A lot happens at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the annual gathering in Singapore of defense officials, experts, and hangers-on.
One of the highlights of the 2022 event — even more than China’s defense minister reciting his list of complaints to United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — was Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s speech.
Sometimes it’s useful to wait a bit and digest what you heard before commenting on what it meant. A week has passed, so here goes:
Japan is certainly being far more active in asserting itself ー and I suppose taking a leadership role ー in Indo-Pacific affairs than it has done before in the modern era.
Prime Minister Kishida’s appearance in Singapore and his speech were significant in their own right. But, most of all, he addressed security matters and indicated that Japan was going to play its part in ensuring a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Of course, that expression means ensuring the region is free of Chinese intimidation and domination. He didn’t use quite those words, but his meaning was clear enough.
In the past, you’ll recall, until Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed up in 2012, Japan’s regional role was mostly economic and commercial, and ODA ー overseas development assistance. It purposely shied away from a security role, even verbally.
Remember the fierce political opposition in Japan to the idea of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) doing anything outside Japan, or even dealing with foreign militaries in any serious way? Prime Minister Abe started the shift…and now Kishida is keeping the momentum going.
Read the rest at Japan Forward.
Grant Newsham is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.