After winning the (lower) House election in recent days, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is championing the idea of building an “encirclement network” between Japan, the United States, Australia and India around China. Reuters reported that Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told Japan’s Economic News on Wednesday that US President Trump will visit Japan on the 6th of next month. At the US-Japan Summit talks,, Abe will propose that leaders of USA, Japan, Australia and India hold a strategic dialogue to deal with China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” initiative to Trump.
Abe had this idea 11 years ago
Kono said the Japanese proposal is aimed at promoting free trade and defense cooperation between the four countries on land and at sea, and will extend such cooperation to Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia, and beyond to the Middle East and Africa. Kawano said that in order to keep the oceans free and open, economic and security issues will certainly be on the negotiating table. He also stressed that promoting Asian investment in high-quality infrastructure in Africa is also one of the purposes of the dialogue.
This is not the first time that the Japanese side has proposed a Japan-US-Australia-India strategic dialogue. As early as 2006, when Abe became Prime Minister for the first time, he had put forward this idea. He had planned to hold a strategic dialogue with the United States, Australia and India in December of that year in talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, Chinese perception of “encirclement” and, at the same time, absence of a clear statement by the United States and cautious attitude of India also, resulted in shelving of the Four Power strategic dialogue idea.
Promotion of an alliance in the name of dialogue?
What kind of considerations have prompted Abe to resurrect hhis old proposal ? Throughout his ruling career, from his election as Prime Minister in 2006 when he first proposed the strategic security concept of a US-Japan-India “values alliance” and “arc of freedom and prosperity”, to the “democratic diamond concept” (covering Japan, USA, Australia and India) second time in 2012, and last year’s “White Paper on Defense” written to strengthen Japan-US-Australia India multilateral cooperation, Abe has never given up on the idea of building alliances for Japan, Holding a strategic dialogue of the four Heads of State is an important prelude to the realization of this alliance. Analysts point out that Abe’s strategic designs implied “encirclement” of China to curb its rise.
Wang Shaopu, Director of the Shanghai Jiaotong University Japan Research Center, believes that Abe’s “democratic security diamond” concept of 2012 is related to the evolution of the East Asian situation: China’s GDP surpassed Japan as the world’s No.2; the Obama administration push for the “Asia-Pacific rebalancing” strategy; China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative covering Europe and Asia; its gradually expanding its influence in the Indian Ocean region; China’s taking action to defend the sovereignty in the South China Sea territory; Japanese anxiety; Sino-Indian geopolitical friction; India accelerating its ties with the United States; Japan’s desire to win over India and integrate the four countries to encash opportunities.”In the new situation, Abe has not changed his strategic intentions, that is, to posit China as a hypothetical enemy, strengthen the alliance with the ocean-faring States and build a secure diamond-shaped encirclement around China, so as to prevent, isolate and even go against China.” Wang Shaopu said.
Liu Ming, a researcher at the Institute of International Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and senior researcher at the Chinese Chahar Institute, pointed out that Abe reiterated that the intention of the four countries’ strategic dialogue being against China was not in doubt. The United States was no longer active in the Asia-Pacific region. In Abe’s view, compared with former President Barack Obama, Trump’s attention to the Asia-Pacific region diminshed significantly. For Trump, the Asia-Pacific region is nothing more than the DPRK nuclear issue and trade with China, and the East China Sea, South China Sea issues have receded far away from his line of sight. To this end, Japan hopes to step up the strategic relationship between the four countries, with a view to prompting the United States to strengthen its strategic investment in Asia and the Pacific, thus exerting strategic pressure on China.
Pulling against the trend
So far, Abe’s efforts to promote the four-nation alliance have been limited: the four countries have held only a long-term dialogue, and joint maritime training. No Summit-level strategic dialogue has been started as yet. Is the time ripe now? Analysts believe that this will not be decided by Japan’s wishful thinking, but also depends on the attitude of the other three countries.
Liu Ming pointed out that the US is divided in its attitude . The traditional political elites of US diplomatic and military circles are interested in the Four-Power strategic dialogue because they want to resume (at least in part) Obama’s “rebalancing” strategy and consolidate traditional strategic allies. Therefore, they want to put pressure on Trump from inside and outside (pressure of the traditional political elite from within, and of Abe proposal from outside) to force Trump to accept Abe’s proposal. However, Trump himself may not be interested in a strategic dialogue between the four countries, as his attention is mainly on domestic problems. The most obvious manifestation of this is that in his first tour of Asia, Trump does not intend to participate in the East Asian Summit, returning to his main agenda at home, while Obama became the first US president to attend the East Asian Summit almost every year since 2011, except for 2013 when the US was sort of “shut down” because of the typhoon. Therefore Trump’s attitude will be critical for the Four Power strategic dialogue seeing the light of day,
As for India and Australia, in Liu Ming’s view, India might perhaps change from its previous attitude of cautious refusal to one of no objection or, even more, to positive (support for the proposal). Australia may not be negative. “So long as it is a pragmatic dialogue, aimed at ensuring a free and open order in the Asia Pacific region, and is not overtly targeted at containing China”, Australia would have no reason to refuse.
Zhao Gancheng, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, believes that India’s attitude is hard to judge. In the past, India has been cautious about its strategic opposition to China but India has shown growing resistance to China in recent years, and this year there has been a confrontation. However, India will also (have to) give full consideration to the consequences of (institution of) a strategic dialogue between the four countries, as well as to watching the attitude of the US and Australia.
In the wake of the globalization process, countries are committed to cooperation and mutual win, relying on the establishment of political security alliances and global contention, and the international order, for fair and reasonable (outcomes). The consequences of going contrary to that trend can well be imagined.” Wang Shaopu said.
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