Japanese international strategy was today focusing on the rim of the Indian Ocean, highlighted the Keio University Faculty of Law’s Professor Yuichi Hosoya in a recent address to the South African Institute of International Affairs at its headquarters on the University of the Witwatersrand campus, in Johannesburg. This region, he noted, “is becoming the next centre of economic growth after the Asia-Pacific region”.
“Japan’s foreign policy is aiming at integrating the Indian Ocean rim region to the Asia-Pacific region,” he reported. To this end, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy. Within this, the two main (but not exclusive) areas of interest are South Asia and East Africa.
China and South Korea are also focusing on these areas. The three major East Asian countries are focusing on these regions because they all have problems at home and South Asia and East Africa are now the more rapidly growing areas.
A particular problem for all three East Asian countries was their ageing populations. China was facing the worst problem in this regard, affirmed Hosoya, because of the effects of its one-child policy. Also, neither China nor South Korea had a proper pension system, which would cause them problems. China was trying to learn from Japan how to establish an effective social welfare system.
Japan’s FOIP strategy has three pillars. They are freedom of navigation and the rule of law; connectivity (including physical connectivity); and, capacity building (including technology transfer and scientific and technological cooperation).
Concerning connectivity, he quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who, in a speech in the US in 2017, said: “Japan also intends to pursue economic prosperity through the reinforcement of connectivity by improving infrastructures, such as sea ports and railways and roads.” With regard to capacity building, Hosoya stressed that Japan had already successfully done this, in China and Korea. The result had been to increase the international competitiveness of Chinese and Korean companies.
“China is Japan’s biggest trading partner,” he pointed out. “Japan is the biggest provider of foreign direct investment in China. For us, a richer China is better than a poorer China.”
Likewise, Japan could help make Indian Ocean rim countries more prosperous. This could include investment, technology transfer and increasing the connectivity between Indian Ocean rim and Asia-Pacific economies.
Japan’s strategic initiatives were taking place against a background of concern in Tokyo regarding both Chinese and US international policies. Regarding the US, the Japanese believe that the current administration of President Donald Trump is not interested in defending the Liberal International Order, undermining the rules-based international system. Regarding China, Tokyo was concerned that that country was seeking to restore a Chinese Empire and establish a zone of hegemony. China, Hosoya cited, had been a great empire for most of its history.
“The Chinese conception of maritime order is quite different from the Japanese conception,” he stated, in a reference to Chinese disregard of international maritime law in especially the South China Sea. He added that the Japanese had believed that China would become more tolerant of human rights, freedom and democracy as it grew richer, but, in fact, in recent years, it had again grown more authoritarian and less respectful of human rights and freedoms. This was because it had become a powerful State again.
China was, in fact, using modern technologies to increase the monitoring and control of its population. Hosoya, who has visited China, reported: “More and more, China is like [British author and essayist] George Orwell’s [dystopian novel] 1984.”
The speed of Chinese economic growth and development under an authoritarian regime had attracted interest from leaders around the world who were not interested in democracy. He affirmed that Japan had to remind people around the world that liberal democracy was the better system. Prior to 1945, Japan had been ruled by an authoritarian system. “Japan became richer under a liberal democratic regime than under an authoritarian regime. Before 1945, we were much poorer.”