As the security environment becomes harsher in Asia amid Chinese military activities and provocations by North Korea, Japan must play an active role for the benefit of regional stability.
In a keynote speech at the Asia Security Summit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida introduced Japan's vision of a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" placing importance on international law, and "fundamental reinforcement of Japan's defense capabilities."
Referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the prime minister expressed a strong sense of crisis, saying that "Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow."
There is certainly growing concern among international society regarding China's increasing military pressure on the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
However, in economic terms, Japan is in an inseparable relationship with China. The question is how to face its neighbor and build a stable relationship. Japan must not just fall in line with the United States, which is vying with China for supremacy, but build its own diplomatic strategy.
To lessen security risks, dialogue is also necessary.
On the occasion of the summit, referred as the Shangri-La Dialogue, face-to-face talks between the defense ministers of Japan and China were held for the first time in 2 1/2 years. Although the talks ended without the two countries' claims over points of concern converging, they agreed to continue dialogue in the future.
The two sides should quickly set up a hotline between their defense authorities to prevent doubts and fears from developing into unforeseen situations.
It is also essential to pay attention to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Pacific nations, which have been perplexed by the U.S.-China confrontation. In his speech, Kishida stated, "Japan will not lose its humility, flexibility in valuing diversity, or tolerance that respects the individuality of others." If that is indeed the case, then Japan needs to make carefully orchestrated diplomatic efforts giving attention to diverse voices.
Another serious concern in East Asia is North Korea's nuclear and missile development. The defense ministers of Japan, the United States and South Korea have agreed to resume joint drills to counter Pyongyang's ballistic missile launches.
However, the defense ministers of Japan and South Korea did not hold talks together. Due to worsening bilateral relations in recent years, the two countries haven't even had sufficient communications between their defense authorities. They should search for opportunities for dialogue to normalize the relationship.
Amid the declining U.S. influence in Asia, Japan has to build multilateral collaboration to make up for this, and work to maintain order. It needs a multilayered approach and wisdom to avoid crises.