Kishida’s Shangri-La speech: What he means, why it matters

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Originally published by Japan Forward

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The Prime Minister addressed security matters and indicated that Japan was going to play its part in ensuring a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

A lot happens at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the annual gathering in Singapore of defense officials, experts, and hangers-on.

One of the highlights of the 2022 event — even more than China’s defense minister reciting his list of complaints to United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — was Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s speech.

Sometimes it’s useful to wait a bit and digest what you heard before commenting on what it meant. A week has passed, so here goes:

Japan is certainly being far more active in asserting itself ー and I suppose taking a leadership role ー in Indo-Pacific affairs than it has done before in the modern era.

Prime Minister Kishida’s appearance in Singapore and his speech were significant in their own right. But, most of all, he addressed security matters and indicated that Japan was going to play its part in ensuring a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Of course, that expression means ensuring the region is free of Chinese intimidation and domination. He didn’t use quite those words, but his meaning was clear enough.

In the past, you’ll recall, until Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed up in 2012, Japan’s regional role was mostly economic and commercial, and ODA ー overseas development assistance. It purposely shied away from a security role, even verbally.

Remember the fierce political opposition in Japan to the idea of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) doing anything outside Japan, or even dealing with foreign militaries in any serious way? Prime Minister Abe started the shift…and now Kishida is keeping the momentum going.

What Does It Actually Mean? 

It means you will see the JSDF (particularly the Japanese Navy, but the other Japanese services to a degree as well) conducting operations, exercises, and other engagements throughout the region more than anytime in the last 75 years. Of course, the JSDF is small and its resources are so limited that it’s not as if it’s going to blanket the region.

Prime Minister Kishida also announced the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF ー Japan’s Navy) will be sending a small task force (led by the amphibious ship, JS Izumo) throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia to conduct exercises and engagements. A couple of destroyers and a submarine will also be going along.

This would not have been thought possible, say, five years ago. Now it’s considered normal. And you’ll note almost nobody in Japan is complaining. Nor is anyone in the region, except the People’s Republic of China. But the Chinese communists complain about everything, so that’s to be expected.

Also, Japan announced that it would be providing a couple billion dollars worth of security assistance materials to certain Asia-Pacific countries over the next few years. This too is noteworthy. Let’s hope Tokyo has a good plan worked out.

This file by 外務省is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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