The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) hosted a Mabini Dialogue on “The Changing Geopolitical Environment in East Asia and the Policy of the Abe Administration” on 30 January 2015 at the Carlos P. Romulo Library, Foreign Service Institute, Pasay City. The guest speaker was Prof. Kunihiko Miyake, President of the Foreign Policy Institute, a private think tank in Japan. He is also the Research Director for Foreign and National Security Affairs of the Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) and a former diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
In his presentation, Prof. Miyake explained how a nation’s power and interests are significantly shaped by its geography. He discussed how geographic vulnerabilities lead to either an aggressive foreign policy (e.g. Russia’s behavior toward Eastern Europe is prompted by the need to create buffer zones in the absence of any natural defense to the Russian territory) or perennial conflict (e.g. the mostly low-lying Iraq is surrounded by rivaling countries and civilizations).
In the case of China, Prof. Miyake pointed to its long history of being invaded by outside groups or the “barbarians”. China perceives that the main threats to its national unity and sovereignty come from its land borders and coasts. This explains why China places high priority in building its military capability and in asserting its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. Prof. Miyake pointed out, however, that countries cannot simply allow China’s actions as they threaten to curtail freedom of navigation and other common goods.
Prof. Miyake also explained that geography accorded Japan the role of a balance against a continental hegemon, similar to how the United Kingdom has acted as a counterweight to any emerging European continental power. He added that the act of balancing is often conducted with another external power: the UK-US alliance against Germany during the Second World War, and the Japan-US alliance to balance China’s rise.
Prof. Miyake argued, however, that the “island alliance” between the Japan and the US may no longer suffice in preventing China from altering the regional order. He noted how the US’ deep involvement in other regions may limit its ability to respond to any exigencies in East Asia. Thus, he raised the idea of an “extended island alliance” with countries such as South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India. While he does not advocate a NATO-like formal alliance, he called for a group of like-minded states that would uphold the peace and stability in the region.
On the issue of Japan’s proactive contribution to international peace, Prof. Miyake explained that it has always been an objective of the Japanese government since the 1990s. However, this has been hindered by domestic political instability as manifested in the frequent changes in political leadership. He raised that the relative longevity of the Shinzo Abe administration may finally allow Japan to make more progress toward such an objective.
The Mabini Dialogue was attended by participants from the government, armed forces, the diplomatic corps, media, academe, as well as participants from Philippine Embassy in Canberra through FSI live webcast.