Pacific Forum, the Yokosuka Council on Asia Pacific Studies (YCAPS), and Tama University’s Center for Rule-making Strategies, with support from the US Embassy in Japan, organized a conference discussing maritime issues in the Indo-Pacific as they relate to the “Free and Open” concept. The event was hosted by the Center for Rule-making Strategies in Tokyo November 21-22, 2019. Approximately 35 senior officials, scholars, scientists, and security specialists attended in their personal capacity for an off-the-record discussion. The closed-door conference covered an array of maritime challenges including territorial conflicts, erosion of the rule of law, piracy and other criminal activities, unsustainable fishing practices, and environmental destruction. Synchronizing the efforts of uniquely qualified experts, this conference and its initiatives developed important messages for regional and global thinkers.
The conference provided a platform for professionals to address a multitude of growing concerns while creating an environment encouraging creative problem framing and problem solving. Following the conference, the experts in attendance were invited to submit short analytical commentaries for compilation into this volume. Key themes from this conference are outlined below.
There is an increasing pressure on the traditional US-led security architecture in the Indo-Pacific. This pressure stems from many factors, including evolving economic dynamics and maritime security challenges. Middle powers such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia will have an increasing level of responsibility in shaping the Indo-Pacific region by aligning in these two areas. Japan’s pragmatic approach focuses on strengthening the law enforcement capacities of other regional partners while relying on Official Development Assistance (ODA) to serve as an important foreign policy tool. On this theme, Dr. Stephen Nagy’s piece explores opportunities for maritime cooperation among middle powers in the Indo-Pacific. Dr. Raymond Yamamoto uses the changes in the distribution of Japan’s ODA to demonstrate the Abe administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision is not merely an update to previous ideas such as the Arch of Freedom Prosperity but a unique doctrine tailored to Japan’s current strategic needs. Dr. SATO Yoichiro explores Japan’s FOIP as a strategic approach employed by Japan’s leadership to advance its goals in a region under realignment in response to the People’s Republic of China’s growing economic heft and more threatening posture.
Much of the conversation focused on China maritime activities, which were generally seen as detrimental to a FOIP. In particular, the South China Sea came up as a “flashpoint” or tension front. Dr. OTA Fumio (VADM JMSDF ret.) contrasts Japan’s FOIP concept with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), arguing that—unlike FOIP—BRI is military-oriented, lacks rules, erodes the sovereignty of participants, imposes unsustainable financial burdens, and lacks transparency. Dr. ITO Go’s contribution focuses on Chinese activities in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as exemplifying that nation’s disruptive behavior.
Other discussions focused on the actions that states might take to address the range of regional maritime challenges. After examining China activities in the South China Sea through the lens of Chinese historical analogy, Vivian Ng argues that the US needs to take bold and unanticipated actions if it wants to disrupt current trajectories and seize the initiative. Dr. Asyurah Salleh points out that national competition exacerbates transnational maritime challenges such as environmental destruction. She unpacks the threats associated with fisheries mismanagement, arguing for a regional fishery management organization and other strategic actions while acknowledging international competition in the South China Sea restricts the range of options available. Finally, Margaret Jackson examines energy considerations for the US-Japan alliance in light of challenges to the flow of resources by sea and suggests the need for improved coordination in infrastructure investment and regional cooperation building.
The current approaches to the myriad of maritime concerns in the Indo-Pacific have been insufficient in securing a future in which the gathered experts are confident that a free and open system will be able to sustain regional peace and stability. Security, economics, environmental practices, and governance are fundamental considerations policymakers and the public must consider when developing a responsible maritime strategy. Reflecting the thoughtful discussion at the conference, the articles that follow provide an enlightened and expert perspective on the variety of themes addressed above. We hope our readers will consider new perspectives, revise their own perceptions appropriately, and engage in respectful and meaningful dialogue with other interested individuals.