Japan Rethinking Its Security Policy

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kihara Seiji Discusses Japan’s Upgraded “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” Vision


In the second part of our interview with Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kihara Seiji, talk focuses on the updated “New Plan” for Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy vision.

Kihara Seiji

Deputy chief cabinet secretary and five-term member of the House of Representatives. Born in 1970 in Tokyo. Graduated from the University of Tokyo and joined the Ministry of Finance in 1993. Elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in 2005. Has served as Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and held a number of key positions within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

(Continued from part 1.)

FOIP Aims for Inclusion, not Division

TAKENAKA HARUKATA  The National Security Strategy is very upfront in its discussion of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” vision. Does this mean that the FOIP diplomatic strategy has also become an integral part of Japan’s security strategy?

KIHARA SEIJI  Generally speaking, a security strategy consists of both diplomacy and defense. Therefore, the FOIP vision is clearly of great significance for Japan’s security. Nevertheless, it’s best to understand FOIP primarily as a diplomatic strategy. We are not using it as the basis for a security framework. For example, FOIP does not underpin Japan and India’s enhanced military or defense cooperation. Likewise, it does not frame Japan-ASEAN security cooperation and defense relations. Even the Quad, a framework for cooperation among Japan, the United States, Australia, and India, is not an explicitly security-focused framework.

TAKENAKA  Nevertheless, Japan is substantially deepening its defense cooperation with Australia and India in addition to the United States.

KIHARA  This is not being pursued from within the FOIP framework, however. If we framed the FOIP in this way, this would isolate ASEAN. For ASEAN countries, being included in an external security framework positioning them against China is the last thing they want. Ultimately, while it’s true that diplomacy and security are inseparable, the FOIP vision is primarily a diplomatic framework. Its main purpose, after all, is to create a desirable international environment with as many like-minded countries as possible through cooperative diplomacy.

That is why we recently upgraded the FOIP vision. This upgraded version emphasizes equal partnership among nations, avoids creating camps, and focuses on people. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s New Plan for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” is therefore not a “divisive” plan to gather our comrades around one big security core, but is, in fact, a vision to prevent further division in the currently unstable international community.

FOIP as a Foundation for International Cooperation

TAKENAKA  Prime Minister Kishida announced his intention to upgrade the FOIP vision at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June 2022. He announced his final version in a speech given during his visit to India in March this year. In it he set forth the “four pillars of cooperation for FOIP,” beginning with “principles for peace and rules for prosperity.” Supported by these four pillars, the New Plan lists fifty-one concrete examples, or “policy cases,” of cooperative efforts between Japan and other countries.

In the security domain, the agreement emphasizes cooperation among maritime security agencies, supporting maritime transport infrastructure development, the provision of defense equipment, and defense technology cooperation. Furthermore, almost all government agencies will be involved in addressing issues such as climate change and international challenges in the health sector. Assuming the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took the lead in creating the New Plan, it must have been very difficult to coordinate.

KIHARA  I don’t think there were any major difficulties for the Foreign Ministry. For example, when Prime Minister Kishida meets with leaders of FOIP partners like India, the Philippines, and Indonesia, cooperation projects in all areas are on the agenda. Some are defense cooperation projects; others are in the green sector. As the ministry manages these bilateral agendas daily, it isn’t so far removed from its normal activities.

Regarding the updated FOIP vision, the notion of the “Indo-Pacific” was originally outlined in 2007 by the first administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, and then formulated as a vision in 2016 during his second period in office. Since then, the vision has passed through the Abe, Suga, and Kishida administrations, and there have been numerous meetings between Indo-Pacific leaders. With European countries as well, there has been a lot of diplomacy focused on environmental policy issues and infrastructure connectivity. Numerous FOIP-related projects and policy agendas have continuously accumulated over time, and these fifty-one items are all highly relevant to Japan’s diplomatic agenda. The FOIP vision in many ways has come to underpin both Japan’s diplomacy and its security policy.

