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Abe changed Japan’s meaning for Australia

Posted By on July 11, 2022 @ 12:15

Before Shinzo Abe, Australia’s vital economic relationship with Japan had only small, slowly evolving defence, strategic and intelligence dimensions. By the time he finished as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Australia and Japan were quasi-allies [1].

Before Abe’s first unsuccessful stint as prime minister (2006–07), Australia had mused in hopeful terms about a ‘quiet revolution [2] in Japan’s external policy’. Canberra wanted ‘a more confident Japan assuming its rightful place in the world and our region’.

Abe delivered that revolution. He expanded Japan’s understanding of its regional power and international prerogatives far beyond Australia’s imaginings. In his second term as leader (2012–2020), he transformed [3] Japan’s foreign policy; one part of that was the ‘special relationship’ with Australia.

In 2014, Abe travelled to Canberra to seal a free-trade agreement with Australia. The work had started during his first term as prime minister. After seven long years [4] of negotiation, he made it happen, as much a statement of strategic intent as an economic partnership.

In his address [5] to Australia’s parliament on that 2014 trip (delivered in English), Abe proclaimed the ambitious terms of the special relationship that was all about shaping and making the Indo-Pacific:

Let us join together all the more in order to make the vast seas from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, and those skies, open and free. In everything we say and do, we must follow the law and never fall back onto force or coercion. When there are disputes, we must always use peaceful means to find solutions. These are natural rules. I believe strongly that when Japan and Australia, sharing common values, join hands, these natural rules will become the norm for the seas of prosperity, that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian. Today is the day our special relationship is born.

Abe’s special relationship [6] with Australia was atypical in the region—a level of strategic cooperation that no other Asian leader would reach for. Australia valued Abe’s declaration that Japan would have a military and security role [7] in Asia’s future.

Abe remade much. The special relationship has many parts.

The deepening [8] quasi-alliance provides the overarching structure. Japan has risen [9] to become a defence partner [10] for Australia on a par with New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Japan sits on the second tier, with the traditional Anglo allies, below the peak from which the US presides as the paramount ally. Back in 2006, one of the best in the business, Des Ball [11], rated Japan as Australia’s fourth most important security partner, saying Australia’s security cooperation had intensified and expanded to the point where Japan ranked behind only the US, UK and New Zealand. And Ball was writing before Abe really got going.

The new regional construct [12], the Indo-Pacific [13], shaped the context. Japan and Australia were the first countries to place the Indo-Pacific atop their foreign policies. A more conventional Japanese leader (or leaders) wouldn’t have overturned Tokyo’s old Asia–Pacific frame.

Abe’s contributions to advancing economic cooperation in the region included his signing a free-trade agreement [14] with Australia in Canberra in 2014 and saving the Trans-Pacific Partnership [15] after the US pulled out under Donald Trump—a TPP without the US could only exist with Japan at its heart. He was also instrumental in securing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an effort to redraw the economic and strategic map [16] of the Indo-Pacific as the ‘joining together’ counter to the ‘decoupling’ duel [17] between the US and China. Previously, Japan had no free-trade agreement with China or South Korea. With RCEP, it does.

Abe was Asia’s pre-eminent Trump whisperer [18], setting the model for getting close to America’s 45th president as a way to embrace the alliance. Former PM Malcolm Turnbull boasted [19] that he was tougher than Abe and got a better result with Trump, but Abe showed the way. An Australian prime minister used a Japanese prime minister as a key marker to shape his approach to a US president.

Abe also worked to strengthen [20] the trilateral [21] (Australia, Japan and the US), making the linkage [10] between [22] the US–Japan and the US–Australia alliances.

Australia pondered buying its new-generation submarine [23] from Japan as a crowning expression of the small ‘a’ alliance Tony Abbott proclaimed with Abe. As prime minister, Abbott went close to delivering Option J [24] for our ‘strong [25] ally’ [26] Japan. The Canberra system and the Liberal Party jibed [27], while the Japanese system grappled with the unaccustomed role of exporting its most valuable military technology.

The rebirth of the Quad [28] grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the US reflected Abe’s vision of it as a ‘democratic security diamond’ [29]. The statement from the other Quad leaders on Abe’s assassination called him a ‘transformative leader’ [30] for what he’d done for Japan and its relationships with Australia, India and the US.

