Vientiane Vision 2.0 Puts Japan’s Asia Security Role Into Focus

 In China, ASEAN, GDI, Defense, Sea, Indo-Pacific, Threats

One of the sig­nif­i­cant but under noticed devel­op­ments at this year’s ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-relat­ed (ADMM) meet­ings in Bangkok was Japan’s launch­ing of a sequel to its defense ini­tia­tive for Southeast Asian states, termed Vientiane Vision 2.0. The devel­op­ment once again put the focus on Japan’s ris­ing secu­ri­ty role in the Asia-Pacific in gen­er­al and in Southeast Asia in par­tic­u­lar.

Despite restric­tions that remain on its defense options, Japan has long played an impor­tant if under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed role in Asian secu­ri­ty, with Tokyo being an inte­gral to trends and devel­op­ments from the devel­op­ment of region­al secu­ri­ty archi­tec­ture to the rise of coast guard forces in Southeast Asia. That has only accel­er­at­ed under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe amid a series of inter­na­tion­al and domes­tic devel­op­ments, be it the focus on China’s con­tin­ued assertive­ness or the eas­ing of legal restric­tions on arms exports in Japan.

One of the man­i­fes­ta­tions of this was the Vientiane Vision. Launched in 2016, the Vientiane Vision was meant as a path­way for Japan to step up the defense aspect of its rela­tions with ASEAN coun­tries build­ing on its bilat­er­al rela­tion­ships, which has also since been part of Japan’s own Indo-Pacific approach as well. As I not­ed pre­vi­ous­ly, that ini­tia­tive was less about new dec­la­ra­tions or ini­tia­tives and more about set­ting out pri­or­i­ties for ASEAN-Japan defense coop­er­a­tion based on gen­er­al objec­tives and pri­or­i­ty fields by com­bin­ing var­i­ous areas of ongo­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion and pro­mot­ing prac­ti­cal defense coop­er­a­tion based on the needs of both sides. And man­i­fes­ta­tions of the Vientiane Vision have includ­ed a mix of engage­ments includ­ing capac­i­ty-build­ing assis­tance, sem­i­nars, train­ings, exer­cis­es, and human resource devel­op­ment and aca­d­e­m­ic exchanges.

Last week, we saw anoth­er man­i­fes­ta­tion of Japan’s ris­ing region­al secu­ri­ty role with the launch of Vientiane Vision 2.0. The ini­tia­tive was launched dur­ing the Japan-ASEAN defense min­is­ters’ infor­mal meet­ing in Bangkok fea­tur­ing Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono and his Southeast Asian coun­ter­parts – one of a series of meet­ings where Southeast Asian coun­tries engage with part­ner or “Plus” coun­tries with­in the con­text of the ADMM meet­ing umbrel­la.

Vientiane Vision 2.0 is intend­ed to serve as a fol­low on to the ini­tial Vientiane Vision. At the meet­ing, Kono said that the ini­tia­tive would seek to deep­en ASEAN-Japan defense col­lab­o­ra­tion by enhanc­ing region­al secu­ri­ty by focus­ing coop­er­a­tion on ensur­ing the rule of law, strength­en­ing mar­itime secu­ri­ty, and con­tend­ing with non-tra­di­tion­al threats.

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Thus far, few specifics have been pub­licly dis­closed about how exact­ly Vientiane Vision 2.0 will be car­ried for­ward, includ­ing spe­cif­ic ini­tia­tives or fund­ing amounts. While this is not alto­geth­er sur­pris­ing – the Vientiane Vision itself took shape over time as well, and it was part­ly tied to devel­op­ments in Tokyo’s bilat­er­al rela­tion­ships in Southeast Asia as well – a deep­er assess­ment of the ini­tia­tive and its future prospects will have to await such details. One should also not under­state the chal­lenges with respect to imple­ment­ing it – whether it be secur­ing agree­ment from a range of Southeast Asian coun­tries for some ini­tia­tives or coor­di­nat­ing this with oth­er aspects of Japanese pol­i­cy.

Nonetheless, ini­tia­tives such as Vientiane Vision 2.0 are notable man­i­fes­ta­tions of the increas­ing­ly impor­tant role Japan con­tin­ues to play in the Asian secu­ri­ty land­scape. While some of this may take shape under the radar of the inter­na­tion­al head­lines focused more on U.S.-China dynam­ics or the eco­nom­ic or diplo­mat­ic aspects of Japan’s region­al role, one should not lose sight of these devel­op­ments and their wider sig­nif­i­cance.

Source: The Diplomat

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