Resolve Ambiguity in Initiative and Expand Cooperation

Initiating support in the defense field for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region is an understandable aim. But the initiative still has some ambiguity. The government must swiftly work out the composition of the framework.

The government has newly established an official security assistance (OSA) framework to provide defense equipment free of charge to the armed forces of “like-minded countries” that share values such as democracy and the rule of law.

Japan has earned the trust of the international community as a result of long-standing support toward economic and infrastructure sectors in developing countries through its official development assistance (ODA) framework, which is limited to nonmilitary activities. With a focus on the defense sector, the OSA framework is completely separate from the ODA program.

China, which is aiming to become a maritime power, continues to engage in hegemonic activities in the South China Sea and is turning the area into a military stronghold. Japan’s sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands is also threatened by Beijing’s activities. Cooperation with more countries is essential in dealing with China.

The Japanese government has designated the four Asia-Pacific nations of the Philippines, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Fiji as the first recipients of the OSA program. This fiscal year, it is coordinating the provision of coastal surveillance radars, patrol boats and other equipment.

The Philippines intends to expand bases that can be used by the U.S. military. Fiji said it intends to end a policing cooperation agreement with China.

It is true that neighboring countries in the Pacific Ocean are becoming increasingly wary of China. It is significant for Japan, a major economic power, to support the defense systems of developing countries, in addition to their civilian sectors.

However, it is important to avoid a situation in which Japan’s provision of defense equipment foments conflict.

Setting aside the four nations designated as aid recipients, a change of government in developing countries can sometimes lead to a change in security policy. There is also no ruling out the risk of a military coup happening in countries with political instability. Decisions on increasing the number of recipient countries under the OSA program in the future should be made with caution.

The government plans to conclude agreements with recipient countries to ensure appropriate management of transferred defense equipment, but will such a measure prevent the equipment from being used for other purposes or from being transferred to third countries? Specific standards must be established regarding the type of equipment to be provided and the conditions for its provision.

Questions remain regarding the process that led to the establishment of the OSA framework. Members of the National Security Council made the critical decision to provide countries with defense equipment without holding an actual meeting on the matter, instead simply forwarding documents about the initiative among themselves. A feeling that something is wrong with the council’s decision-making approach cannot be avoided.

It cannot even be said that there is wide acceptance of what “like-minded countries” means. It is hoped that a new form of support that is appropriate for Japan as a pacifist nation will be established through thorough deliberations in the Diet.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 7, 2023)