Kishida’s G7 tour won’t break new ground
As president of the G7 this year, Japan will be tested to lead consensus on pressing issues. But as Kishida’s stops in Rome and Paris suggest, a warped sense of Japanese national security keeps global leadership at bay.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s tour to five Group of Seven (G7) countries this week began with a visit to France and ended with a summit with US President Joe Biden in Washington. Tokyo’s approach to engagement includes a controversial push to deepen military links and enlist G7 support against so-called “economic coercion.” The former effort has been viewed with deep skepticism in some quarters of Southeast Asia, raising questions about Japan’s pursuit of peacebuilding on the back of military drills and a soaring defense budget.
Kishida is also determined to secure Western buy-in for the country’s rapid and hotly contested military build-up in the Indo-Pacific, rendering peace prospects a mirage under its G7 presidency this year. “I believe it will be a precious opportunity to confirm our close cooperation in further strengthening the Japan-US alliance and our endeavor together toward achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Kishida recently.
By hoping to step-up defense and security arrangements that cater to Western hegemony and aim to counter China, Japan risks constraining its options for responsible leadership under its G7 presidency.
Consider the country’s new national security and defense strategies. Kishida is likely to use these approaches as an inlet to explore military convergence with like-minded G7 allies. But Tokyo’s strategies come with a strong focus on targeting the internal affairs of select countries, stoking regional tensions around the Taiwan Straits, and treating Beijing as “the greatest strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan.” It is unclear if those heightened threat perceptions will gain long-term traction within the seven-member grouping of wealthy global economies. All this weakens the case for tangible engagement in Asia at large, especially when an outsized focus on military provocation and containment lies at the heart of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific strategy’s divisive appeal. Rather than identifying Tokyo in a different light, Kishida appears to repeat the US Indo-Pacific strategy’s inherent weaknesses by pushing Japan beyond its pacifist foreign policy outlook.
Kishida would also be ill-advised to play into empty allegations of “economic coercion” from the world’s second-largest economy, ignoring Japan’s push to undercut healthy economic interdependencies with China. Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s minister of economy and trade, has already given early signs that Tokyo expects the grouping to treat “effective responses to economic coercion” as a major agenda item. The political overtones are difficult to dismiss.
But make no mistake. Such moves will only supply more evidence of the G7’s embrace of protectionist measures as seen in the past, and these moves will further cement the grouping’s aversion to economic coexistence in Asia. The allure of an all-inclusive rules-based order also risks waning further if Tokyo downplays genuine international challenges – such as global economy, energy to development – to focus G7 energies on more divisive pursuits. These include plans to operate in lockstep with the US to create artificial access barriers to advanced semiconductor supplies, and unilaterally dictate the contours of an Indo-Pacific maritime status-quo as the G7 sees fit.
On the US-Japan alliance, impressions of “unprecedented strength” deserve to be tempered in full. Consider a much talked-up 2+2 US-Japan defense and foreign ministers’ exchange: It is yet to deliver a set direction for security and defense collaboration between both sides, let alone establish the relationship’s long-term endurance in the Indo-Pacific.
Resilience in the US-Japan alliance is unlikely to be guaranteed through an unwarranted focus on Beijing’s sovereign interests too. That includes efforts to stoke tensions in the East and South China Seas, and attempts to rationalize Japan’s provocations over the Taiwan question through US support. A case in point is the rapid integration of US and Japanese military command structures around Taiwan, as reported by the Financial Times. Both sides also aim to adapt more force by hyping up the “China threat” to feed hawks in Tokyo and Washington. Thus, more movement in that direction will stoke regional tensions, and make it imperative to uphold peace through effective and representative countermeasures. That is Asia’s collective call, not the unilateral imperative of the G7.
As president of the G7 this year, Japan will be tested to lead consensus on pressing issues concerning the global economy, regional affairs, and nuclear disarmament in the Indo-Pacific, among others. But as Kishida’s stops in Rome and Paris suggest, a warped sense of Japanese national security keeps global leadership at bay.
Look no further than Japan’s push to accelerate provocative military exercises with Paris, formalize controversial “defense” consultations with Italy, and engage London militarily to push for cold-war containment on new fronts.
These security-focused imperatives echo G7’s cold-war hysteria of the past. Much to Tokyo’s own disadvantage, it appears keen to sustain the grouping’s status as a major outlier in global peace, dampening its own prospects for stability in the process.