Abe’s Indo-Pacific Heritage

Mr. Trump and later Mr. Biden frequently mentioned the “Indo-Pacific” strategy, but it was Mr. Abe who created that concept.

When speaking at the 2017 APEC Summit, US President Donald Trump announced his vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. This is the first time a US president has used the phrase to describe one of the most populous and geopolitically important regions in the world.

But in fact, Mr. Trump “borrowed” this concept from Shinzo Abe, then serving as Prime Minister of Japan. Japan’s longest-serving leader is renowned for his vision of geopolitics and the terms associated with them.

“Of all the allied leaders who have visited the White House under Trump, Mr. Abe has received the warmest welcome,” said former US deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger. “Mr. Trump talks to Mr. Abe more than any other leader. The language barrier has never existed between the two.”

The phrase that Mr. Trump “borrowed” from Mr. Abe has since become increasingly popular in the region and around the world, embodied in President Joe Biden’s administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Former Prime Minister Abe during a campaign rally in Yokohama, Japan, on July 6.  Photo: Reuters

Former Prime Minister Abe during a campaign rally in Yokohama, Japan, on July 6. Image: Reuters

Mr. Abe laid out his new geopolitical vision for the region when he visited India in 2007, when he had just taken office as Japan’s prime minister. In his address to the Indian parliament, he said that the international community needs a concept of “open Asia”, which is not limited to the familiar Pacific framework, but should include the Indian Ocean as well. other free and prosperous seas, with the criterion of openness and transparency to all nations”.

For Mr. Abe, the traditional term “Asia-Pacific” is used to describe the East Asia region, in which China is at the center.

The youngest Prime Minister in Japanese history at that time wanted the international community to see the continent under a broader lens, more accurately appreciate the importance of India and the maritime nations in Southeast Asia in the picture. regional geopolitics.

“Mr Abe’s ‘Confluence of two oceans’ speech to the Indian parliament marked the beginning of a new chapter in Japan-India relations, and his strong message of ‘Asian expansion’ placed foundation for the Indo-Pacific concept,” said Jagannath Panda, director of the Stockholm Center for South Asia and Indo-Pacific (SCSA-IPA) at the Institute for Security and Development Policy (ISDP). in Sweden, commented.

Mr. Abe also pioneered the defining principles underpinning the new geopolitical concept. In his 2016 speech, a year before Mr. Trump announced his strategic vision for the region, Prime Minister Abe described the Indo-Pacific as a region that “respects freedom, the rule of law, economy market, free from coercion or intimidation, and oriented towards prosperity”.

These factors are now used by officials from Asia to Europe, the United States and allies and partners when sharing expectations for the region. The Indo-Pacific is seen as a more pronounced geopolitical entity through diplomatic maneuvering from the Abe administration.

Pottinger confirmed in 2017, when he was in charge of the Asia policy department of the US National Security Council, he agreed with his colleagues to choose the slogan “Free and open Indo-Pacific”. because he feels Mr. Abe’s vision is “reasonable” and in line with Washington’s strategy for the region.

In November 2017, the Australian government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull adopted this concept with a policy of promoting a “secure, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific”.

France responded to the concept in 2018 with the expectation of creating the “Indo-Pacific axis” mentioned in President Emmanuel Macron’s speech with three pillars including France, India and Australia. Germany follows in the footsteps of France in 2020, while Britain officially included a new geopolitical concept in its diplomatic white paper in July 2021.

The concept is also well received by multilateral organisations. ASEAN, during the period when Indonesia holds the rotating chair, announced the ASEAN Vision for the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) at a high-level meeting in June. The European Union (EU) in September 2021 announced it. The “EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”, defines this vast region stretching from the east coast of Africa towards the Indian Ocean to the Pacific islands.

“Amidst skepticism about the implications of the new concept and its feasibility, Mr. Abe has successfully popularized the Indo-Pacific phrase and convinced the world of its value.” Dr. Jagannath Panda, expert at the East Asia Center in MP-IDSA, New Delhi, comments.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump during a meeting in May 2017.  Photo: Reuters

Mr. Abe (left) shakes hands with Mr. Trump during the meeting in May 2017. Image: Reuters

Not only formulating the concept, Mr. Abe has tried to realize his geopolitical vision with groundbreaking diplomatic initiatives. in two periods as prime minister of Japan.

He pushed for the establishment of a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quartet) with the participation of Japan, Australia, India and the United States over the first period of his administration, which lasted about a year. The initiative had to wait until he returned to the prime minister’s seat in 2012 to get active again.

“The revived Quad in the form of narrow multilateralism has led the process of regional security. This has long been recognized as the work of Mr. Abe,” said Dr. Panda.

The former Japanese prime minister also sought to pull small and medium-sized economies more deeply into the Indo-Pacific architecture.

The Japanese government of the Abe era played a leading role in negotiating to hold countries to stay with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement after the US abruptly withdrew in 2017, turning the initiative into a Comprehensive Partnership and Trans-Pacific Progress (CPTPP). Mr. Abe also insisted on persuading India to stay with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), even though South Asia’s largest economy chose to withdraw in 2019.

The principles of Japan’s relations with ASEAN, outlined by Mr. Abe in his first series of foreign trips at the start of his second term in 2012, have been continuously consolidated and maintained throughout his period. head of the government and after his resignation in 2020.

In a time when the world is deeply divided by different national interests and international trends, Mr. Abe’s legacy that has had the greatest impact on Japan, the region and the international community is the unity of India. Indo-Pacific, according to Dr. Panda.

“His profound knowledge and unique diplomatic talent were decisive in promoting the Quartet and pulling the great powers of Japan – India – America – Australia to stand in the same boat,” the Indian expert said. von. “Mr Abe is the most important pragmatic patron of the Indo-Pacific concept.”

Name (Theo WSJ, Japan Forward)

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