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.
“Even though we are involved in the dialogue and policymaking process, we are rather excluded when it comes to implementation.” This was an observation made to the SNA by an NGO insider when speaking of the recent Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) held in Yokohama from June 1 to June 3.
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.
Last year the Defense Ministry began floating a plan to the media suggesting that they wanted to build a GSDF radar base on the remote island of Yonaguni, a stone’s throw from Taiwan, as a measure to keep an eye on Chinese naval activities in the seas around Okinawa Prefecture. The plan is to base one hundred or more GSDF officers permanently on this tiny island, which is less than 30 square kilometers in size and has a total population of around 1,700 people.
Since we are based in Tokyo and not in Washington DC, we may not be the best source available for understanding US government policy, even its policy toward Japan and Asia. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to notice that the Obama administration is taking an unexpectedly cool posture toward Shinzo Abe and his band, and that this is having a major political effect here as well. It is also obvious that the Obama policy toward Japan is radically different than what US policy was a decade ago under George W. Bush.