|Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seen here reviewing an honor guard in Tokyo with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2016, has been seeking to build a consensus to counter an increasingly aggressive China. | BLOOMBERG Pix Credit HERE|
I still believe that the Trump Administration decision to abandon the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2017 (e.g., here) was a bad idea born of the somewhat reckless misunderstanding of its object married to the expediency of the politically plausible desire to quickly differentiate his administration from that of his predecessor (e.g., here). The problem was, of course, that his predecessor 's own political allies despised TPP even more than the President (see, e.g., here). And ironically, the move likely accelerated the decision of Chinese officials to accelerate planning for challenging (and in their minds quickly overcoming) American hegemony over the narrative and oversight of global trade, and the projection of military power to enforce what is viewed as the emerging dominant regime through the Belt and Road Initiative (see, e.g., here). All of this might have been inevitable, of course (though there is always a choice between engagement, de-coupling, and combat).
The TPP, though, survives in somewhat truncated form. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)includes substantial portions of the TPP. More importantly, however, The idea of the TPP, however, has survived the dystopia of current American politics. Even as the imperial center retreated, its periphery remains loyal to the unifying idea that holds this group of states together. It is here that the incarnation of a trade and security policy for the old TPP group may be converging with, and draw inspiration from an unexpected source--the leadership of Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan. To that end it may be worth considering the role of the "Abe Doctrine", brief summary here, here;) book here) as serving as the principled framework for the constitution of a leadership group built by the periphery around a temporarily vacant center.
And, indeed, the absence of the center--in this case the United States, while its elites busy themselves in an important but utterly self indulgent and inevitably destructive civil war--provides an important space in which states traditionally led by the center now have the opportunity to reshape the arrangements under which they will come together and the nature of the leadership role expected of the (eventually returning) center. To that end, Japan, India, Australia, and Vietnam will likely play key roles. If for no other reason it may be important to pay less attention to the United States at this moment of transition, and more to the important foundation building engaged in by US allies and friends. That leadership responsibility will likely survive the results of the US 2020 Presidential elections, which will offer little respite from American factionalism and thus enhance the role of its allies to lead. The Abe Doctrine appears to be an important element of that development--not just in itself, but as a set of organizing principles around which like minded states might develop and implement a common position and a joint win win strategy. And the connection between Japan and India holds some interesting possibilities in that construction, one which may serve to buffer the consequences of regrettable choices made in recent years by Australian and New Zealand leaderships. Jagannath Panda provides some valuable commentary with respect to these development in the Japan Times, The Abe doctrine on 'Quad plus (17 July 2020) reproduced below. Whatever one thinks of these developments, the great insight is that for the moment it is the periphery that will lead the center. One can only hope that they use this quite historic opportunity wisely.
The Abe doctrine on 'Quad plus'
by Jagannath Panda
Jul 17, 2020
New Delhi – No matter how the domestic debate in Japan evaluates Shinzo Abe’s stint as the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, he will leave a strong legacy for successfully crafting the quadrilateral security dialogue process in the Indo-Pacific region. The Quad consists of the United States and its major allies in Asia — Japan, India and Australia.
If Abe’s “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech in the Indian Parliament on Aug. 22, 2007, momentously explicated the birth of the Indo-Pacific narrative for years to come, his “democratic security diamond” proposition in 2012 underpinned the formalization of Quad 2.0 in later years.
While such foreign policy laurels distinguish Abe from his predecessors, it needs to be seen to what extent Abe has succeeded in cementing the Quad process — from Quad 2.0 to the “Quad plus” narrative — in order to strengthen Tokyo’s security stance internationally. In other words, how does a Quad plus framework compliment Abe’s security doctrines in a contested Indo-Pacific region?
While the establishment of Quad 2.0 can be attributed to Abe’s foreign policy and ideological overtures, Quad plus has emerged as a coalition of “interested countries” led by the U.S. that Tokyo has shown support for. The Abe administration is aware that a Quad plus narrative, though still abstract, offers a strategic direction to the durability of Japan’s international activism that Abe has built over the years.
It allows Japan to stay engaged with the alliance partners while establishing new contacts outside the alliance framework with countries in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean region and other continents that intend to hedge more openly against an assertive China. In other words, the Quad plus framework draws on Abe’s global intent to build the “broader Asia” coalition that he pitched in the Indian Parliament way back in 2007.
