In his first formal policy speech delivered on October 8, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged to revise the “national security strategy” and the basic defense program, reinforce the maritime security and missile defense capabilities, and continue to promote the cooperation for a so-called “free and open Indo-Pacific”. Sanae Takaichi, policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said at a recent press conference that the LDP plans to increase Japan’s defense budget to more than 2% of GDP when making its foreign and security policies.
Many signs indicate that Tokyo is trying hard to use the so-called “free and open Indo-Pacific” as an excuse to break through the limitations on it and play a bigger role in regional military and security affairs. Forming a quasi-military and security alliance with certain countries is an important way to achieve that goal.
It is reported that Japan and Britain recently kicked off their negotiations over the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) on a low profile. The agreement will further clarify the administrative and legal procedures for military personnel of the two countries to visit each other and hold joint exercises. Once the agreement comes into force, their military personnel, for the purpose of joint training, will be able to enter each other’s territory without check, and the formalities will be largely streamlined to clear weapons, vehicles and other equipment. Military services that participate in the joint training will also expand from the sea and air to the ground to realize all-service defense cooperation. In sum, the RAA will signify a big leap forward in defense relations between Japan and Britain.
If Japan and Britain reach a consensus on the RAA, it will be another high-level defense cooperation agreement after Japan reached the agreement with Australia last November, which is second only to the Japan-US Security Treaty in terms of the depth of cooperation.
Compared with the Japan-Australia agreement, the one between Japan and Britain will create more space for Japanese troops to engage in the rest of the world and further empty Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan that demands Japan take the path of peaceful development after WWII.
In recent years, Japan has moved faster to amend its Constitution, strengthened the military and constantly broken through military restrictions. Britain, on the other hand, has strongly pushed its diplomatic vision of a “global Britain” and actively engaged in the Indo-Pacific region after Brexit. The two countries have interacted frequently in the name of preserving free trade and maritime order in the Indo-Pacific and continuously intensified their defense and military cooperation, which will only further complicate the regional geopolitical environment.
On the global level, Japan and Britain are America’s staunch allies in the eastern and western hemispheres respectively. After Biden came into power, he has been bent on reshaping the global alliance system and tried hard to cement the two wings of its global strategy, with the London-centered Atlantic partnership on one side and the Tokyo and Canberra-centered Pacific alliance on the other. As far as Washington is concerned, Japan’s quasi-alliance with Britain and Australia connects the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans and can significantly help it consolidate its global hegemony.
On the regional level, the quadrilateral security dialogue (QUAD) among the US, Japan, India and Australia is becoming a regular regime. The US, Britain and Australia have just formed the trilateral security partnership AUKUS, and the Five Eyes Alliance has a mind to bring in Japan. For the US, Japan reaching the RAA with Britain and Australia can add a vital piece to America’s “Indo-Pacific” jigsaw; for Japan, reaching the agreement will secure Britain and Australia’s endorsement for its military role, increase its strategic value to the US, and showcase its position as a major country in the Indo-Pacific region.
However, the Asia Pacific today is not what it was 100 years ago when imperialist countries could run amuck. If relevant countries insist on indulging in the old dream of alliance and taking the old path of zero-sum confrontation, rather than seriously consider the regional countries’ common demand for stability and cooperation, they will only end up shooting themselves in the foot.
(The author is a specially appointed researcher at the Department for Asia-Pacific Studies, China Institute of International Studies)
Editor's note: This article is originally published on huanqiu.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.