terms. One outcome of this shift has been the cross-fertilisation of US partnerships and alliances across the Asia-Pacific region in what was once a traditionally bilateral system. Japan– India defence ties have been growing on the back of close US support and engagement; the relationship between the two states is now a quasi-alliance in the fields of defence industry and defence cooperation. While China and Russia have viewed such alliance networking with suspicion, their actions in the South China Sea and Ukraine have to some extent fostered these new relationships. Concerned with what they see as piecemeal attacks on the current rules-based order, Washington, Tokyo, Canberra, and New Delhi have begun to engage in closer strategic cooperation, not to contain Beijing or Moscow, but to deter them. Indeed, the four met on the sidelines of a recent APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in a rebirth of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. This reshaping of the strategic landscape is something that the UK might lend itself to as it disengages from the strategic passivity of the European project.

At the 2017 DSEI in London, Sir Philip stated, ‘Having invested so much practical and political capital in [the development of British carrier strike capacity], our American friends will be watching closely to see if the UK is serious about remaining their partner of choice’. As the Trump administration looks to firm up US comprehensive national power through tax reforms and new economic bilaterals, there is a sort of logical symmetry in London joining other nations engaged in this high-level security cooperation. Indeed, London already has historically deep ties with Washington, has fairly strong ties with Tokyo – including a 2+2 strategic dialogue – and has similar concerns about the future of the global order. A strategic bilateral with New Delhi would foster both this strategic socialisation and an overall deterrence strategy, as well as build on areas of cooperation already in existence, such as cyber security and international counter terrorism. Debates on the rights and wrongs of Brexit are beside the point now. Now is the time for London’s foreign policy community to be debating about the future of Britain’s global posture at a time of great flux. Of course, there will be many short-term challenges, particularly regarding London and Brussels; however, there will also be many more long-term opportunities.

The flux in the global order, China’s attempts to shape that order, India’s rise as a new power in that order and the relative decline of liberal democracies mean that there is a desperate need for a new British strategy on how London will confront these major events. Confronting the collective rise of Asia, it would be foolish for the UK to view its ejection from the European project as a net loss. It is now able – if indeed it chooses – to become a truly global power with relationships and partnerships across the world. Since the UK is better poised to enhance relations with powers that share common values than with aggressive competitors, it would be odd if India – with all its potential as a democratic power – were not at the top of the list of future partners in the Asia-Pacific.

In April 2018, the UK has a unique opportunity to begin strengthening its relationship with India in the form of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which will take place in London and Windsor. Not only should Modi be invited, but he should be welcomed with the ‘reddest carpet’ possible. While there is scepticism in India on the UK’s attempt to re-engage using the Commonwealth, Delhi is also confronting its own challenges – not least from Islamist terrorism and an increasingly assertive China – and should not neglect an opportunity to reshape its own international isolation. As China’s economic diplomacy slowly brings states around India into Beijing’s orbit, Delhi could do with shaking off its nostalgia for a nonalignment that never really existed and adjust to the fact that the global order is changing. Now is the time for a ‘Golden Era’ of bilateral relations; now is the time for London and Delhi to develop a new ‘special relationship’.


Diplomatic initiative revived to counter China’s growing influence

The Financial Times, Kiran Stacy, Jamie Smyth, 14 November, 2017

“John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think-tank, says: ‘We must ask ourselves: by avoiding collective security arrangements in 2008, did we persuade China to behave as a model citizen in the region?'”

To read the full article, please click here.


A Reborn Quadrilateral to Deter China

The Interpreter, 9 November, 2017

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Recent news that Australia’s Foreign Minister has indicated interest in taking part in a resurrected US-Australia-Japan-India quadrilateral dialogue on the sidelines of the upcoming ASEAN Summit is to be welcomed. It is an indication how much the strategic situation in the Asia Pacific has shifted. Positive as this latest development might be, it should nonetheless be regarded with caution.

The ‘Quadrilateral’ was never an alliance. It was a loose geostrategic alignment of states concerned with China’s potential challenge to their interests, but simultaneously, unwilling to provoke China by assuming the obligatory mechanisms of an alliance. Even then it buckled under pressure. Accused of being a NATO-in-the-making, it was far too full of self-doubt to be effective.

