This speech was delivered at the Japan Symposium public event, 'Australia-Japan-ASEAN: Strengthening the Core of the Indo Pacific' hosted at the University Club on Friday, 22 March 2019.
Professor Gordon Flake, Professor Stephen Smith, Mr Philip Green, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is an honour to be invited to address you today on the subject of the Indo-Pacific region. This is a particularly auspicious occasion for me, for I recently arrived in Australia to assume the position of ambassador. So today marks my first public speaking engagement on this important issue.
I would also like to note that Perth is an ideal location for such discussions, for Perth is Australia’s gateway to the Indian Ocean, and its proximity to Asia gives it a unique perspective on Australia’s role in the region.
The Indo-Pacific region is replete with opportunities and challenges. The economies of the region have grown fast and accelerated integration. Yet we have witnessed the undermining of basic principles that have underpinned the rules-based order, most notably in the South China Sea.
Many in the region are anxious, in their own particular way, about what the future may hold and whether they can shape their future in a way that preserves their interests as well as their values.
Today, I would like to emphasise three points. First, a clear vision for the region is needed during times of uncertainty and countries are beginning to do their own thinking around the concept of a free and open Indo Pacific. Second, we must translate our vision into specific action. And third, we must work together to preserve a rules-based order and we expect ASEAN to play a greater role and the US to maintain robust presence and engagement in the region.
I should also emphasise that the views that I will be articulating today are solely my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my government.
The Indo-Pacific region in transition
The Indo-Pacific region is arguably the most dynamic region in the world. The region’s remarkable economic growth has been driven by the emergence of China as an economic powerhouse and other rising economies such as India and Indonesia. The region is brimming with potential, and many opportunities exist for the creation of future wealth.
Yet we cannot be under any illusion as to the challenges in front of us. While the prospects for economic growth in the region remain relatively positive, the same cannot be said for the security situation in the Indo-Pacific.
We have seen the rule of law and international norms constantly undermined, most evidently in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Unilateral coercive actions to alter the status quo are no longer an aberration, but increasingly the norm.
We also have yet to see tangible progress in the North Korea’s denuclearization process, whatever that means.
What is alarming to me is that all of this is happening concurrently to global power diffusion. US global supremacy and the liberal international order are inherently inseparable. I recall that my good friend Allan Gyngell has argued…“In 2018, the order we have known for the past 70 years has ended.”
I reserve my judgement as to whether the existing order has ended and to what sort of order may or may not emerge in the future. But one thing for sure is that the existing order is under intense pressure and cannot remain immune to change.
Therefore, each country must be absolutely clear about what to preserve and make greater efforts under a clear vision. We can no longer take for granted the kind of environment that has enabled our prosperity. That is why Prime Minister Abe began to advocate a vision of a Free and Open Indo Pacific in 2016.
Concept of 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific'
Simply put, our vision has three pillars. First, we will uphold the rule of law. We will not condone the “might is right” approach.
Second, we will pursue prosperity. We must be able to maximise economic opportunities that exist in the region by boosting infrastructure development and promoting free trade.
Third, we will partner with regional players and empower them. We shall assist countries in the region by building maritime law enforcement capabilities, including maritime domain awareness capabilities.
The Indo-Pacific region is vast and diverse. But there are common themes that are shared among its members- a desire for stability and the pursuit of prosperity. I believe our vision is a concept all nations can easily subscribe to, but it is also true that it took a while to elucidate what a Free and Open Indo Pacific actually means.
There used to be a range of misconceptions around the vision, but it is now clear to all that the vision is not designed to counter anybody. It is also clear that the vision is founded on the centrality and unity of ASEAN.
Thus, it is no longer a concept of a particular country, but an evolving concept around which everyone is modifying their own thinking. In this context, I am happy to note that Prime Minister Modi of India articulated his vision for the Indo-Pacific region at the Shangri la Dialogue last year. Also, Indonesia took the initiative of working on an Indo Pacific concept within ASEAN. Now is the time to take specific action.
Specific action under FOIP
The rule of law
Regarding the rule of law, we will continue to strongly advocate the importance of fundamental principles such as freedom of navigation and overflight. We will do this at the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, or anywhere, together with the United States, Australia and others.
The South China Sea will be the crucial test of our collective ability to maintain a rules-based order. While Japan is not a claimant country, we urge all parties to resolve disputes in accordance with international law. We urge all parties to pursue demilitarisation and exercise self-restraint. We support an effective Code of Conduct that could lead to a peaceful and open South China Sea and does not prejudice the interests or rights of anyone, including third parties.
Japan will work with or assist any nation dedicated to these tasks, and indeed has cooperated with many nations across the region to this end. For example, we have long worked on capacity building for coast guard agencies in Southeast Asia and will work with the US and Australia to this end.
