Shinzo Abe Strikes Back


Japan’s prime minister has paved a policy path that challenges China’s grab for power in the Indo-Pacific region. What happens next?

If there is a single figure, who has played the greatest role in bringing about the “Indo-Pacific” age, it’s arguably Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Since his return to power in 2012, he has, with unmatched single-mindedness, dedicated himself to revamping not only his country’s post–World War II foreign policy, but also the emerging post–American world order.

In an influential op-ed in 2012, entitled “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond,” he laid down one of the most compelling expositions on the inseparability of the Pacific and Indian oceans as a geopolitical unit. “Peace, stability, and freedom of navigation in the Pacific Ocean are inseparable from peace, stability, and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean,” This was in fact a reiteration of his 2007 speech at the Indian Parliament, titled, “Confluence of the Two Seas,” where spoke of a “broader Asia” and “dynamic coupling: between the two vast oceans as “seas of freedom and of prosperity.”

Under his leadership, he vowed that Japan will “play a greater role in preserving the common good in both regions. Less than a decade later, almost all relevant players across Asia, North America, and Oceana, have now embraced Abe’s vision as a geopolitical truism. Former U.S. Adm. Harry Harris, who is of Japanese descent through his mother and is currently the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, generated great buzz by memorably speaking of a singular geopolitical unit extending from “Hollywood to Bollywood”.

Crucially, the Trump administration wholeheartedly embraced the ideological and normative underpinnings of Abe’s vision, which called for a concert of democratic powers, namely Australia, India, Japan and the United States, amid the rise of China, the preeminent revisionist power of the twenty-first century. Thus, the Japanese leader’s political future, and whether his successors will embrace his strategic doctrine, and the fate of a “free and open” order in the Asia are inextricably interlinked.