Chinese diplomatic opposition to the forum was keenly felt in June 2007 after Beijing issued demarches to all four countries, but Canberra’s asymmetric economic dependence meant that Australia felt it more than most. Within months of winning the election in 2007, Kevin Rudd’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith unilaterally withdrew Australia from the quadrilateral during a February 2008 meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. While Australia was not the only country suffering internal divisions about the issue – there were doubters among the senior-most levels of the US Department of State and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs – it was the first to break ranks.

At the root of Australia’s indecision has been something common to all the great and middle powers in the region: how to apportion China a regional leadership role while attempting to shape its choices away from illiberal or hegemonic designs.

Sadly, in the years since, China has shown ever-increasing signs of assertiveness in its approach to the region. It has used military coercion and an unprecedented militarisation of maritime sea lanes in the South China Sea; its strategy is both at odds with regional practice and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Despite regional attempts to resolve disputed maritime claims peacefully, Beijing has cynically played for time over the establishment of a Code of Conduct while using economic leverage to prevent ASEAN unanimity.

China’s geostrategic ambitions have become global with the massive, multi-billion dollar, decades-long Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It promises a new age of Chinese leverage over the Asian heartland, as well as a real attempt at internationalising the RMB without giving over political control.

No doubt, this dialogue on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit will feel the full weight of China’s diplomatic pressure. Even in announcing its openness to a meeting, Bishop’s language was ambiguous: ‘…it’s natural that we should continue to have such discussions, but there is nothing formal. There is no decision on that.’ Chinese diplomats are likely to issue demarches and make phone calls to all four capitals.

While no one wishes to have a China backed into a corner, fearful of a NATO in Asia, is that really what is taking place? From one perspective, a rising power with quasi-hegemonic designs is trying to prevent a loose coalition of states from organising themselves in a constraining and deterring bloc. And while it is absolutely in China’s interests to do that, is it in ours to acquiesce?

If the quadrilateral format is embraced, the four may find that despite initial protests, Beijing will ultimately accept that each have their own interests and the power to define those interests. This week we have seen Beijing accept – after a year of diplomatic pressure – Seoul’s decision to deploy THAAD missile-defence systems on its soil. South Korea stuck to its ground while simultaneously seeking to ameliorate China’s concerns, eventually winning China over.

The quadrilateral members should adopt that lesson as their own. We must ask ourselves: by avoiding collective security arrangements in 2008, did we persuade China to behave as a model citizen in the region? We must choose actions that meet our own strategic concerns and not China’s. For this reason, the quadrilateral makes sense.


The next election shock could be Japan – a nation in despair whose rebels offer hope

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The Telegraph, 29 September, 2017

The Prime Minister has called a sudden snap election. The timing is deliberately chosen to catch his opponents off-guard. His plans to take advantage of his high approval ratings, telling voters he can protect their country and face down foreign powers on their behalf. And his opposition are in shambles, save for a kooky outfit promising hope and change What could possibly go wrong?

To Britons this all sounds eerily familiar, but it is not the story of Theresa May. It is the story of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, who is hoping to cash in the good will he has earned confronting North Korea after a summer of personal scandals.

Abe has dominated Japanese politics for five years and the traditional opposition parties are falling apart. But he now faces a new challenge from a new party calling themselves the Party of Hope. So could he suffer the same fate as May, defeated by an upstart opponent exploiting a mood of popular disenchantment? It’s very possible – for just as moderates across Europe are being punished for their failure to respond to the challenges of the age, and deserted by electorates in favour of the far Right and Left, Japan is a country in trouble whose politicians have so far failed to get it out.

To understand Japanese politics, you need to know that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is the oldest, most dominant party in Japanese post-war history. It has governed continuously since 1955, with only brief spells in the cold in 1993-4 and 2009-12. It has therefore naturally struggled against a headwind of resentment, not least from the various opposition parties which have failed to supplant it. Right now those parties are in crisis, with the largest, the Democratic Party, in a state of utter disintegration.

But this week, the mayor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, announced she was forming a new political party called Kibo no To, the party of hope. At a packed news conference, she vowed to “reset Japan and realize politics not beholden to any special interests.”  Japan is no stranger to pop-up parties; quite a few have proliferated recently, with names like Your Party, Unity Party, Japan Innovation Party, and Japan Restoration Party. What’s different here is the space opened up by the rest of the opposition’s meltdown.

