- Japan's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" and Its Implication for ASEAN
In August 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" (FOIPs) at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) held in Kenya.2 Since then, many researchers, journalists and policymakers have discussed what the FOIP Strategy, and the broader concept of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), exactly means.
For some, FOIPs is essentially an exclusive concept that views China as "a hostile existential threat to regional (and global) order, prosperity, and Western interests".3 Such a view tends to see Abe's FOIPs primarily as a geopolitical strategy aimed at countering Chinese power and influence by creating a maritime coalition with regional democracies, represented by the Quadrilateral Security Cooperation (Quad) between Japan, Australia, India and the United States. The FOIPs is also commonly seen as a competitor or "geoeconomic" strategy against China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by providing the region with alternatives to BRI projects.4
For others, however, FOIPs is an inclusive concept that ultimately aims to incorporate China and other powers in an inclusive political and economic system in the Indo-Pacific.5 Such a view, often stressed by the Japanese government and its officials, tends to dismiss the geopolitical aspect of FOIPs and argues that FOIPs is a comprehensive framework or "vision" for Japanese regional policies, mostly its economic and development cooperation such as infrastructure development and support for regional connectivity.6 This kind of view also stresses the cooperative, as well as the competitive, aspects of FOIPs by pointing out many overlaps or [End Page 69] mutual complementarities, especially in the "third party cooperation", between FOIPs and BRI.7 According to this line of argument, understanding FOIPs simply as a "counter-China strategy" is a stunted and short-sighted view which ignores the fact that the concept was developed as a response to the long-term shift in the centre of gravity of the global economy from Western Europe to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.8
As such, there are almost opposite views over what FOIPs means. Which view explains the reality of FOIPs more accurately? With this question in mind, the chapter first examines why FOIPs has become an important strategic concept for Japan. It then argues that, while FOIPs is undeniably driven by the geopolitical concerns of Japanese policymakers, the reality (or its implementation) of FOIPs can be best described as a "regional order-building strategy", rather than a mere geopolitical or geoeconomic strategy, aimed at establishing a pluralistic and inclusive order incorporating various regional countries under common rules and norms.
As important elements of such a regional order-building strategy, the chapter highlights three aspects — (1) creating a stable (and multiple) power balance; (2) promoting regional resiliency, development and connectivity; and (3) rule-making and norm-setting — that Japan has pursued under the name of FOIPs. After discussing these issues, the chapter examines the implications of FOIPs for ASEAN, and concludes that Japan's cooperation with ASEAN will play a critical role for the success of FOIPs as a regional order-building strategy in order to avoid the emergence of a "new Cold War" in the region.
The term "Indo-Pacific" has become popularly used by the Japanese security community since around 2010.9 While there are many reasons for this, the most important and fundamental factor is the rise of China and its growing power and influence, especially in the maritime domain. With its constant economic growth, even after the global financial crisis of 2008, China has continued to expand its power and influence in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Japanese strategic thinkers have been especially worried about China's "grey-zone" tactics, which have gradually undermined the status quo in both the East and South China Seas. They have also been concerned with the "String of Pearls" strategy by China to network its military and commercial facilities in the Indian Ocean. This has significant implications for Japanese security, which is heavily dependent on the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) running through the Indian...