Shinzo Abe's Strategic Diamond
Image Credit: Office of the Prime Minister: Japan

Shinzo Abe's Strategic Diamond


Will the return of Shinzo Abe as Japan's prime minister mark the attempted revival of his controversial and short-lived 2007 initiative, the quadrilateral dialogue? A reading of his recent article on a "strategic diamond" of Indo-Pacific Asia's maritime democracies – Japan, the United States, Australia and India – certainly leaves that impression.

Just a few weeks into the job, Abe is already being criticized for heightening mistrust between Japan and China. His stance on the issue of so-called comfort women from the time of Japan's World War II occupation of Korea is cause for concern. And any more general attitude of downplaying Japanese contrition over that brutal period of history hardly seems in Japan's interests in terms of winning friends in Asia or beyond.

Yet it would be inaccurate and unfair to dismiss the entirety of the new Abe government’s foreign and security policy platform as needless or provocative nationalism. It is both prudent and understandable, for instance, that Japan appears set on a modest expansion of its maritime defense capabilities, given several years of tensions with China and worsening anxieties about North Korea.

And a more normalized Japanese defense posture – including a military that can operate confidently with partners beyond Japan's immediate neighborhood – could contribute to the maintenance of security and order in the Indo-Pacific regional commons, where Japan has a legitimate interest as a major seafaring and trading nation.

Still, one area where Abe could well ring alarm bells in Beijing and among those observers most sensitive to China's perceptions is the question of so-called minilateral security collaboration. This refers to small groupings of self-selecting partner countries holding confidential strategic dialogues or military exercises or even joining forces in operations like disaster relief.

This has been a growth industry in Asia over the past decade, driven partly by frustrations with the slow pace of inclusive multilateral institutions like the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Already there is an established trilateral strategic dialogue, Australia, the United States and Japan, and an emerging trilateral forum of Japan, United States and India. An Australia-India-United States trilateral has also been briefly mooted. Meanwhile bilateral dialogues, security declarations and defense cooperation agreements (albeit short of treaty alliances) have proliferated between American allies and partners, notably Australia-Japan, Japan-India, Australia-India and Australia-South Korea.

No doubt Chinese security analysts have been watching all of this with concern, and there's no question that much of this heightened interest in ‘connecting the spokes’ of the American-centric strategic order is due to strategic uncertainty about how China might use its future power. It is understandable hedging and soft balancing.

The question now is whether Japan under Abe might return to the idea of something bigger and more cohesive than a web of bilateral and trilateral dialogues among Indo-Pacific democracies. The quadrilateral dialogue of 2007 brought together Japan, India, Australia and the United States, the four first responders to the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, in a tentative set of mid-level officials talks focused principally on disaster relief and similar transnational security concerns. It was less substantial or threatening than Chinese analysts seem to consider it — something of a phantom menace, as I wrote in The Diplomat at the time.

There will be little immediate appetite for its revival among some participants, notably India and Australia, if they judge that possible benefits in strategic policy coordination are outweighed by the prospective rise in Chinese perceptions, however misplaced, of a containment strategy. Then again, policymakers in these nations naturally resent the idea that China should have a veto over what they talk about with whom. Australia’s conservative opposition has continued to criticize Canberra’s Labor government for withdrawing from the quad in the first place.

And there is no reason why new minilateral arrangements should be destabilizing provided that participants step up their efforts at parallel strategic dialogue with China.

 Either way, I suspect we have not seen the last glimpse of Abe’s strategic diamond.

January 18, 2013 at 02:18

tanginathis wrote:
January 17, 2013 at 10:02 am

<i>Even if they did attack simultaneously, China can wipe them out systematically</i>
You're dreaming! when was the last time your Chinese soldiers have a real combat/war?… no no beating those monks is not counted.
we can't deny that US is war warmonger nation and that means they have every experience in real combat/war so how do you think you China wipe them out systematically?
haha! your comment is longer than the article itselft and most of us ain't no time to read that.