Furthermore, the FOIP has already become a foundation for international cooperation. ASEAN has issued its own Indo-Pacific “Outlook,” while South Korea and the United States have also used the Indo-Pacific idea to frame their strategic approaches to the region. Japan-led Indo-Pacific connectivity initiatives have also become a global reference point for cooperation.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kihara Seiji
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kihara Seiji

The FOIP Vision’s Four New Pillars

TAKENAKA  The Indo-Pacific concept has become the touchstone of discussion around Japan’s foreign policy strategy. What was the background behind the upgrade and polishing of the policy under Prime Minister Kishida?

KIHARA  The world is more divided than even when Prime Minister Abe formally launched the Indo-Pacific approach in 2016. Therefore, it was more important than ever to reiterate the cooperative orientation of the FOIP vision. In addition, the so-called Global South has become even more influential than it was when the concept was articulated, and we need to make sure that our vision respects the opinions and ambitions of these countries. That is why the focus this time is on inclusivity and equal partnership in pursuit of the vision, and to avoid creating “camps” or poles.

It also includes our traditional focus on inclusivity and diversity as the basis for rulemaking, enhancing the rule of law, and for creating peace frameworks. This emphasis is of even greater relevance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

TAKENAKA  Within the list of fifty-one policy cases, are there any that are particularly important or are somewhat new?

KIHARA  The first thing to note is that these items are grouped into four pillars. These are “Principles for Peace and Rules for Prosperity,” “Addressing Challenges in an Indo-Pacific Way,” “Multilayered Connectivity,” and “Extending Efforts for Security and Safe Use of the ‘Sea’ to the ‘Air.’” These are all new pillars for enhancing the vision.

Among the individual policy items, there are indeed many new ones. For example, we’ve identified the need to establish an industrial value chain that connects the Bay of Bengal to northeastern India. Following on from the announcement by the administration of US President Joe Biden of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity initiative, we’ve also added “strengthening cooperation among IPEF partners” as a policy objective. The item “promoting the safe use of the skies” is also new. We also included the “economic resilience” initiative to emphasize the shared importance of economic security and sustainability with other countries. Our “Asia Zero Emission Community” concept is also new, and has great potential as an initiative for simultaneously achieving decarbonization and economic growth.

ODA as a Tool

TAKENAKA  Alongside the updated FOIP vision, I noticed that the government also established an Official Security Assistance framework outside of the Official Development Assistance framework. OSA looks like a new tool for defense cooperation with its focus on providing equipment, material, and support for security infrastructure development to enhance the security and deterrence capabilities of like-minded countries in the region. Another related development is that the government has decided to go beyond its traditional “request-based approach” to ODA and allow Japan to proactively make proposals to development partners where appropriate.

KIHARA  This updated version of FOIP was systematically formulated by adopting a three-tiered approach. The first tier encapsulates the traditional principles of inclusiveness, openness, and diversity and adds to them the notion of equal partnership and the emphasis on people. The second tier outlines the four pillars based on these principles and areas for policy cooperation. The third tier focuses on the use of ODA as a tool for achieving our goals. The policy cases are project based, and we expect cooperation to give rise to many more than fifty-one items in the future.

In terms of new proposals that we want to lead, one is enhanced efforts to realize GX, the “green transformation.” The focus is on Asia, which accounts for more than half of the world’s emissions. We believe it is important to realize GX through decarbonization efforts in a way that’s appropriate to the actual situation in each country in the region. Food and energy security vulnerabilities have also become more acute following the invasion of Ukraine. Japan’s announcement of a commitment to expand security cooperation from the maritime domain to the air domain is also something new that we will be pushing.

(Originally written in Japanese by Ishii Masato of the Nippon.com Editorial Department based on a May 10, 2023, interview. Banner photo: Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kihara Seiji in Nagatachō, Tokyo, on May 10, 2023. © Hanai Tomoko.)

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