The Foreign Policy of Abe Shinzo: Strategic Vision and Policy Implementation

On January 5, 2015, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo reaffirmed that his government will continue to pursue a “proactive contribution to international peace” in his first press conference of the new year. When asked about the statement he is anticipated to issue at the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in relation to his government’s view on Japan’s past history, Abe confirmed that it would “inherit” all past statements by the Japanese government on Japan’s wartime behavior, including the 1993 Kono statement and the 1994 Murayama statement. His intention is to issue a statement that reaffirms remorse for the past as well as the acknowledgment of Japan’s postwar development as a peace-loving nation.1 Since his inauguration in December 2012, Abe’s vision for Japan’s foreign policy has been remarkably consistent, resting on three pillars: a promoter of international rules and norms, a guardian of the global commons, and an effective US ally. The press conference is yet another indication that his foreign policy vision will remain consistent. Below we provide an overview of how Abe’s foreign policy initiative unfolded, followed by an attempt to draw out its implications for the coming year.

Agenda Setting: January-February 2013

“Japan is back,” Abe declared in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC on February 22. Two months after forming the second Abe government, he announced during his first visit to Washington, DC that Japan “will never be a two-tier country.”

Abe also discussed China and the Japan-US relationship. On the one hand, Abe emphasized that Japan-China relations remain “among the most important” and his commitment to pursuing a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests with China” is firm, and he offered reassurances that “The doors are always open on my side for the Chinese leaders.” On the other hand, he suggested that China should neither question Japan’s resolve to defend its own sovereignty nor underestimate the robustness of the US-Japan alliance.2

In January, prior to going to Washington, Abe and Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio embarked on a whirlwind diplomatic tour across the Asia-Pacific region, with Abe visiting Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, and Kishida visiting the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, and Australia.

Abe first laid out the major theme in his foreign policy agenda in remarks that were meant to be delivered in Jakarta, “The Bounty of the Open Seas: Five Principles for Japanese Diplomacy,”3 speaking of the strategic importance of Southeast Asia at the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans; of the “vital significance” of the Japan-US alliance in maintaining “the safety and prosperity” of the region; of expanding ties between “Japan and America’s other allies and partners”; and of “strengthening Japan’s “ties with maritime Asia.” He listed the principles that would guide Japan’s regional diplomacy: “universal values”; governance of the maritime commons by “laws and rules, not by might”; networking to strengthen economic ties through “trade and investment, people and goods”; promotion of intercultural ties between Japan and the region; and promoting people-to-people exchanges among the next generation of leaders.4

Following his return, Kishida was asked at his press conference how he would differentiate the Abe government’s policy toward ASEAN from that of previous governments and noted that the strategic environment “has been changing drastically”; in this context Japan “must strive to play a responsible role that secures prosperity and security”; and to this end it must “further strengthen cooperative relations with ASEAN.”5 The initial travels of the prime minister and foreign minister pointed to an unfolding vision toward the Asia-Pacific region, by analogy—a diplomatic game of go, representing strategic choices, priorities, and directions.6

Past as Prologue: First Abe Government (2006-2007)

The foreign policy of the present Abe government reflects a continuing evolution of policy lines articulated during the first Abe government in response to challenges then emerging in Japan’s security environment: North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the rise of China, and the importance of Japan playing a more active international role. China represented the greatest long-term strategic challenge. By the turn of the century, China’s surging economy was on the verge of challenging Japan’s position as the world’s second largest economy. Based on its growing economic strength and increasingly sophisticated “peaceful rise” diplomacy, it challenged Japan’s long-held self-image as a leader in Asia. At the same time, the continuing modernization of the PLA, and its increasing activities in waters around Japan—in November 2004, a Chinese submarine traveled submerged through Japan’s territorial waters—contributed to growing Japanese security concerns. Also, in 2004, Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) called attention to China’s increasing maritime activities—the first time for the Japanese government to cite specific Chinese activities in an official policy document.