Regarding economic prosperity, we remain strongly committed to enhancing regional connectivity through infrastructure development. In June last year, Prime Minister Abe announced the formation of a new financial framework within JBIC to meet the massive demands for infrastructure in the region. It is designed to provide funds of approximately 50 billion US dollars in total from Japan’s public and private sectors over the next three years.
In our Indo-Pacific vison, ASEAN plays a pivotal role as it is located at the intersection between the Indian and Pacific oceans. We have a long history of supporting connectivity within ASEAN. In mainland South East Asia, we have assisted the development of land corridors such as the East West Economic Corridor and Southern Economic Corridor. In maritime South East Asia, we have assisted in creating maritime corridors including through port development. In addition, Japan also assists ASEAN in improving “soft” connectivity, including through regulatory harmonization.
I should not fail to mention India. India, soon-to-be world’s most populous nation, has marked rapid economic growth, generating a massive demand for infrastructure. India’s success is consequential to achieving a prosperous Indo-Pacific. We assist India in improving its connectivity by investing in India’s transport and power sector.
With regard to Pacific island countries, Japan together with Australia, New Zealand and the United States joined in a Papua New Guinea Electrification Partnership in support of Papua New Guinea’s goals for national electrification.
We are ready to work with anyone to promote infrastructure development that adheres to international standards and principles for development. To this end, Japan, together with Australia and the United States, announced the formation of a trilateral partnership for regional infrastructure investment in November last year.
In addition to infrastructure development, we are also committed to promoting free trade across the region as we believe in the benefits of trade in improving socio economic development. At the UN General Assembly last year, Prime Minister Abe said it is Japan’s mission to impart to the world the benefits of trade.
That mission received a considerable boost with the conclusion of the TPP-11 agreement, the process of which was driven by the strong leadership of Japan and Australia. We have now set our focus on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (or RCEP), the most ambitious agreement in this region.
When combined, the RCEP countries constitute half of the world’s population and 30 per cent of global GDP in total. If all of these countries can be brought together through mutual interest, then all will be able to share in the prosperity RCEP promises to deliver.
Keys for success
Of course, the realization of a prosperous region depends on cooperation among its members, and in Japan’s view, ASEAN is key to achieving this goal.
ASEAN, sitting between the Indian and Pacific oceans, takes centre stage in any initiative to bolster regional security and stability. ASEAN’s role in the creation of the ASEAN Regional Forum, along with the ASEAN +3 and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus, has proven invaluable. ASEAN is also developing their Indo-Pacific concept to preserve a rules-based order.
Economically, ASEAN generates regional economic growth with its relatively young demography and continuing investment in connectivity. ASEAN is also driving key trade negotiations such as RCEP.
While ASEAN promises much for the future, it is undeniable that the prosperity and stability of the region, as has been the case for the past 70 or more years, also depends on the continued presence and engagement of the United States. Despite the global power diffusion, the United States will remain a super power, politically, economically and militarily. No one can play the role the US has been playing in the region and there is simply no alternative to the United States.
It is thus incumbent on us to advocate for the US to continue to engage with the Indo-Pacific, for together we are so much stronger and more prosperous.
Lastly, as ambassador to Australia, allow me to talk about our relationship with Australia. Australia is truly a “special strategic partner” for Japan, one that shares with us a strong affinity for free trade and respect for the rule of law. We always think similarly and act together.
With regard to North Korea, we share assessments on the denuclearization process. We advocate CVID together. We work together to monitor and prevent illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil to North Korea. As for the South China Sea and the East China Sea, we strongly oppose any coercive unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo or increase tensions in the area.
We also worked closely to realize the TPP-11.
Australia is an indispensable partner in realizing our aspirations. Our partnership, and the initiatives that we have undertaken together in support of stability and prosperity, will stand us in good stead for the challenges that lie in front of us. Together we will ensure that the Indo-Pacific, for all of its diversity and division, remains free and open to all.
Before concluding my speech, let me touch on a specific issue that is most pressing to Japan. That is North Korea.
I underline the importance of maintaining a healthy skepticism. We should remind ourselves that North Korea possesses active WMD programs and missiles of various ranges. North Korea abducted Japanese citizens, but has not shown a willingness to engage on this issue.
We cannot solve everything overnight, but the second US North Korea Summit suggests that sanctions are working, if not to the extent intended. From our perspective, the real solution must entail the dismantlement of all WMD programs and missiles of all ranges, not just ICBMs and the release of our abductees. We thus support the decision of President Trump to urge North Korea to take concrete actions toward CVID without making easy concessions.
Thank you very much.