Abe defined the terms of Australia’s alignment with Japan, as China’s [31] bullying [32] showed Tokyo and Canberra that the quasi-alliance was more a need than an option. His refashioning of Japan as a ‘normal’ country was a response to the breakdown of the Mao–Nixon bargain [33], as the US and China came to see each other as threats and competitors.

What Abe meant to Australia was given broad expression in the tribute [34] by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese:

Japan has lost a true patriot and a true leader, and Australia has lost a true friend. The friendship that Mr Abe offered Australia was warm in sentiment and profound in consequence.

During his time as Prime Minister, no one was more committed to furthering relations between our two nations. He visited Australia no less than five times as the Prime Minister of Japan …

He elevated our bilateral relationship to a special strategic partnership. Under his longstanding advocacy for closer links between our two nations, we have also increased defence cooperation, including through the recently signed reciprocal access agreement.

Mr Abe understood instinctively the values that Australia and Japan share of democracy and human rights, and the shared interests we have in bolstering the global rules-based order. His vision transcended political cycles.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/abe-changed-japans-meaning-for-australia/

URLs in this post:

[1] quasi-allies: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/why-australia-matters-more-than-ever-for-japan/

[2] quiet revolution: https://archive.lowyinstitute.org/publications/2005-lowy-lecture-hon-john-howard-mp-prime-minister-australia

[3] transformed: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/how-abe-changed-japan/

[4] seven long years: https://pmtranscripts.pmc.gov.au/release/transcript-23628

[5] address: https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;db=CHAMBER;id=chamber%2Fhansardr%2F3060e0ca-b9e8-4414-bc3b-1c7e6d66cbd6%2F0004;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F3060e0ca-b9e8-4414-bc3b-1c7e6d66cbd6%2F0000%22

[6] special relationship: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australia-japan-and-the-future-of-strategic-relationships-in-asia/

[7] military and security role: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/asian-security-doctrines-1-japan-steps-up/

[8] deepening: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-case-for-japan-australia-defence-cooperation-guidelines/

[9] risen: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-new-relationship-of-japan-and-australia/

[10] partner: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/what-will-australia-do-with-japan/

[11] Des Ball: https://nautilus.org/apsnet/0632a-ball-html/#axzz2m7LbMjVG

[12] regional construct: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/making-the-indo-pacific/

[13] Indo-Pacific: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/coexistence-or-war-in-the-indo-pacific/

[14] free-trade agreement: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/in-force/jaepa/Pages/japan-australia-economic-partnership-agreement

[15] Trans-Pacific Partnership: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/in-force/cptpp/Pages/comprehensive-and-progressive-agreement-for-trans-pacific-partnership

[16] redraw the economic and strategic map: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/rcep-will-redraw-the-economic-and-strategic-map-of-the-indo-pacific/

[17] ‘decoupling’ duel: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/cultural-decoupling-from-china-will-hurt-the-us/

[18] Trump whisperer: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2020/08/29/commentary/japan-commentary/shinzo-abe-japan-achievements/

[19] boasted: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/turnbull-on-trump-dystopia-and-deals/

[20] strengthen: https://www.dfat.gov.au/news/news/Pages/australia-us-and-japan-announce-trilateral-partnership-for-infrastructure-investment-in-the-indo-pacific

[21] trilateral: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/inserting-iron-in-the-idiom-on-the-east-china-sea/

[22] between: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24905071?seq=1

[23] submarine: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-strange-submarine-saga-how-did-we-get-there/

[24] Option J: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/option-j-would-you-like-strategic-benefits-with-that/

[25] strong: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/australia-japan-abbott-uses-word

[26] ally’: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/tony-abbott-refuses-to-back-down-over-china-comments-20131128-2ydw1.html

[27] jibed: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-strange-submarine-saga-vital-yet-vexed/

[28] rebirth of the Quad: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/aspis-decades-quad-1-0-and-quad-2-0/

[29] ‘democratic security diamond’: https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/a-strategic-alliance-for-japan-and-india-by-shinzo-abe

[30] ‘transformative leader’: https://www.pm.gov.au/media/australia-india-united-states-joint-statement-mourning-former-prime-minister-shinzo-abe

[31] China’s: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/turnbull-memoir-lays-out-australias-shift-on-china/

[32] bullying: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-evolution-of-australias-china-challenge/

[33] Mao–Nixon bargain: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-great-asia-bargain-fades-and-falls-away/

[34] tribute: https://www.pm.gov.au/media/transcript-press-conference

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