Japan engages and hoping for a proactive ASEAN

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EVEN while the Philippines is trying to put together a foreign policy that takes into consideration the realities on the ground, and a national security strategy that hopefully redefines the country as more maritime than archipelagic, the need for countervailing forces in the light of China’s aggression is a step towards maintaining the tenuous balance in the region. These countervailing forces are Japan, ASEAN and possibly South Korea as well as India. These countries are in the continent, the region and can offer fast and immediate response under a worst case scenario.

Japan is crucial and hedging while ASEAN is recalibrating due to the integration of the member-states to be known as the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by December 2020.

And so it came to pass that Japan is also moving and angling itself in the light of flash points in the region. In 2013, Japan completed its National Security Strategy, the first comprehensive and strategic policy documentation to be compiled, laying down Japan’s intentions and approach it will take, as a “major and responsible player, to contribute more proactively to the peace, stability and prosperity of the international community, while firmly maintaining its fundamental peaceful orientation.” It would be interesting to know what is BSA3’s national security strategy in the light of the reclamations being made by China. Until now, we have not heard of any redefinition.

Interestingly, Japan also has border disputes with Republic of Korea and China. With Republic of Korea, the dispute pertains to Takeshima. It is located in the Sea of Japan and is part of Okinoshima Town of Shimane Prefecture. It’s total land mass is 0.21km and it is primarily comprised of two islands, Higashijima Island and Nishijima island. They are rugged islands made of volcanic rock with little vegetation or drinking water. China and Taiwan on the other hand, began to claim sovereignty over the islands of Senkaku after the discovery of the potential oil reserves in the East China Sea. The Senkaku Islands are located approximately 170 km north of Ishigaki Island and 150 km north of Yonaguni Island, at the west edge of the Nansei Shoto Islands. It is also situated approximately 170 km from Taiwan and 330 km from mainland China.


Two important developments happened as Japan gets more involved in the region. These are the new guidelines for Japan-U.S Defense Cooperation and Japan’s legislation for peace and security. Un April 27, 2015, the Japan-U.S. Consultative Committee (so-called 2+2) was held in New York and the new guidelines were released after 18 years from the last revision in 1997. The guidelines provided a framework and policy direction for the roles and missions of the two countries, as well as ways of cooperation and coordination. Under the evolving security environment, Japan will continue its path as a peace-loving nation and in cooperation with the United States, continue to contribute even more proactively to securing peace, stability and prosperity of the international community, while ensuring Japan’s security as well as peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

The legislation for peace and security took root as early as July 2014 as a cabinet decision was made on the development of seamless security legislation to ensure Japan’s survival and protect its people. This went further to a discussion. In the government and the ruling coalition debate in the Diet (parliament of Japan) and the submission of the draft legislation to the Diet for its deliberation last May 2015. The legislation will enable 1) seamless response to any situations to “secure the lives and peaceful livelihood of the Japanese people; 2) Japan to contribute to the peace and stability of the international community.”

The legislation speaks of three new conditions to “use of force” as measures of self defense: “1) when an armed attack against Japan occurs or when an armed attack against a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs and as a result threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to fundamentally overturn people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness; 2) when there is no other appropriate means available to repel the attack and ensure Japan’s survival and protect its people and 3) use of force limited to the minimum extent necessary.”

ASEAN was born in 1967 with five founders: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. ASEAN has expanded from five to ten countries, to include Brunei in 1984, and the Mekong delta countries of Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia. ASEAN has moved by leaps and bounds in succeeding years since its establishment. “It agreed on the ASEAN Free Trade in 1992, and in 2003 announced the establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2020. AEC will consist of the ASEAN Political-Security Community, AEC, and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.”

ASEAN offers another venue in the balancing act with China. The ASEAN-centered frameworks for regional cooperation has been working from the ASEAN Regional Forum (26 nations and 1 organization, East Asia Summit (18 nations), ASEAN plus 3 and ASEAN. It would need a stable and mature hand for the Philippines to tap and work around such framework.

We need to reclaim the diplomatic skill shown by the late CPR and our neighbor’s respect in the international stage to forge a working agreement with China. We need to put legislation together to respond to the changing environment we find ourselves in. We need to be prepared. War is never an option and so as BSA3 talks peace via the BBL, the framework of peace and amity with China should also be hammered slowly but surely. Indeed, no country can secure its own peace only by itself.

When one mentions Hitler on the center stage, we should remember what Henry Kissinger once said, “diplomacy is the art of restraining power.” And as Lincoln Chafee emphasized, “in the world of diplomacy, some things are better left unsaid.”

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