Asia should forge its own way and no longer be subservient to the US and its outriders like Japan

Jan 3, 2024
Fumio Kishida and Joe Biden

The old adage “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” is a warning not to take things at face value.  If caution is abandoned, the consequences may be dire.

In Tokyo, at a special summit from Dec 16-18, Japan and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) marked their 50 years of official ties. The host, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, was all sweetness and light, and there were platitudes aplenty.

At the conclusion, a joint statement was issued. Its terminology strongly suggested it could have been drafted for Kishida by Rahm Emanuel, the China-baiter who doubles up as the US ambassador to Japan. Whereas the parties affirmed their commitment to “a rules-based Indo-Pacific region that is free and open”, they also indicated their “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

For its part, Japan undertook to tackle “divisions and confrontations … together with ASEAN … based on our mutual trust.” This might have sounded edifying if it were not for Tokyo’s role as a US proxy. Indeed, Japan is far from being an honest broker. It currently hosts about 50,000 American troops and 23 military bases, and the US, as NATO’s leader, expects Kishida to use events like the summit to advance its interests.

On Jan 31, when the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, visited Japan, he applauded Kishida’s rearmament plans, referencing Tokyo’s most significant military buildup since World War II. In 2022, Kishida’s government revealed its plans to double its military expenditure to the NATO level of 2 percent of GDP over the next five years. This will make it the world’s third-largest spender on defense, after the US and China.

On Dec 22, Kishida’s government approved a record defense budget of $56 billion for the next fiscal year, which is more than 16 percent higher than the current year, and it is not hard to see why.

On Nov 17, the US approved the sale of 400 Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles to Japan, for $2.35 billion. As Washington knows, they will be capable of targeting China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Tokyo also plans to purchase F-35 stealth combat jets, landing ships, transport helicopters and interceptor missiles, which must have delighted the US arms industry.

Japan has also agreed to spend $490 million on developing a next-generation fighter with the UK and Italy, with a view to deployment in 2035.

Although the US, in 1947, imposed a constitution on Japan that renounced war, it is now arming the country to the teeth for what can only be offensive purposes. It is, therefore, the US and its proxies who threaten regional security — not China — and its hypocrisy must be condemned from the rooftops.

As Kishida behaves increasingly like a latter-day 1930s Japanese warmonger, NATO eagerly eggs him on. While in Tokyo, Stoltenberg applauded Japan’s transition into NATO’s Individually Tailored Partnership Programme (ITPP), which seeks to tie Japan and the Republic of Korea into its Far East strategy. The ITPP was initially discussed in 2022, when Kishida became the first Japanese leader to attend a NATO summit.

Indeed, Kishida has made no secret of his intention to operate as NATO’s cat’s-paw in the Asia-Pacific region. He has said he plans to participate regularly in both the North Atlantic Council (NATO’s principal political decision-making body) and the NATO Chiefs of Defense meetings. He and Stoltenberg even floated the idea of allowing NATO to open a liaison office in Tokyo, thereby giving it a forward operations center.

Apart from NATO, Kishida has also immersed his country in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad). This grouping, which is growing ever more belligerent, links Japan with the US, Australia and India. It claims to be committed to “upholding peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific maritime domain,” and, like all-US dominated entities, it seeks to uphold “the rules-based international order” (meaning Washington’s supremacy).

Given the US fear of being eclipsed by China in the Asia-Pacific, the Quad members have accelerated their bilateral and quadrilateral ties. This is evident in the deepening of defense partnerships, including joint military exercises. Amid these machinations, Japan’s role as a facilitator cannot be overestimated.

In October, Japan participated in a multilateral exercise (“Noble Caribu”), with warships from the US, Canada and New Zealand (all Five Eyes intelligence alliance members). It was held in the area between Indonesia and Malaysia, and Tokyo claimed its purpose was “to improve our tactical capabilities and strengthen cooperation”. In reality, the exercise was designed to up the regional ante, yet another indication of Japan’s resurgent militarism.

When, therefore, Kishida called on the ASEAN leaders to step up cooperation on security and defense, the alarm bells should have rung. He wanted to entangle the bloc in Japan’s military adventurism and drive wedges between its members and China. He accordingly dangled gifts aplenty before his visitors, to encourage ASEAN to play along.

On the summit’s first day, Kishida homed in on Malaysia. Using Japan’s new Official Security Assistance (OSA) program, which targets militaries it believes it can influence, Kishida persuaded the Malaysians to sign up for a 400-million-yen ($2.84 million) deal to bolster their maritime security capability. He called the deal a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, which was another way of saying he wanted to draw Malaysia into Japan’s naval network.

When Kishida met the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, this year’s ASEAN chair, he was even more generous. He offered a grant of up to 9.05 billion yen to fund Indonesia’s maritime security capability advancement plan. As the icing on the cake, he threw in a Japanese-built large-scale naval patrol boat.

Although Kishida held a bilateral meeting with the Philippines president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, at which they agreed to strengthen cooperation between their respective coast guards, the spadework had already been undertaken when he visited Manila to bolster military ties in November. Apart from providing surveillance radar units to the Philippines navy and ships to its coast guard, Kishida had agreed to begin talks with Manila for a defense pact, the Reciprocal Access Agreement. This will facilitate the troop exchanges required for joint military exercises.

The purpose, said Kishida, in words clearly not his own, was “maintaining the free and open international order based on the rule of law”.

In November, Kishida also visited Vietnam, to discuss plans for more defense cooperation. At the summit, therefore, he sought out its prime minister, Pham Minh Chinh. He told Pham that Japan hoped to strengthen ties with Hanoi and maintain a free and open international order based on the rule of law (no surprises there). More to the point, he offered to advance a yen loan for an urban railway construction project, and promised that Japan would finance improvements in Vietnam’s medical services and human resource development.

Although Kishida sought to advance his agenda with a mixture of persuasion, presents and promises, it must be hoped the ASEAN leaders, or at least the majority, saw through him. Some certainly kept him at arm’s length, for obvious reasons. He is a tool of those who wish to maintain US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific, and has scant regard for regional harmony. He is said, however, to be increasingly unpopular at home, partly because of a proliferating kickbacks scandal, and his days are likely numbered.

The sooner Kishida leaves the world stage, the better. His departure will come as a relief for everybody who believes that Asia should forge its own way and no longer be subservient to the US and its outriders. After all, peaceful coexistence in the Asia-Pacific is far too important to be imperiled by Western proxies, let alone by Greeks bearing gifts.

This article was first posted in the China Daily, HK edition

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