Abe’s Visit to Southeast Asia and Japan’s Five New Diplomatic Principles


From January 16 to 18, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō visited Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia; this visit to Southeast Asia was his first international trip since taking office on December 26.

On the first day of his trip, Abe flew to Vietnam, where he met with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi. The two leaders agreed to promote bilateral cooperation through trade and investment in areas including plans for construction of nuclear power plants, improvement of infrastructure, including the expressway network, and development of rare earths. In addition, mindful of the increasing pressure from China with respect to Japan’s Senkaku Islands and the territorial issues in the South China Sea, Abe and Nguyen declared their agreement that the disputes and problems in every region must be resolved through peaceful negotiations under international law, and they expressed their opposition to attempts to change the status quo in the South China Sea by force. They also affirmed their intention to cooperate in the political and security spheres. In addition, Prime Minister Abe noted, “The Japan-China relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships for Japan. We will continue to manage this relationship firmly, responding calmly and maintaining and strengthening communication with China.”

The following day, Abe met with Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok. At the joint press conference following their meeting, Prime Minister Yingluck noted that Prime Minister Abe had expressed interest in participation by Japanese enterprises in infrastructure projects, such as Thailand’s flood-prevention and high-speed railway construction projects and the development of the Dawei special economic zone in neighboring Myanmar. She affirmed that Thailand and Myanmar welcomed Japanese partnership in the Dawei development project, declaring that Japan, Thailand, and Myanmar should soon schedule high-level trilateral dialogue on this undertaking.

On the final day of his trip, Abe met in Jakarta with Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. At the joint press conference after this meeting, the prime minister affirmed that relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations form “a supremely vital linchpin” for Japan’s diplomatic strategy, and he spoke about five new principles for Japanese diplomacy. Since these principles are of extremely great importance for the diplomatic relations between Japan and ASEAN and for Japan’s East Asia diplomacy, here I would like to quote at some length from the speech that Prime Minister Abe was scheduled to deliver in Jakarta. (Abe did not actually deliver his speech, because he had to cut his schedule short and return to Japan to deal with the Algerian hostage crisis, but the full text was subsequently posted on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office, as linked below.)

Five New Principles for Japanese Diplomacy

Below are excerpts from Prime Minister Abe’s planned January 18 speech in Jakarta, titled “The Bounty of the Open Seas: Five New Principles for Japanese Diplomacy”:

The first [principle] is protecting freedom of thought, expression, and speech in this region where [the Pacific and Indian Oceans] meet. These are universal values that humanity has gained and they must be allowed to flower to the fullest.The second is ensuring that the seas, which are the most vital commons to us all, are governed by laws and rules, not by might.In connection with these two goals, I wholeheartedly welcome the American rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region.The third principle is pursuing free, open, interconnected economies as part of Japan’s diplomacy. We must secure the power of networking by bringing our national economies closer together through flows of trade and investment, people, and goods.The efforts and contributions Japan has made to enhance connectivity in Asia, such as through construction of the Southern Economic Corridor in the Mekong region, are now beginning to bear real fruit for the region. . . .The fourth principle . . . is bringing about ever more fruitful intercultural ties among the peoples of Japan and this region, something that I will continue to work for.The fifth and final principle is promoting exchange among the younger generations who will carry our nations into the future. . . .Thirty-six years ago, Takeo Fukuda, then prime minister of Japan, made three promises to the members of ASEAN. Japan would never become a military power. Japan would forge ties with ASEAN based on “heart to heart” understanding. And Japan would be an equal partner of ASEAN and its member countries.Ladies and gentlemen, you know better than anyone how faithfully Japan has adhered to this Fukuda Doctrine right up to the present day.Now ASEAN and Japan stand indeed as equal partners. The time has come for us to go side by side out into the world, working together to achieve positive outcomes.Both Japan and ASEAN are connected with the rest of the world by the broad oceans. I believe we must work together side by side to make our world one of freedom and openness, ruled not by might but by law.