Abe realizes that Quad 2.0 has the potential to emerge as a tightly knit alliance in the maritime and security domain. India’s military logistical agreements with Australia, the impending agreement with Japan on an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement and the evolving India-U.S. defense partnership are emerging as a benchmark for the progress of Quad 2.0. Such a closer maritime-military nexus might not be the case in a Quad plus arrangement. Hence, Abe’s acceptance of Quad plus is linked to strengthening a global architecture that would allow Tokyo to gain on an economic, military and diplomatic scale through greater consensus-building exercises vis-a-vis China.
Importantly, the Quad plus framework could be advantageous for Japan on several fronts. First, it provides an opportunity for Japan to execute a long-term economic recovery plan and the creation of a sustainable economic post-COVID-19 structure in Asia. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that Japan’s economy will see a 5.2 percent contraction in 2020, which will be followed by a 3 percent recovery rate in 2021. An economic alliance framework led by the Quad nations and supported by the Quad Plus countries (New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam in particular) can go a long way in helping Abe strategize his economic recovery plans.
For instance, Japan is New Zealand’s fourth-largest trading partner: Two-way trade totaled $8.8 billion in 2019. Via a Quad plus synergy, Japan could refocus on efforts that were initiated in 1974, such as the establishment of the Japan-New Zealand Business Council, which contributed to boosting private sector growth. Further, utilizing the young and labor-intensive demographics of countries like Vietnam could help in moving production out of China.
While South Korea may require a more diplomatic touch, Vietnam can prove to be a major partner in Abe’s manufacturing departure from China. Ties have grown through the Vietnam-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement over the years while a survey by Japanese consultancy NNA Japan Co. revealed that Vietnam has emerged as a preferred foreign direct investment destination for Japanese investors with India coming a close second.
Second, under the Quad plus framework, Tokyo could strengthen its strategic synergy in the maritime and defense domain, outside its relationship with the U.S., India and Australia, with the new set of countries such as Vietnam and New Zealand. Most of the Quad plus nations are vulnerable to Chinese aggressiveness; even amid the disruptions resulting from the global pandemic, China has continued its aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific.
By gradually but surely adopting the Indo-Pacific construct, New Zealand’s pull away from China is noticeable. Abe and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s summit meeting in 2019 resulted in a joint statement titled “Taking the Japan-New Zealand Strategic Cooperative Partnership to the next level,” which aimed to promote a “free and open Indo-Pacific” while expressing concern over the tense situation in the South China Sea.
Concurrently, as part of an intensified ASEAN engagement, Vietnam has begun to figure prominently in Japan’s “Free and Open Indo Pacific” vision. Even South Korea, with the decision to continue with the GSOMIA defense intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, highlighted a common threat perception both nations share vis-a-vis China and how that extends beyond their strained ties. A Quad plus proposition allows Tokyo to maneuver its foreign policy within these growing strategic gambits.
Third, while Abe’s long-cherished dream to revise Japan’s pacifist Constitution may remain unfulfilled, his attempt to revitalize the nation’s defense and security structure, including boosting defense exports and building technology, is crucial to Japan’s future. A focus on defense-sector growth and exports is vital toward fulfilling this aim. In this context, traditional Quad partners like India and Australia along with prospective “plus” countries such as Vietnam and New Zealand take on added importance.
Over the past few years, Vietnam has emerged as a major defense market, with a rising defense budget and a wish to reduce dependence on Russia. New Zealand in 2016 also announced plans to maintain annual increases to its military budget that will manage defense spending at an average of 1 percent of its GDP until 2030. The possibilities of Japan building its defense sector as a result of a Quad plus connection with these countries are hence significant.
Fourth, a Quad plus framework allows Japan to build a global consensus that defends a rules-based order by trying to change the character of existing multilateral institutions that are being challenged by China’s increasing authoritarian or revisionist policies. In a post-COVID-19 narrative, the Quad plus process accelerates a context for Japan’s cherished dream of supporting new multilateral frameworks or connotations that exclude China.
The D-10 (democratic 10) alliance is one such medium that Japan would like to view in strategic consonance with the Quad plus as it supports an anti-China narrative globally. An expanded Group of Seven framework is another forum that Japan would like to support. Likewise, Quad plus could gradually reinvigorate the debate pertaining to a reformed U.N. Security Council permanent membership that Japan aspires for.
Japan’s search for security will continue to draw its analogy from Abe’s decade-old Quad doctrine even after he leaves office. How the post-Abe leadership translates the framework of “democratic diamond” to a cohesive security platform that Japan has been searching for under its Quad to Quad plus process remains to be seen.
Jagannath Panda is a research fellow and center coordinator for East Asia at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. He is the series editor for “Routledge Studies on Think Asia.”