Japan Symposium - Regional Dilemmas and Trilateral Solutions

09 Mar 2020
By Hugo Seymour , Gemma King
Japan Symposium - Regional Dilemmas and Trilateral Solutions
Kicking off the Perth USAsia Centre’s high-level programming for the third successive year, the Japan Symposium 2020 focused on the converging interests and strengthening trilateral relationship between three Indo-Pacific powers: Australia, India and Japan. Convened in Perth with the support of the Japanese Consulate, strategic and economic policy experts from the three nations gathered for two days of focused policy discussions. The first involved a full-day Private Dialogue, where distinguished participants took a deep dive into Indo-Pacific analysis and policy development; the second a half-day public session devoted to articulating the key findings of the Private Dialogue.
The key questions framing the Private Dialogue were:
  • The Indo-Pacific: How have the Indo-Pacific strategies and policies of Australia, India and Japan evolved over recent years, particularly given the emerging great power competition between the US and China?
  •  Security challenges: What are the converging security interests of the three powers in the Indo-Pacific, and how can these converging interests enable intensified Australia-India-Japan security cooperation? 
  • Economic integration: Whilst the Indo-Pacific region is the most economically dynamic region in the world, formal Indo-Pacific economic architecture is largely undeveloped. Therefore, what mechanisms can facilitate deeper economic flows across the Indo-Pacific?
  •  Trilateral cooperation: What practical avenues of cooperation exist for Australia, India and Japan, to advance their shared interests in the Indo-Pacific today? How can trilateral cooperation complement existing bilateral, regional and global collaboration mechanisms? 
Uncertainty and Flux in the Indo-Pacific
The public session included for the second successive year a keynote address by Japan’s Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Reiichiro Takahashi. Ambassador Takahashi elegantly framed Australia, India and Japan as like-minded countries bound by similar interests and shared values and, and outlined a number of key challenges and opportunities facing the three countries in the Indo-Pacific today:
  • Regional challenges: The international order is currently under strain, driven by the strategic competition of the US and China, the perceived rise of authoritarianism and populism, and the persistence of longstanding challenges such as North Korean non-denuclearisation
  •  The significance of India: India’s “Act East” policy - enabled by its Indo-Pacific vision, growing strategic weight and unshackling of its traditional “Non-Aligned Movement” policy - is propelling further security and maritime engagement in Southeast Asia and into the Pacific 
  • The rule of law: The unilateral militarisation of particular territories in the South China Sea is concerning to all nations, including non-claimants, and challenges the efficacy of international law and norms
  •  The pursuit of prosperity: Increased trade, development and connectivity across the Indo-Pacific will drive wealth creation and regional prosperity, and can be enabled through successful regional integration measures such as an RCEP agreement that includes India. 
Ambassador Takahashi concluded his remarks by stating ongoing US investment and engagement in the region is essential to maintaining a peaceful balance of power in the Indo-Pacific – and enhanced trilateral cooperation between Australia, India and Japan can complement this anchor role.
The Australia-India-Japan Trilateral

Public panel (L-R): Professor Gordon Flake, Professor Akiko Fukushima, Professor Nick Bisley, Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan, Dr Priya Chako
The subsequent public panel outlined the reasons for the deepening Australia-India-Japan trilateral relationship, and advanced the opportunities for greater practical cooperation. Panellists recognised that the prevailing global strategic and economic uncertainty – exacerbated by a unilateralist US under President Trump, an increased assertiveness from China under President Xi Jingping, the broader transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world and rapid technological change – was bringing like-minded countries such as Australia, India and Japan closer together.
Whilst the three countries do have differences in their strategic interests, a convergence in broader objectives (such as support for the rule of law) and an alignment of values was enabling both formal and informal cooperation. Panellists explored the breadth of opportunities for greater practical partnerships, including in:
  • Future technology: Professor Akiko Fukushima proposed digital connectivity partnerships in future technology areas, such as in the digital space post-5G
  •  Caucusing in existing forums: Professor Nick Bisley advocated for Australia, India and Japan to align more closely in existing regional institutions, such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus 
  • Defence equipment and procurement: Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan contributed that India’s demands for new defence technologies should enable greater sourcing of equipment and technologies from Japan and Australia
  •  Overcoming existing divergences: Dr Priya Chako said it was important the three countries assuage existing differences, such as over bilateral labour mobility and intellectual property rules 
Concluding the Japan Symposium for 2020, Professor Gordon Flake advanced that the frankness in discussions and similarities in perspectives, at both the Private Dialogue and during the public session, would not have been possible fifteen years ago. Effectively leveraging this growing strategic and economic convergence will be essential for the three countries to sail through the turbulent waters of today’s Indo-Pacific.


Hugo Seymour
Hugo Seymour
Research Analyst
Gemma King
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