Scholars Discuss Japan’s Foreign and Security Policy Trajectory Under Prime Minister Suga

Mr. Yoshihide Matsuura (top left), Dr. Andrew Yeo (top right), and Dr. Maria Thaemar Tana examine the factors that will affect the foreign and security policies of Prime Minister Suga.

“Prime Minister Suga’s official statements broadly indicate the administration’s priorities in domestic and foreign policies…There is also a need to realign the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) closer to the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) in order for the FOIP framework to be seen less as a tool of encirclement of China or as a US military strategy and more of an initiative to promote regional development cooperation,” explained Mr. Yoshihide Matsuura, Senior Research Fellow and Head, Asia and Africa Division at the National Institute for Defense Studies of Japan’s Ministry of Defense at the online Mabini Dialogue on “Japan in the Post-Abe Era: Gauging Japanese Leadership in a Free and Open Indo-Pacific held on 24 November 2020.

Mr. Matsuura outlined Japan’s foreign policy under the Suga administration as one that seeks to address nuclear and missile issues with North Korea, maintain close Japan-US relations, and improve and deepen ties with a number of states such as ASEAN member states, China, Russia and South Korea. He also expounded on the administration’s domestic priorities to promote digital economy, green society, rural revitalization, infertility treatment programs, and lower mobile phone charges in Japan, and the determining factors that could shape Prime Minister Suga’s future foreign policies such as the foreign policy of the new US administration under President Biden, and China’s assertive activities in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and the region, among others.

Meanwhile, Dr. Andrew Yeo, Associate Professor from the Catholic University of America, explained the significance of maintaining the Japan-US alliance within a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, citing that the US-Japan relations will continue to be seen as a cornerstone of Tokyo’s defense and security policy. He further stated that Japan will continue to play a key—if not a leading role in shaping regional strategy. Dr. Yeo also elaborated on the regional engagements of Japan, which includes defense equipment transfer agreements with states such as Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, and Japan’s role as a major source of investment, trade and ODA for Southeast Asia.

Prof. Maria Thaemar Tana, from the UP Department of Political Science, synthesized the discussion by emphasizing the projected continuity of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s foreign policy, as well as the differences between Prime Minister Suga and his predecessor, explaining that Prime Minister Suga might struggle in the international arena as he does not have the personality profile and/or activism of either Koizume or Abe. She also said that the extent of Suga’s support for constitutional reform, his effectivity as a leader in the regional/international community, his ability to consolidate power and develop a long-term strategic vision for Japan, and the direction of the strong strategic relationship with the US under Biden are factors that may determine how long Prime Minister Suga will remain in power.

Over 90 participants from the DFA Home Office, Philippine Foreign Service Posts, and representatives from the academe and the private sector attended the event.

The panel of speakers addressed the questions and comments from the participants on the domestic and international challenges facing Prime Minister Suga and its implications to the region and the rest of the world.