Kibo no To has already announced it will let Democratic members run under its banner – an unprecedented move which could create a new major bloc overnight. The Democratic Party responded by effectively dissolving itself and encouraging all its candidates to run for Kibo no To. “Those who have a weak electoral base want to try anything that could help,” said Professor Michito Tsuruoka of Keio University. “Joining Koike represents just that.”

That Democrats are willing to consider this also reveals the sense of desperation that permeates Japanese politics at the moment. Despite Abe’s own attempts at economic and social reform – his once-lauded Three Arrows of Abenomics – some say that Japan has become like an old cruise liner, unable to turn sharply from its path. Nearly twenty years of stagnation have followed the implosion of the property bubble in the late 80s. Japan has never really recovered, despite the efforts of many – including Abe’s own predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi who ran a campaign of “ceaseless reform” between 2001 and 2005.

 Japan’s economy, while not in decline, still lags at around 1.2 per cent in a region where growth rates usually average 5.5 per cent. Indeed, the IMF asserts that it will slow down to 0.6 per cent as the boost from an expansionary fiscal policy and the postponement of a consumption tax wear off. An IMF report on Japan, released in July, hedged its findings on Abenomics, stating that the policy bundle had “improved economic conditions and engendered structural reform, but key policy targets remain out of reach under current policies.”

In addition to uncertain results of Abe’s economic stimulus packages, Japan is suffering a number of social issues that may lay just out of reach of policymakers. The first issue is that of demography, and relates to Japan’s rapidly aging and shrinking population. The second relates to women in the labour force, and is possibly an offshoot of the first issue. Not only is Japan gaining more old people but it’s not having babies. Fewer and fewer young people are getting married and having a family, with the result that there were a million fewer births between 2016 and 2017. A recent survey of Japanese people aged 18 to 34 found that a majority of unmarried people were also not in a relationship (70 per cent for men, 60 per cent for women).

Despite this demographic challenge, Japan – like Korea and China – has never adopted the Western policy of taking in immigrants to balance low birth rates. For the moment, all three countries make it extremely difficult for immigrate. They do take foreign workers to supplement labour shortages, but unlike Turkish workers in Germany, these foreign workers are sent home, and few become citizens or long-term residents of Japan, Korea, or China.

The result for young people is a pervasive mood of listlessness and despair, and this is the perfect soil for Koike’s message. “Hope is a powerful theme for a country as worried about the future as is Japan,” says Professor Jennifer Lind, professor of Government at Dartmouth College and a Research Fellow at SOAS. “The country’s low birth rate makes for bleak demographic prospects. The former economic powerhouse has languished in terms of growth; China has dislodged Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. With China’s growing territorial assertiveness, and with North Korea improving its nuclear program, Japan’s security situation is only growing worse.”

Regardless of her dynamism, it is unclear as of yet whether Koike can address these issues. For one thing, Japan remains a mono-cultural, mono-racial nation, with a strong sense of ethno-national identity. It’s not clear that the electorate would accept the cultural exchange implicit in immigration policies. For the moment, her first policy statement is about ending Japan’s dependency on nuclear power, a platform sure to be popular with Japanese voters who distrust nuclear power. On the other hand, it remains unclear how her foreign and security policy will differ from that of Shinzo Abe’s.

After all, she was once in the LDP herself and was not too dissimilar to Abe in her stance. Strongly supportive of the alliance with the United States, hawkish on North Korea, bullish about Japan’s defence forces and an attendee of the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, she will have a difficult time accommodating all the progressive-Left voices from her new Democratic allies. It is notable that one of the most conservative Democratic legislators, Akihisa Nagashima, was seen by her side at the party launch. She has also committed to constitutional reform, and while this last seems to be following in Abe’s footsteps, her involvement in the issue at least promises to create a national debate on the issue.

Whatever the outcome of the national election, Yuriko Koike’s boldness is shaking the usually-stolid Japanese landscape. As Professor Lind points out: “What do the Japanese people always have? Hope. They’re a resilient people and lots going for them as a country – and Koike is reminding them of this. That’s a message that a lot of people will like.” How much they like it we will find out on October 22.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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