Abe Doctrine: Shifts in Japan’s Foreign Policy

  • SE Asia is becoming a theatre of great-power rivalry.
  • As China’s economic weight and political influence grows in southeast Asia, there is anxious search for a stable balance of power in the region.
  • At the end of last year, Obama became the first American president to travel to Myanmar and Cambodia.
  • Last month, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) elevated their ties to a strategic partnership.
  • Japan’s Shinzo Abe is heading to southeast Asia this week on his first trip abroad after he was sworn in as prime minister last month.
  • Various members of cabinet and other high ranking Japanese officials have been making visits to the region


  • Previews of the main speech, to be made in Jakarta, have suggested the premier will announce the “Abe Doctrine” that will spell out new initiatives to deepen Japan’s economic, political and security ties with southeast Asia.
  • Abe’s emphasis is likely to be on developing strategic economic relations with the region amidst China’s emergence as the largest trading partner for most nations in southeast Asia.
  • As deteriorating relations with Beijing threaten the future of Japan’s massive trade and investment ties to China, Japan has another reason to look at southeast Asia as a major alternative destination for Japanese overseas investment.
  • Like Japan, some ASEAN members, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, are locked in escalating maritime disputes with China.
  • Abe would want to translate the shared concerns on China’s assertiveness into concrete political cooperation between Tokyo and the ASEAN as a collective, and bilaterally with key individual members.


  • Security cooperation (with countries other than the US) is no longer a taboo in Japan’s foreign policy.
  • Tokyo announced plans last year to offer 10 coast guard vessels to Manila, which has been desperately seeking foreign support to cope with the Chinese navy’s manoeuvres in the waters adjacent to the Philippines.
  • The incipient maritime security cooperation between Tokyo and Manila has drawn sharp comment from Beijing.
  • In a stinging editorial, the China Daily said: “The Philippines, which suffered Japanese atrocities during World War II, has surprisingly supported the revival of militarism in Japan, which has the tacit backing of the United States.”
  • Until recently, Japan, a major donor of development assistance, was very careful in avoiding military ties with its Asian neighbours.
  • Shedding some of that inhibition in recent years, Tokyo has signed declarations on security cooperation with India and Australia.
  • Japan has provided limited military aid recently to East Timor and Cambodia.
  • It is also reported to be in talks with Vietnam to train its submarine crews.
  • Abe’s southern sojourn this week could reveal how far he is willing to advance Japan’s new military diplomacy.


  • There has been a shift in the traditional foreign policy of the two nations
  • India, which has traditionally been seen as the leader of the non-alignment, and Japan, traditionally  acknowledged to pursue an economic-oriented  

    foreign policy, have engaged in security cooperation measures.

  • This development- the establishment of a Strategic and Global Partnership that is driven by converging long-term political, economic and strategic interests, aspirations and concerns
  • Both countries recognize their common commitment to democracy, open society, human rights and the rule of law;
  • India and Japan share common interest in the safety of sea lines of communications
  • Japan Maritime Self Defence Force’s replenishment activities in the Indian Ocean, constitute an important part in the international community’s effort to eradicate terrorism
  • Both countries acknowledge a common commitment in pursuing disarmament and non-proliferation as partners seeking a peaceful nuclear-weapon free world and working together against proliferation
  • Both countries also have a common commitment to a comprehensive reform of the United Nations, including the expansion of the United Nations Security Council in both the permanent and non-permanent categories
  • In 2008 Prime Ministers Aso and Singh had issued a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation
  • The landmark document was only the second instance of such bilateral cooperation entered into by Tokyo, aside from its security arrangement with the US.
  • Topics of discussion included safety of sea lines of communication, anti-piracy cooperation as well as drawing up a timeline of joint exercises to be conducted by the two countries’ navies.
  • Japan-India Joint Declaration, unlike its Japan-Australia counterpart, lacks a trilateral reference point to the US force presence in the region. This assumes added significance given the fading away of the ‘Quadrilateral Initiative’ – the putative maritime axis of democratic powers (Australia-India-Japan-US) which presumably sought to situate their exclusive forum as a subsidiary body within the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) framework, and selectively expand membership thereafter.

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