The appearance on September 9 of an unmanned airplane near the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims under the name Diaoyu, was just one of many incidents reported by the media over the last few weeks. However, it attracted the attention of observers who wondered whether this was a harbinger of things to come. On the one hand, it was just a matter of time until this kind of weapon would be deployed by the various powers in the Asia-Pacific region, where rumors about its presence already abounded.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s latest trip abroad has taken him to Djibouti, the strategically located small country in the Horn of Africa, home to Japan’s only overseas military base. Abe visited the military facilities and met President Ismail Omar Guelleh. The Japanese prime minister confirmed plans to provide patrol boats to Djibouti to help build its coast guards’ capacity. The visit thus fits with the Japanese policy of cooperating, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in the fight against piracy.
Following his party’s victory in the House of Councillors election, Shinzo Abe embarked on a trip to Southeast Asia. After Malaysia, the prime minister traveled to Singapore and the Philippines.
The run up to the House of Councillors election in Japan, when opinion polls were already pointing to a victory by the ruling party, saw widespread speculation over a more robust foreign and defense policy by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This included the possibility of amending Article 9 of the Constitution. News of the election results only served to prompt renewed speculation. However, Abe’s first overseas trip after the polls — to Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines — seemed to confirm that Tokyo would proceed with a gradual and pragmatic “normalization,” rather than embark on radical change.
Tokyo’s defense policy continues to shift and pushes the boundaries of what was acceptable in the past. Self-Defense Forces capabilities are expanding, and this is an essential component of the growing coordination between the region’s maritime democracies.
The debate on the meaning of Article 9 of the Constitution is once again making headlines. Beyond the proposals for reinterpretation, and even formal amendment, we can observe yet again practical policy moves crossing its boundaries. In part, these moves reflect the always difficult distinction between defense and offense. Another line which may be shifting is that between self-defense and collective defense.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s late May to Myanmar (Burma) has highlighted the scale of Japan’s interests in the country. These not only include trade, investment, and economic cooperation, but also comprise national security themes. Myanmar is home to key natural resources, offers cheap labor and untapped markets, and is located at a strategic crossroads.
At a meeting held on May 22 in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Filipino counterpart Albert del Rosario confirmed that Tokyo would be providing ten vessels to the Philippine coast guard “with an eye on China,” according to the Asahi Shinbun. The Philippines have long been considered among the weakest military powers in Southeast Asia, while Japan chose in the 1960s not to export weapons, as part of its postwar focus on economic reconstruction.
The return of Shinzo Abe to the Japanese premiership was expected to lead to renewed efforts to build ties with fellow democracies, albeit within a pragmatic framework designed not to give the appearance of an explicit containment policy vis-à-vis China. The early foreign trips by some key members of the administration, including Abe himself, to Southeast Asia, made it clear that this would indeed be on the agenda.
In the midst of Japan’s energy woes, prompted by the Fukushima disaster and reinforced by the uncertainty arising from the tensions in East Asia, the arrival for the first time of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tanker through the Arctic Ocean and into the Pacific Ocean offers hope and the chance to diversify away from the sea lanes Tokyo currently relies upon for the bulk of its energy imports. This is possible thanks to the gradual melting of Arctic Ocean ice, technological developments, and Russia’s policy of energy export diversification.