Focusing on Relations with ASEAN and Australia

I should also note for the record that prior to Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Southeast Asia, Deputy Prime Minister Asō Tarō visited Myanmar on January 3 and met with President Thein Sein. Asō reaffirmed the Japanese government’s intention to forgive a portion of Myanmar’s ¥500 billion debt to Japan and to support development of Myanmar’s Tirawa special economic zone.

Next, on January 10–14, Minister for Foreign Affairs Kishida Fumio visited the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, and Australia. In an article he contributed to the January 10 issue of a local newspaper in the Philippines, Kishida noted that Japan attaches importance to enhancing relations with ASEAN, and he also stressed the significance of strengthening Japan’s partnership with the Philippines, declaring Japan’s readiness to provide assistance and cooperation in the field of maritime security. In Brunei, he spoke of Japan’s desire to support that country in successfully fulfilling its responsibilities as the ASEAN chair for 2013. On January 13, Kishida met with Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr; the two ministers confirmed the deepening of bilateral cooperation in security and other areas, and they agreed to work toward the early conclusion of an economic partnership agreement between their two countries.

To sum up, in the space of less than a month following Abe’s assumption of office, the prime minister, deputy prime minister, and foreign minister paid visits to 7 of the 10 ASEAN members and to Australia, showing with their actions that Japan stresses the value of its partnerships with these nations. In addition, Abe articulated the principles underlying Japan’s foreign policy. This is an important set of developments and a welcome change from the diplomatic drift of the recent past, particularly the three years when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.

Not Trying to “Contain” China

Some foreign media organs, notably South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo and the People’s Daily of China, have suggested that Prime Minister Abe’s visit to South East Asia was a maneuver aimed at containing China and tightening the net around it. But it is totally misguided to interpret twenty-first-century international relations in East Asia and Japan’s Asian foreign policy through the distorted lens of power politics. China has become deeply integrated into the global economy, and it is a key trading partner for many of the countries of East Asia and the entire Asia-Pacific region. “Containing” it is not possible, nor would doing so be to anybody’s advantage. Such an attempt is not on the regional agenda.

The economic growth of emerging countries like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey is now rapidly changing the distribution of wealth and power in East Asia, the Asia-Pacific, and the world as a whole. China’s rise is especially remarkable. What is on the agenda now, both globally and regionally, is the issue of what sort of political and economic order to build, how to build it, and what principles to base it on.

Does China’s rise mean that it is now the leader of East Asia? When other countries in the region have a change of government, are they supposed to send delegations to Beijing seeking China’s blessing? Surely that is not a scenario that the countries of the region desire. Nor is it acceptable for China to lay down the rules for the region unilaterally and expect other countries to acquiesce, or for it to impose its will on other countries by force with respect to territorial issues and other disputes.

It is only natural for all the countries concerned to participate in the process of drawing up the rules governing regional relations, which must be grounded in legal principles and consistent with international law, and for them to abide by the rules once they have been formulated. And it is also only natural to aspire for the establishment of a regime of laws and rules for the seas, which are an international public good, and for the development of the countries of Southeast Asia not as part of some other country’s sphere of influence but in a manner that is open to the world.

Japan, while maintaining the Japan-US alliance as the cornerstone of its foreign policy, will also place importance on ASEAN as the hub for regional cooperation, support the association’s unity, and work together with its member countries and with Australia in building a twenty-first-century order for East Asia and the Asia-Pacific. And our country will engage with China to encourage it to fulfill its international responsibilities. This is the diplomatic orientation revealed by Prime Minister Abe through his visit to Southeast Asia.

(Originally written in Japanese on January 21, 2013.)

diplomacy Shiraishi Takashi security China Australia politics Abe Shinzō nuclear power Myanmar Thein Sein ASEAN Japan-US Alliance South China Sea Philippines Senkaku Islands Thailand Vietnam Yingluck Shinawatra Mekong Aso Taro Singapore Brunei Kishida Fumio and Indonesia Nguyen Tan Dung Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono territorial issue Fukuda Takeo