The last time Chinese military fought a war was in Vietnam when the PLA taught the Vietnamese a painful lesson not to invade China's sovereign territories on land.  Now it is time to teach the Vietnamese another lesson not to invade China's sovereignt territorial waters and islands.
As to America, talk is cheap.  Americans had been very brave fighting peoples without arms or who ran away at the first sound of gunfire.  How the Chinese military will do against American military?  We'll see when the time comes when Chinese soldiers go toe to toe against them.  The last time Chinese fought against the Americans we whipped their @$$.  And that was when we didn't have weapons as advanced as they had.  Now we have weapons that are just as good if not better.  My bet is on the Chinese.  My post is long but obviously worth the while for you ignoramuses to read.  You will learn more truth than a whole lifetime of reading Japnese, American and assorted anti-Chinese propaganda.


January 18, 2013 at 01:32

Hehehhahahahahahahhohohohohohhahahahahhehehhahaho… dude you into stand-up comedy in China?

January 18, 2013 at 00:36

Wrong, John Chan. We only enjoy Chinese women only. 

Imbecilic Tactics
January 17, 2013 at 14:18

Why do you "abe", like "Oh", likes to divert from the subject dscussed?  Polluted air?  It seems no one can discuss rationally and logically on any subject. Going off on a tangent and taking taking cheap shots to score points are not the hallmark of an intellectual but clearly that of an imbecile.   The CIA must be really scrapping the bottom of the barrel to recruit dregs like to be their moutpiece.

tze dong
January 17, 2013 at 13:40

China will never becoming a super power, simply because it's always:
(1) going against the nature – Just looking at how the air polutted and the contaminated water/river in China;
(2) going against other non-Han people – Just looking at john chan and liang1a as an example, then looking at people in the main land china
(3) going against other peaceful neighbouring countries – just looking at Japan, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Russia, etc; even Kim Jong Il left a will saying keep building nuke and never trust the Chinese.  

Kangmin Zheng
January 17, 2013 at 13:36

Breaking news.   Communist China officially prepare for war with Japan.   It's getting real ugly.

January 17, 2013 at 10:51

@ John Chan
Ahhhh…the same old stuff again? Never gets old doesn't it?
Damn straight China is Non interference country just remember had the West not "interfered" in China to fight the Japanese off  in WW2 (practically all of Asia). Where would your country be today? think about it! Sometimes…doing nothing also means sitting on the side line watching everything and everyone fall apart and as a human being I cannot find this acceptable.

It is better to die trying than do nothing.

January 17, 2013 at 10:41

John LaChance wrote:
January 17, 2013 at 3:29 am

What is Abe doing? And why is he doing it?
The US presidential staff knew full well that a new prime minister would "dearly desire" to come to the US as soon as possible to pay homage and secure guarantees. From January 2012 until this last minute, the president's desk could have been arranged differently to accommodate the new prime minister. Why didn't we? Because we did not want a beggar on our doorstep, asking us to take the lead against China on such a parochial matter as the Senkakus.
Abe knows what he has to do before he comes to America with his hand out. He has to align the ASEAN countries into a worthy security coalition, regardless of how many economic and military guarantees he has to provide these allies. Only then will we allow Abe to come here and speak with the president regarding what Japan wants and what Japan is willing to do.
We do not want beggars at our doorstep, only allies who are willing to fight for their rights. Senkaku belongs to Japan. Japan must show that it can lead the fight. The US will stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in the South China Sea and with Japan. But, as is our new modus operandi, America will "lead from behind" until the matter clearly becomes our own fight for hegemony.
Very good.  I appreciate the humor.


January 17, 2013 at 10:32

abe wrote:
January 17, 2013 at 5:05 am

Nice dream, Liang1a. Just one question, how can you save China from dirty air that millions in Beijing are suffering? How can you save China when fresh air is running out soon? A thuggish state might see an end of his life soon. No war is need indeed.
Providing fresh air to Beijing and the rest of China is easy – mandate electric cars while generating abundant electricity with hydropower, wind and solar and nuclear power.  China has plenty of river, windy hills and plains and sunny deserts.  China has also discovered some 100,000 to 150,000 tons of urnium not counting the world class uranium depost discovered last November in Inner Mongolia.  No specific amount of ore was reported for the Inner Mongolia discovery.  It could be anywhere froom 100,000 tons to 1 million tons.  Given so much uranium deposit, China can easily build 1,000 nuclear power plants with breeder reactors for hundreds of years.   Clean air is a technological problem that can be easily solved.


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