Japan, with its deep pockets, is quietly using international aid as an effective tool to foster goodwill, even while seeking to get out of the straitjacket of the post-War security mechanism. In recent years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been the primary driver for this transformation.
Under his leadership, Japan created a National Security Council (NSC) in 2013. Two strategic documents were adopted on 17 December 2013 – National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Defence Program Guidelines (NDPG). The NDPG is presently under review. In September 2015, he managed to push through legislation that allowed for Japanese military forces to be deployed abroad under certain circumstances. He has also announced his intentions to amendment Article 9 of the Constitution that forbids offensive military action by Japan. In April 2014, Japan unveiled the ‘Three Principles on Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology’, to enable export of military hardware and technology. In 2015, the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) charter was replaced with the Development Cooperation Charter to provide ODA on a strategic rationale. Military cooperation with ASEAN countries has been enhanced through the Vientiane Vision of 2016. This includes training and capacity enhancement of the Coast Guards. Japan is providing two vessels capable of fighting marine pollution to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard. The Defence Minister of Japan visited Sri Lanka recently.
The Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI) initiative was launched in May 2015 with a commitment of $110 billion funding by the Japanese government and Asian Development Bank for international infrastructure development over the next five years. Japan has been supporting infrastructure projects across Asia, with India being one of the major beneficiaries. The Asia Africa Growth Corridor, the North East Forum and projects in Bangladesh are some of the initiatives in this region. Japan has been providing soft loans of around $2 billion to Bangladesh every year since 2011-13. In June this year, the two countries signed a deal for Japan to provide $1.8 billion for six infrastructure projects. Japan has established a high degree of credibility due to its soft financing and support of viable projects. It is not a coincidence that Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has visited Japan twice within his first 100 days in office as Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Japan had a ‘Two plus Two’ meeting (of Foreign and Defence Ministers) with USA in August 2017 (Security Consultative Committee), with United Kingdom and Australia in December 2017, with France in January 2018, and with Russia on 31 July 2018. The ‘Two plus Two’ with India has still not been upgraded to ministerial level. Trilaterals involving US, UK, Australia, India and Japan, in varying combinations already exist, as also with China and South Korea. Needless to say, these diplomatic initiatives have elements of military exchange.
This year, Japan raised a 2,100 strong amphibious brigade. French and British warships have visited Japan and joint exercises have been conducted. Japan has taken part in Malabar (June 2018) and RIMPAC (July 2018). This year, for the second successive year, a Japanese helicopter carrier will sail to nations across south east and south Asia (including India and Sri Lanka). Meanwhile, two ships have exercised with NATO ships off Spain and in the Baltic Sea this month. Media reports have indicated that India and Japan may sign a deal for providing reciprocal logistics support to military units.