Suga should Aim to Build Foreign Policy Based on Free, Open Order

At a time when the international community is at a turning point, how can a free and democratic order be established? In this regard, Japan should play a role in leading the way.

At his New Year press conference, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stressed his commitment to realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific based on the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Japan and other countries have a common interest in ensuring the rule of law and freedom of navigation in this part of the world, which has been enjoying significant economic growth. Suga is urged to implement multitiered measures to give more concrete shape to this initiative, which was proposed by his predecessor Shinzo Abe.

After U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office, Suga will have a meeting with him. While Biden has advocated the importance of alliances, it is unclear in some respects how he will deal with China’s hegemonic activities.

Suga must tell Biden how important it is for the United States to engage in Asia both in the diplomatic and military fields, as well as call for Washington to take concerted action with Tokyo to strengthen commitments to Southeast Asian countries and other nations. In addition to security cooperation that also includes Australia and India, the prime minister is urged to promote ties with Europe as well.

In dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic, making vaccinations available in developing countries has become an issue for the global community. Tokyo should involve Washington in realizing international cooperation led by Japan, the United States and Europe.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Japan and China normalizing diplomatic relations. However, stable bilateral relations cannot be established as long as Chinese government ships continue to intrude into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. Unless China makes efforts to resolve pending issues, it will be difficult to gain the public’s understanding for a visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping as a state guest.

Conflict between the United States and China can be seen not only in security and trade issues, but also in a battle over supremacy in the science and technology field. After achieving economic recovery faster than any other country following the outbreak of the coronavirus, it is also believed that China will take more self-righteous actions.

It is Japan’s responsibility to persistently urge China to abide by international rules. While maintaining economic relations, Japan needs to respond strategically to protect sensitive technology that can affect the nation’s security.

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer also give Suga opportunities for summit diplomacy.

If North Korea takes part in the Olympics, it is highly likely that high-ranking officials from the country will visit Japan. It is hoped that Suga will not miss any chance, however small, to find common ground for resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is also expected to visit Japan for the Games. If Seoul can make progress on the issue of lawsuits involving former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, this could become an opportunity to improve bilateral relations.

The pandemic has made it difficult for world leaders to conduct diplomacy face-to-face. It is essential for Suga to use various channels, make sure to promote Japan’s position and try to gain understanding from the international community.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 7, 2021.