As Europe's interest in the Indo-Pacific grows, is Japan ready to lead the way?
Alarmed by China’s rising power, its frictions with neighboring countries in the East and South China seas, allegations of human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and crackdowns in Hong Kong, European countries are seeking to step up their involvement in the Indo-Pacific region.
The European Union announced last month that it will unveil its strategy for the Indo-Pacific in September. Most recently, France carried out a joint military exercise in southern Japan along with the host nation, the United States and Australia. Germany and the United Kingdom will also dispatch a frigate and an aircraft carrier, respectively, to the region later this year.
Officials in Tokyo, who have long lobbied European partners to be more active in the geopolitical hot spot, are welcoming their renewed interest. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said this month that increased participation by European nations “will lead to regional peace and stability.”
In order to take advantage of the growing common ground, Tokyo now needs to show leadership by setting out a long-term, detailed roadmap for cooperation that will cement the European countries’ presence in the area.
“Tokyo is often asking Europeans to step up their engagement in the region, but, at the same time, it does not provide concrete proposals,” said Celine Pajon, a research fellow at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. “Japan thus should more clearly state its expectations.”
And until Monday, French, American and Japanese troops conducted their first-ever joint drills on Japanese soil, in Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures, training for the defense of a remote island against enemy invasion and urban warfare. The exercise followed a French training fleet’s tour of the Indo-Pacific region. The three countries also went ahead with another round of exercises in the East China Sea with Australia.
The series of exercises are reflections of “the credibility of the French engagement in the Indo-Pacific, to discourage faits accomplis and stand by its partners,” Pajon of IFRI said.
Asked about whether Europe’s presence in the Indo-Pacific region is sustainable, Pajon said, “Europe’s commitment to the region is comprehensive and not limited to a naval presence. The naval presence is a symbolic dimension of it, but maritime security encompasses various dimensions pertaining to nontraditional security, environmental protection (and) ocean governance … that do not need a military involvement,” she said.
Read the full article on the Japan Times' website.