Indicative of the growing concern, Foreign Minister Aso observed that China was becoming a considerable threat.” The opposition DPJ in February 2006 also adopted a policy paper that defined China as an “actual threat.”7 In this context Aso, on November 30, 2006, advanced the concept of the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” that would extend from Northeast Asia through the Middle East, arguing that the region covered in this concept would be governed by a “values-oriented diplomacy,” with an emphasis on universal values, such as democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law and the market economy.”8 Aso called on Japan to enhance its relationships with the countries that share common views and interests, including the United States, Australia, India, and countries within the EU and NATO. This vision was widely interpreted as an effort by Japan to assume a leadership role and establish a foundation for an Asian community with standards that were in stark contrast to those that China represents.

In 2007, Abe, in fact, moved to advance Japan’s ties with NATO, the EU, India, and Australia. In January, as the first Japanese prime minister to address the North Atlantic Council, he made clear his intention to carry out a “proactive foreign policy,” to have Japan “play a meaningful role on the global stage,” and to “collaborate with NATO, building on a common sense of trust.” While respecting its Constitution, Abe told his audience that Japan “would no longer shy away from carrying out overseas activities involving the SDF.” Turning to Asia, Abe referred to China as presenting “great opportunities for us all” but also called attention to “some uncertainties surrounding China”—increasing military spending and a lack of transparency. To address the uncertainties Abe called on “partners sharing fundamental values” to engage in dialogue with China.9

Abe also advanced a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Japan, India, Australia, and the United States.10 The first meeting took place in Manila in May 2007 and was followed in September by the Malabar Exercise in the Bay of Bengal. Begun as the US-India naval exercise, this was the first time that Japan, Australia, and Singapore were participating.

The Abe Government 2013-14: Strategic Vision

In December 2013, the Abe government released Japan’s first National Security Strategy. In a security environment defined as “ever more severe,” it sets out diplomatic and security policies to protect and advance Japan’s national security, defining national interests as the maintenance of sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and the safety of Japan’s citizens. Also defined as national interests are “the maintenance and protection of international order based on rules and universal values such as freedom, democracy, respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.”11 Among the challenges to international security¬—a shifting balance of power, the rise of China and India, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and international terrorism—the National Security Strategy also cites risks to the global commons, noting “an increasing number of unilateral actions in an attempt to change the status quo by coercion without paying respect to existing international law….In the South China Sea, in particular, disputes that have arisen over sovereignty between coastal states and China cause concerns over the maintenance of the rule of law at sea, freedom of navigation, and stability in the Southeast Asia region.”12 While expressing the expectation that China will “comply with international norms” the document finds that it is expanding its military activities with “actions that can be regarded as attempts to change the status quo by coercion based on their own assertions, which are incompatible with the existing order of international law, in the maritime and aerial domains, in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.”

Japan’s Priorities

The National Security Strategy prioritizes: 1) strengthening and expanding Japan’s own capabilities and roles; 2) strengthening the Japan-US Alliance; and 3) strengthening diplomacy and security cooperation with partners for peace and stability in the international community.

It makes clear that Japan will “proactively advance its national interests as a Proactive Contributor to Peace.” Within its own waters, Japan will “enhance the capabilities of the law enforcement agencies responsible to territorial patrol activities…” More broadly, “in the sea lanes extending from the Persian Gulf thorough the South China Sea to Japan,” the government “will provide assistance to those coastal states … in enhancing their maritime law enforcement capabilities and strengthen cooperation with partners on the sea lanes who share strategic interests with Japan.” To strengthen international security Japan will participate in international joint development projects of defense equipment and to this end “set out clear principles on the overseas transfer of arms and military technology which fit the new security environment.”

To strengthen the alliance with the United States, the document committed Japan to “enhancing deterrence through strengthening of its own defense capability”; to enhance “operational cooperation and policy coordination on issues such as response to contingencies and medium to long-term strategy”; and, with regard to the US military presence in Japan, “make the utmost efforts to reduce the impact on Okinawa, including through the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.” The document also expressed Japan’s interest in joining the TPP negotiations.

