The silver lining for Japan: Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with U.S. President Donald Trump/ Image source: PMO Japan

The U.S-China relations have been deteriorating over various issues. From an existing Trade-War among the two to deliberations over Covid-19 and security laws on Hong Kong, both the countries have been running parallel, putting in the front rows its national interests. On the other hand, the Sino-Japan relationship is on the road to collapse, stated China’s claims and dialogue against Japan lately.  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stands as the first Prime Minister of Japan to have made a visit to China in seven years. Prime Minister Abe met his Chinese counterpart during an official visit to China in 2019, after which major revelations were made aiming to accelerate cooperation between China and Japan for a beginning of a “New Era” for both the countries.

Eventually, President Xi met Japanese Prime Minister Abe at the 8th China-Japan-Republic of Korea leaders’ meeting held on December 23 last year. President Xi in the meeting stressed “Today’s world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century. The more complicated the situation is, the more we need to maintain strategic resolve and adopt a forward-looking vision that takes the overall situation into consideration. In order to develop China-Japan relations in the new era, the two countries should firstly reach a clear strategic consensus. We should plan bilateral relations with a global vision, enhance communication and coordination on the basis of sharing mutual respect and seeking common ground while shelving differences, and make active efforts to build a new pattern of cooperation and mutual benefit. This should be the joint strategic guidance for us to develop China-Japan relations in the new era.”

The ‘New Era Initiatives’

The New Era initiatives were been initially started by Japan when the Covid-19 outbreak first emerged in China, early in the year. Japan, in development sent masks and protective gears to organisations and institutions in China that took the internet by storm, with China praising Japan over the country’s generous efforts. Many people wrote on twitter, saying “We are from different lands and are separated by mountains and waters. Yet above us, we share the same sky and the same feelings” praising Japan for its generosity. According to the Chinese embassy in Japan, the country sent 380,000 pairs of gloves, 150,000 protective suits, 75,000 Protective goggles, and thermometers to China by early February. After consistent efforts by Japan to resolve and resettle cooperation, China did its part to protect the spirit of the cooperative movement by both the countries. Beijing in return donated a significant amount of medical supplies to Japan, since early March when cases reached new levels across the globe.

Image source: CGTN

But, it was Japan that moved away from the “new era” of Sino – Japan relations by sponsoring a number of firms to move out of China. According to a survey conducted by Teikoku Databank shows that there was a constant reduction of the number of Japanese companies operating from Chinese presences, which would further be on a declining course in reason of the U.S- China Trade War and Covid-19 Pandemic. Tokyo faces a deep conundrum as a result of Beijing’s autocratic, self –asserting policies that significantly lie away from the interests of the former. China was Japan’s second-largest export market, with a whopping number of over 13, 685 Japanese companies in the country. Moving firms out of China could help Japan enhance its national security and could also help protect the Small and Medium-sized firms in the country. The Covid-19 experience highlighted China’s underlying fragility and weakened trust in China’s actions and developments. With the Sino-U.S. war, New National Security laws of Hong Kong, conflicts in East China and South China seas that are made aiming for global hegemony and control made Prime Minister Abe step away from China’s embrace.

Japan’s move might negatively affect China in many ways, stated the huge trade relations between both the countries. Moreover, China imports a major chunk of products from Japan and other countries that it cannot make for itself, thus handicapping China from any punishable stance towards Japan. For Japan, this might mean more focus on working with its Quad Counterparts – Australia, India and The U.S. strengthening his Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. This increases the scope of Japan’s relations with The U.S. and India and can act as a key strategic partner enhancing economic connectivity and relations with the advanced west. It gives space and power to all the Quad Countries, to move towards a more strategic, long-term goal that might be a win-win situation for everyone.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Shanmugapriya Balasubramanian

Shanmugapriya Balasubramanian is a Former Journalism Intern at The Kootneeti's Asia Desk

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