Kentaro Sonoura

Japan’s Indo-Pacific Strategy will tackle threats such as piracy, illegal fishing, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction beside bringing stability and prosperity, says the special advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan, Kentaro Sonoura, in an interview with the ‘New Straits Times’.

Question: What is the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”?

Answer: A free and open maritime order based on the rule of law is a cornerstone for stability and prosperity of the international community. In particular, the Indo-Pacific region is the core of the vitality of the world with its vast population and economic dynamism.

Japan has been promoting peace and stability in the region by developing the Indo-Pacific region as free and open “international public goods”.

Japan has been promoting the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, consisting of three pillars: promoting and establishing freedom of navigation and the rule of law, pursuing economic prosperity by improving connectivity with quality infrastructure development in accordance with “international standards” and securing peace and stability through capacity-building assistance in the areas of maritime law enforcement and disaster prevention.

Q: How can Malaysia in particular, and Asean in general be a part of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, and benefit from it?

A: Both Japan and Malaysia are highly dependent on maritime transport. A free and open maritime order based on the rule of law is vital for us since it is the determinant of stability and prosperity for both our countries and, of course, for Asean.

We consider Malaysia, given its geographical location, an important partner for us in advocating a free and open Indo-Pacific. It is our hope that we have Malaysia’s support and cooperation for this strategy.

The Indo-Pacific region, where Asean is an important hub between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is facing various maritime threats such as illegal fishing, piracy, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and natural disasters. Japan’s commitment to the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” aims to tackle these challenges and to create “international public goods” that will bring about stability and prosperity to any country.

Our existing bilateral cooperation between Japan and Malaysia in the areas of infrastructure development, maritime capacity building and defence cooperation, to name a few, are tangible examples of such endeavour.

The effects of these activities will then reinforce the nexus of cooperation in other parts of the region.

The enhanced connectivity through quality infrastructure development will eventually coalesce into a free and open Indo-Pacific from which, not only Malaysia, but also Asean and the entire Indo-Pacific region will benefit.

Q: How does this strategy relate to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and what are the prospects for TPP?

A: TPP is truly an important effort to promote a free and open, rule-based international trade system that is designed to create a region-wide economic sphere.

The concept TPP, therefore, completely fuses with the goal of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”.

Based on the agreement in principle at the TPP Ministerial Meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, the government of Japan is continuing its efforts towards the early signing and entry into force of the TPP.

Q: How well has the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” been received by other countries?

A: The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” has received positive responses from many countries. For instance, the leaders of Japan and the United States agreed during President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan earlier this year that the two countries would work together to promote peace and prosperity in the region by developing the Indo-Pacific as free and open.

In addition, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India also agreed to align Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” with India’s “Act East Policy”.

Other countries, including members of Asean, have also expressed support for us.

Q: What are the challenges this strategy could possibly run into and how can they be overcome?

A: The biggest challenge would be to promote the idea of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” itself and to formulate concrete cooperation towards a free and open Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law. Japan would like to deepen collaboration with countries concerned to overcome these challenges.

Q: This strategy seems to be concerned with peace, security and stability of the region. Does Japan plan to strengthen cooperation with maritime law enforcement agencies of Asean countries?

A: Japan already has ongoing cooperation, for example, in the area of the maritime law enforcement in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. Japan intends to expand and deepen such cooperation to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Q: Does the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” overlap with or complement China’s Belt and Road Initiative?

A: The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” aims to realise a free and open maritime order in the Indo-Pacific region combined with improved connectivity through developing high-quality infrastructure.

These attributes inherent in this strategy would help create a region that would serve as “international public goods”, which bring about stability and prosperity to any country without prejudice.

In this sense, Japan will cooperate with any country, including China, as long as the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific is embraced by it.

Abe made this point very clear in his speech at the 23rd International Conference on the Future of Asia on June 5.

He said: The One Belt, One Road initiative holds the potential to connect East and West, as well as the diverse regions found in between. Regarding infrastructure, there is a frame of thinking that is widely shared across the international community. First of all, it is critical for infrastructure to be open to use by all, and to be developed through procurement that is transparent and fair.  I, furthermore consider it essential for projects to be economically viable and to be financed by debt that can be repaid, and not to harm the soundness of the debtor nation’s finances.  I would expect that the One Belt, One Road initiative will fully incorporate such a common frame of thinking, and come into harmony with the free and fair Trans-Pacific economic zone, and contribute to the peace and prosperity of the region and the world. Japan is ready to extend cooperation from this perspective.”

Q: Will the Japanese government step up efforts against the North Korean threat? What are the measures to be taken in terms of its foreign and security policies?

A: North Korea poses an unprecedented, grave and imminent threat to the international community.

The missile launch last month proves that a meaningful dialogue cannot be expected with North Korea under the current circumstances.

We need to maximise pressure on North Korea by all means, including through the full implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, so as to corner it into engaging in serious dialogue for denuclearisation.

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