Within the Asia-Pacific region, the National Security Strategy lists in priority the ROK, Australia, including the Japan-US-Australian trilateral framework, the countries of ASEAN, India, China (enhancing the “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests”), North Korea (denuclearization and the abductees), Russia, and multilateral frameworks for regional cooperation. Also European states, the EU, NATO, and the OSCE are entities with which Japan will work “in order to establish an international order based on universal values and rules.”13

Policy Implementation

The National Security Strategy represents the strategic vision of the Abe government. In setting out the goals and policies to advance Japan’s national security, it also stands as a benchmark against which to measure the successes and failures of diplomacy as of the end of 2014. This assessment focuses on Abe’s diplomacy toward the United States, the Asia-Pacific region, and Western Europe.

Success: Relations with the United States

Abe’s emphasis on Japan’s role as a “proactive contributor to peace” and the cabinet’s decision to reinterpret Japan’s Constitution to allow for the exercise of the right of collective self-defense served to strengthen shared US and Japanese interests in international stability and security. This policy direction won the strong endorsement of the Obama administration. Steps to be taken to strengthen defense cooperation were outlined in the October 2013 2+2 joint statement “Toward a More Robust Alliance and Greater Shared Responsibilities,” where the partners agreed to review the 1997 Guidelines for Defense Cooperation and to strengthen the deterrence and defense posture of the alliance through joint training, planning, and operations. The review reportedly came at the request of the Abe government in the face of Japan’s increasingly severe security environment, but, despite the government’s strong commitment, relocation of the Marine Corps Futenma Air Station continues to encounter strong political opposition on Okinawa.

Ties with the United States also provided Abe with a significant diplomatic victory with respect to China. Faced with China’s increasingly assertive challenge to Japan’s administrative control over the Senkaku Islands, the Abe government pressed for a high-level reiteration of US policy toward the islands, which Obama provided during the April 2014 summit in Tokyo, making clear that Article V of the alliance extended to them. While this was the standing US policy, Obama’s clear public articulation of it was the first-ever by a US president. Notwithstanding an eagerness to advance Japan-Russia relations, Abe, in the wake of Russia’s seizure of Crimea, supported US-led sanctions and G7 solidarity. Abe’s opposition to force or coercion to change the status quo in the East China Sea and South China Sea moved the government to oppose such efforts elsewhere.

The one public note of discord within the alliance followed Abe’s December 2013 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. The US embassy in Tokyo issued a statement expressing strong displeasure with it as exacerbating relations with the ROK and China. Concerns remain in Washington with the direction of political debate in Japan on issues related to history, seen as adversely affecting trilateral security cooperation with the ROK and complicating US relations with China.

Success: Relations with the Asia-Pacific region

Abe has also moved to enhance security cooperation with US allies, notably Australia and the Philippines, as well as with key security institutions and partner, and to advance growing security engagement with Southeast Asia, Abe has moved to revise the longstanding Three Principles on Arms Exports and the ODA charter. The National Security Strategy committed Japan to “set out clear principles on the overseas transfer of arms and military technology,”14 which in April 2014 prohibited exports to countries involved in conflicts and under UN sanctions resolutions but allowed exports when judged to contribute to international cooperation and in Japan’s national interest, opening the door to participation in international development and production of defense equipment and technology. Revising the existing 2003 ODA charter, which defined the goal of ODA as “contributing to the peace and development of the international community,” a draft of October 2014 added that ODA should “contribute to ensuring national interests.”15 This tracked with the National Security Strategy’s call for the “strategic use of ODA capital.” Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief and coast guard activities were cited frequently as examples of the use of military assistance for non-military objectives. Kishida emphasized “we have absolutely no intention of using ODA for military purposes.”16

The Philippines became an early beneficiary of the Abe government’s use of ODA as a means for capacity-building. Faced with increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, an ongoing dispute with China over Scarborough Shoal and an outdated Coast Guard capability, the Philippines in December 2103 requested the transfer of 10 Japanese coast guard patrol ships. Financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), this transfer underscores the intention to develop a strategic relationship, as seen in increasing high-level contacts between Abe and President Aquino. In July 2013, Abe became the first Japanese prime minster to visit the Philippines since 2006, when he also visited. Subsequently, the two leaders met in December 2013, June 2014, and November 2014. Abe has defined the Philippines as a strategic partner and expressed Japan’s support for its efforts to resolve peacefully its territorial dispute with China, while Aquino has offered support for Japan’s exercise of the right of collective self-defense.

