‘The Quad members should consider inviting West European countries to join the Quad security framework with an affiliate membership status.’


New Delhi: Professor Satoshi Morimoto, former Defence Minister of Japan; and Chancellor, Takushoku University, Japan, speaks to The Sunday Guardian.

Q: How do you see Japan’s future security outlook under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga? Do you think a political consensus has emerged in recent times to make Japan’s security outlook more responsible and responsive? How should Japan promote political consensus to strengthen its security and military outlook?

A: The pandemic crisis of Covid-19 has caused serious suffering all over the world since early 2020. It doesn’t look like that the spread of Covid-19 will finish anytime soon in 2021. It will be crucial when the herd acquired immunity starts functioning because of vaccination to overcome this on-going Covid-19 crisis. Since the last year, this pandemic has badly affected the international exchange of people and goods. Economic performance and diplomatic activities also have been stagnated. Domestic politics of various countries tends to be inward-looking. Advanced countries are sluggish in international coordination and cooperation as well. International development assistance to developing countries is severely stagnated. As a result, it leads to quite serious situations such as the shortage of food supply and healthcare support, and the deterioration of public security in many countries.

Q: How do you see the current US-China rivalry, and how Japan under Prime Minister Suga aims to strengthen its security ties in Asia and beyond?

A: In this global context, China and Russia pose serious challenges and anxieties to neighbouring countries and regions due to their hegemonic expansionist policy, backed by strong military power. Russia attempts assertive military interventions in Eastern Europe (such as Ukraine) and in the Middle East (such as Syria) to expand Russian spheres of influence. On the Indo-Pacific side, Far East Russia, China, and North Korea keep on expanding their military activities in East Asia. The Trump administration attempted to stop China’s intelligence activities in the US from stealing sensitive high-technology, information, and property rights to increase China’s advantage in the area of high-technology. PLA expands their military activities in maritime and air space. Beijing also seeks access to various countries like island countries in the Indo-Pacific region by using their financial loans, investments, bribery, intimidation, etc. In this strategic context, the United States has been promoting the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. Japan has agreed with this FOIP concept and cooperates with the US, based on the Japan-US alliance. In addition, Australia, India, Japan, and the US have been developing the Quad security dialogue to advance the FOIP strategy. Meanwhile, Beijing expresses their opposition to both the FOIP and the Quad.

Q: What are the prospects of US-Japan security ties under President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Suga? Do you see the relationship between the US and Japan will strengthen further under these new leaderships?

A: The Biden administration aims to put emphasis on international cooperation and America’s alliance partnership to recover US credibility and reliability in the world. I agree with this policy direction. On the other hand, American society has been seriously fragmented. It will be Biden’s top priority to repair and rebuild the social cohesion of the United States. So far it is not so certain to which direction the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy will actually move forward. There are two fundamental questions. First, if Biden’s China policy would seek for the cooperation and compromise with China through their strategic dialogue as the Obama administration did, then Biden might repeat Obama’s mistakes again. The US engagement policy with China as a “responsible stakeholder” failed to stop China’s assertive expansion after all. Second, Biden’s new Indo-Pacific strategy might take a new approach, based on more inclusive allies and partners, which are different from the FOIP. Nonetheless, Biden will continue to take the Quad concept seriously. It would be the best outcome if this kind of Biden’s new inclusive partnership approach could discourage the hegemonic expansion of China and Russia. Otherwise, if Biden’s new approach seeks for the coexistence and coprosperity with China and Russia by further compromise and reconciliation, then Biden’s engagement policy would most probably give opportunistic advantages to China and Russia.

Q: How do you see the prospects of Quad in Indo-Pacific post Shinzo Abe? Do you see Japan will like to militarize the Quad process?

A: The Quad concept is a key strategy for realising peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. In recent years, the Quad security framework has been rapidly making progress for two reasons. First, China’s provocative attempts led to the China-India border conflict last year. It is appreciated that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership deals with China’s provocations by self-restrained response and deterrence. Second, China’s bullying pressures on Australia leads to the deterioration of Australian public perceptions of China. It is apparently against international trade rules that Beijing put high trade pressures on Australian export markets such as barley, beef, wine, and iron ore by introducing massive tariff, strict control or sanctions. Beijing’s coercive approaches to New Delhi and Canberra are due to the strategic mismanagement of Beijing. On the contrary, these Chinese behaviours push the Quad security cooperation much closer.

The Quad framework is a Foreign Minister-level security dialogue at this time. This Quad framework is expected to step up to a summit-level security dialogue framework. Furthermore, the Quad should build a Quad-based security framework to support countries of Southeast and Southwest Asia by promoting various security cooperations: defence equipment cooperation, capacity-building measures, joint training, and joint exercise. If these joint security cooperation measures are properly implemented, then the Quad framework will become the key pillars of regional peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.

Q: What is the prospect of Quad gradually turning into Quad Plus? What specific interest Japan holds with regar to the Quad Plus narrative? How do you see China’s offensive expansion under President Xi Jinping? How should Tokyo cope with it in cooperation with the US and other Quad partners?

A: In recent years, major European countries keep much interest in the Indo-Pacific region and send their naval and air force to the region. The US, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand join together to ensure the implementation of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea in addressing illicit maritime activities and ship-to-ship transfers. Meanwhile, Canberra and Tokyo are also talking about Japan’s escort of Australian force and the conclusion of the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement (Japan-Australia RAA similar to Status of Forces Agreement). Major European countries also join the Indo-Pacific regional security. In this year, 2021, UK will deploy its aircraft career “Queen Elizabeth” to Asia. Germany also sends its frigate warship to Asia. France, Germany, Italy, and the UK have already published their Indo-Pacific strategy. The Quad members should consider inviting these West European countries to join the Quad security framework with an affiliate membership status.

Q: What role do you expect India to play? How do you assess the future of India-Japan ties in a rapidly changing geo-political environment?

A: In this strategic context, if any serious situation happens in the foreseeable future, it would probably occur in the maritime/air spheres of the South China Sea and the East China Sea (including Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands of Japan). It should be noted that India’s role is critical to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. No other country but India can ensure the freedom and security of navigation in the Indian Ocean. Japan and India should work together to overcome this current Covid-19 crisis, and then redouble our efforts to ensure the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific in closer cooperation, and to maintain our shared universal values of freedom and democracy.

Dr Jagannath Panda, who conducted this interview, is Research Fellow, MP-IDSA. Dr. Panda is a specialist in East Asian affairs.