Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono recently indicated that Japan would propose a top-level dialogue with the US, India and Australia, with topics ranging from free trade to defense cooperation. One wonders why Tokyo is once again insisting on raising these issues. Is it yet another lame attempt to contain China?
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) election victory on October 22 will allow the LDP, and its coalition partner the Komeito Party, to retain their two-thirds majority in the lower house. The win means Abe’s administration will remain in office for years to come and Abe’s ruling philosophy will no doubt continue.
Abe’s cabinet, which was reshuffled in August, is expected to retain its current members. However, before Abe formally forms his cabinet, each potential member will have to act cautiously and stay in tune with Abe. That said, the idea of a four-nation dialogue, though proposed by Kono, must have come from Abe.
The four-nation dialogue is not Abe’s first attempt to stir trouble in the Asia-Pacific region. During his first tenure as prime minister in 2006, Abe raised the idea of a strategic cooperation pact with the US, Australia and India. At first the idea seemed to gain some traction. The four countries held an inaugural strategic dialogue in Manila, in May 2007. They also conducted joint military exercises in the Bay of Bengal in September of that year. Then, after Abe was re-elected prime minister in 2012, he called for the formation of a “democratic security diamond” to counterbalance the rise of China. Despite repeated appeals, his vision has proven very hard to realize.
Firstly, Japan, the US, Australia and India have difficulty reaching consensus on many issues. The fundamental reason is their unequal economic development, which makes it difficult for them to unite on matters such as trade protectionism or opening of their markets.
Moreover, once power rotation of political parties occurs, nations sometimes can’t maintain a consistent foreign policy strategy. For instance, after US President Donald Trump assumed office, the US has made a U-turn in its position regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Meanwhile, in terms of counterbalancing China, the US and Australia, which are further away from China than Japan and India, hold different strategic ideas. This is a major reason why Abe’s 2006 proposal of the collaboration among the four didn’t work out. Jointly containing China will, after all, inevitably jeopardize their economic and trade ties with Beijing. It is a consequence no country is willing to bear.
Therefore, after Tokyo proposed the idea in 2006, the US cautiously participated, while Australia and India took a wait-and-see approach. Granted, Sino-India ties worsened this year due to their border standoff, but Washington, Canberra and New Delhi seem far from determined to break with China.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and China and next year is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. Against this backdrop, Japan, while proactively proposing the four-nation dialogue, is also sending friendly signal to Beijing, seeking to improve bilateral relations.
More importantly, China is no longer what it was in 2007. Even by 2010, China had surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, and it has achieved even greater advances since then. According to the Constitution of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which was amended during the just concluded 19th CPC National Congress, building China into a great modern socialist country is its future goal. Will the four countries be willing to pay the price for attempting to contain an increasingly vibrant, vital and vigilant China?
The author is an associate research fellow at the School of History and Culture, Sichuan Universit
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