Abe also retraced the steps of his first government to boost Japan’s relationship with Australia. In a speech to its Parliament on July 8, 2014, he acknowledged the “evils and horrors of history” and, quoting former Australian Prime Minster Robert Menzies—“hostility to Japan must go. It is better to hope than always to remember”—, expressed his appreciation of Australia’s willingness to look to the future. Abe said, “Japan and Australia will finally use our relationship of trust…in our cooperation in the area of security.” Reaffirming the “special relationship” earlier approved by the two sides in Tokyo, he announced that the two leaders would sign an agreement on “the transfer of defense equipment and technology.” Abe also called for trilateral cooperation with the United States as well as cooperation “to make the vast seas from the Pacific to the India and those skies open and free,” as he emphasized the importance of following the rule of law and avoiding the use of “force or coercion in resolving disputes.17

In an interview with The Australian, Abe noted that the agreement on the transfer of defense equipment and technology opened “new opportunities.” Referring to the existing bilateral agreement on scientific research in “the area of hydrodynamics,” he observed that “technology developed from this kind of research can be applied to a wide range of vessels, including submarines.”18 Media reports soon followed that Japan and Australia would cooperate in the development of a new submarine design to replace Australia’s 6 Collins-class submarines.

In a lecture to the Indian Council of World Affairs in September 2011, Abe, then out of office, argued, “a strong India is in the best interest of Japan and a strong Japan is in the best interest of India.”19 Returning to office, Abe picked up the threads of Japan’s relations with India. They had in 2011 concluded an Economic Partnership Agreement, in 2012 celebrated the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations, and in late 2013 Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko had visited India. The Times of India headlined the visit as showing a “Shift in India-Japan Relations,” and it cast the visit as Abe signaling his intent to forge a strong strategic relationship with India.20 India’s Foreign Ministry saw it as the “pinnacle of India-Japan bilateral relations.”21 In January 2014, Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to be honored as Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade (after in 2007 being the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint session of the Indian Parliament). During his visit, Abe and Prime Minister Singh signed the Joint Declaration for Strategic and Global Partnership. In late summer, Singh’s successor, Prime Minister Modi visited Japan an as official guest, discussing “politics, security… economic cooperation and people-to-people exchange.”22

In addition to forging strategic partnerships with individual countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Abe’s diplomacy also focused on strengthening the region’s multilateral institutions, in particular ASEAN and the EAS. In his address in Singapore on July 26, 2013, Abe, speaking with respect to growing economic ties, proclaimed, “An expanding Japan is in the best interests of ASEAN. A growing Japan is in the best interest of Japan.” Abe expressed delight that “ASEAN and Japan have gone beyond their economic relations to forge a relationship that takes on responsibility for the security of the region, particularly freedom of navigation.”23 By the end of 2013, he had visited all ten ASEAN countries. In the context of Japan’s global engagement, Abe explained that “ASEAN, as a special partner for Japan, has always been at the center of this policy.”

