The third consecutive Japanese prime minister has embraced the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and this time it is probably for real—at least as far as entering the negotiation process goes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his much-awaited visit with US President Barack Obama to crow a little bit about how he was “restoring” the US-Japan Alliance after the three dark years of the Democratic Party of Japan.
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.
After about a year of hanging about in the background, the issue of Japan’s participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations was suddenly thrust back into the front rank of political debate. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been in favor of Japan’s participation in TPP negotiations all along, as was his predecessor Naoto Kan. However, it appears that Noda decided to soft-pedal the matter late last year as he faced the daunting challenge of raising the national consumption tax, a divisive issue within the ruling party that he saw as the bigger priority.
The long string of incidents off the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands this summer and the wider maritime territorial disputes in East and Southeast Asia have been overshadowing a major development with great potential implications for Japan: The northern sea route, linking East Asia with Europe through waters traditionally closed by ice to commercial navigation, are increasingly accessible during the Arctic summer thanks to the global warming.