Japan focusing attention on Indian Ocean rim countries for mutual benefit

7th March 2019 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Japanese international strategy is today focusing on the rim of the Indian Ocean, highlighted Keio University Faculty of Law Professor Yuichi Hosoya in an address to the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg on Thursday. 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 Strategy" (FOIP). 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. That the three major East Asian countries are focusing on these regions is 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 is their ageing populations. China is 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 will cause them problems. China was trying to learn from Japan how to establish an effective social welfare system.

Japan's FOIP 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).

With regard to capacity building, he stressed that Japan had successfully done this already, 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 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 is concerned that that country is 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 form 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, less respectful of human rights and freedoms. This was because it had become a powerful state again.

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. Hosoya 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."