In December 2013, when hosting the 40th Japan-ASEAN Commemorative Summit, Abe secured agreement on establishing a forum for Japan-ASEAN defense ministers, while emphasizing the importance of working together to maintain freedom of the seas and skies and advance “The principles of dispute settlement based on international law and the rule of law” that form “the foundation for progress and prosperity.”24 In his keynote address to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Abe spoke to the security challenges facing Southeast Asia—the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and “attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion” and reviewed his efforts to respond to the challenges: cooperation with the United States, trilateral cooperation with the United States and Australia, trilateral cooperation with India and Australia, and advocacy of the importance of the rule of law “with respect to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight.” On the rule of law at sea, Abe articulated three principles for states: “make and clarify claims based on international law”; “not use force or coercion in trying to drive their claims”; and “seek to settle disputes by peaceful means.” He continued: “Movement to consolidate changes to the status quo by aggregating one fiat accompli after another can only be strongly condemned as something that contravenes the spirit of these three principles.” Reviewing Japan’s “support for efforts by ASEAN member countries to ensure the security of the seas and skies and rigorously maintain freedom of navigation and overflight,” he cited the decision to provide ten Coast Guard ships to the Philippines, three patrol ships to Indonesia, and technical skills and training in Coast Guard operations to officials in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, while working with Vietnam to develop an understanding of its needs. He has designated Indonesia a strategic partner and defined relations with Vietnam as an “Extensive Strategic Partnership.” Abe also endorsed the EAS as a meeting ground for leaders, calling for its “further enhancement…as the premier forum taking up regional politics and security.”25

Success: Beyond the Asia-Pacific region

Abe’s perspective on the importance of Japan playing a larger role in support of international stability and security includes the importance of strengthening ties with Western Europe, NATO, and the EU. In a May 6, 2014, address to the North Atlantic Assembly, he defined Japan and NATO as “natural partners,” sharing “fundamental values” and facing security challenges to common values. He characterized the situation in Ukraine as “the greatest challenge to post-Cold War Europe” and as a “global issue that also impacts Asia” in that it represented an unacceptable effort to effect “changes in the status quo by force or coercion.” Skillfully tying European and Asian security issues together, he noted that in the East and South China Sea, Asia was experiencing “frequent attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force or coercion.” He went on to call for Japan-NATO cooperation in maritime security, in anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, in joint exercises with countries participating in NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, in cyber space, and in disaster relief26.

Abe also looked to expand ties with key countries in Europe, in particular the UK and France. On September 30, 2013, he delivered the keynote address at the “Conference on Rejuvenating UK-Japan Relations for the 21st Century,” finding the two natural “a priori partners” working together to maintain the “safety of navigation, uphold the rule of international law at sea, and maintain the maritime order.” Looking ahead, Abe foresaw cooperation in the development of defense equipment.27 Returning to the UK, on May 1, 2014, Abe called for closer cooperation to extend “from peace of the seas to the security of the skies, space and cyberspace,” announcing that he and Prime Minister Cameron had agreed to establish a 2+2 framework for consultations between foreign and defense Ministries that would meet regularly and called for a closer level of consultations between the heads of our National Security Secretariats.”28 Their first 2+2 meeting is scheduled for London at the end of January 2015.

Earlier, Japan had initiated a 2+2 framework with France. During a January 9, 2014, meeting in Tokyo, the four ministers agreed to set up committees to study defense industry cooperation and to share information on export controls and “confirmed the importance of freedom to fly over the high seas and exclusive economic zones, and safety of civil aviation.” Defense Ministers agreed to “enhance cooperation in the Pacific…cooperation in the fight against piracy, and cooperation in the field of assistance for capacity building in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.”29

Challenge: China

While Abe’s diplomacy gained political support from the United States, Southeast Asia, and Europe, Japan’s relations with China and the ROK stagnated or went into reverse. Issues related to history and territorial disputes remain unresolved and have only intensified. The September 11, 2012, decision of the Noda government to nationalize the Senkaku Islands was viewed in China as a provocation. Intense anti-Japanese riots, involving large-scale destruction of Japanese property, followed. While making clear his intention to defend Japanese sovereignty, Abe looked to normalize relations with China. In January 2013, he sent Yamaguchi Natsuo, the leader of Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, to Beijing to explore steps toward normalizing relations. In Beijing, Chinese interlocutors told Yamaguchi that agreement to shelve the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute, in effect recognizing the existence of a territorial issue, would be a starting point. This position was directly opposed to that of the Japanese govern “that a problem to be resolved does not exist.” Both sides would hold to their positions through October 2014.

History also continued to complicate relations. Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on December 26, 2013, met with Beijing’s strong condemnation, even as Abe professed, “It is not my intention to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people.” Issues relating to Japan’s understanding of history, the definition of aggression, “comfort women,” and the Abe government’s stand on the Kono and Murayama statements continued to be raised by remarks of the prime minister and LDP political figures. Despite the government’s repeated reaffirmation of both the Kono and Murayama statements, political debate in the Diet continued to raise issues of the sincerity of the Abe government and to stoke anti-Japanese sentiment in China and the ROK. In both Beijing and Seoul, political leaders called on Japan to face squarely the issues of history. Abe’s commitment to reinterpret the Constitution to allow for the exercise of the right of collective self-defense was portrayed in China and the ROK as a step back with both sides linking it to Japan’s history.

For much of 2013 and 2014, diplomatic inertia prevailed in Japan’s relations with China, as with the ROK. Abe continued to the insist his door to dialogue was open to China’s leaders, that dialogue should take place without preconditions and that no Senkaku issue existed, but that the two sides should talk because problems did exist. Meanwhile, Beijing held fast to its position that Japan recognize the existence of a dispute over the Diaoyu Islands and address issues related to history as the preconditions for dialogue. Without such steps dialogue would be meaningless.

However, from the summer of 2014 both sides looked for ways to avoid the embarrassment of no Abe-Xi meeting during the APEC summit in Beijing. At almost the last minute, the door to dialogue was opened by exceptional diplomatic dexterity—a joint statement whose text differed in Chinese and Japanese. The Chinese text in English reads: “the two sides have acknowledged that different positions exist between them regarding the tensions that have emerged in recent years over the Diaoyu islands and some waters in the East China Sea.” The Japanese text in English reads: “Both sides recognized they had different views as to the emergence of tense situations in recent years in waters of the East China Sea, including those around the Senkaku islands…” On history the texts are identical, “both sides share some recognition that, following the spirit of squarely facing history and advancing toward the future, they would overcome difficulties that affect bilateral relations.” Following the Abe-Xi meeting, Foreign Minister Kishida announced that the joint statement did not reflect any change in Japan’s position; namely that a sovereignty issue with respect to the Senkakus “does not exist.” In response China’s ambassador expressed “great concern and dissatisfaction” with Kishida’s remarks.

Failure has also characterized Abe’s policy toward the ROK, which is discussed elsewhere in this Special Forum. Perhaps surprised by the Abe-XI meeting, President Park has been looking to make up ground with Japan, advancing a proposal for a trilateral, ROK, China, Japan summit. At the end of 2014, Korean and Japanese Vice Ministers of Foreign Affairs met in Seoul to review the state of relationship. No breakthroughs were reported in the media, but along with US defense officials, the two sides have finally agreed to share intelligence on North Korea.


Japan is expanding its international role. Abe’s vision of Japan as a proactive contributor to peace and his government’s decision to reinterpret the Constitution to allow for the exercise of the right of collective self–defense have been, with the exception of China and the ROK, widely welcomed. The Japan-US alliance is being strengthened in the review of the 1997 Guidelines for Defense Cooperation. Difficult issues remain, including passage by the Diet of legislation to implement the new guidelines and the relocation of the Marine Corps air station at Futenma. At the same time, Japan and the United States have yet to reach agreement on the terms of Japan’s participation in the TPP. Strong economic interests in both countries have slowed negotiations.

Abe’s diplomacy has heightened Japan’s profile across Southeast Asia, where he has traveled extensively and been warmly received. Her has focused diplomacy on strengthening regional multilateral security structures, in particular ASEAN and the EAS, while working to enhance the resilience of the individual member states of ASEAN. Abe has made strategic use of ODA to build law enforcement capacities, particularly in the maritime domain, across Southeast Asia.

Abe’s emphasis on freedom of the seas and skies, the rule of international law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, and his clearly stated opposition to the use of force or coercion to resolve disputes have been a consistent theme in all major foreign policy addresses. He has conceptually linked international opposition to Russia’s seizure of the Crimea to Japan’s opposition to China’s use of force or coercion in the Senkaku islands. Beyond the Asia-Pacific region, Abe has worked to strengthen Japan’s ties to NATO and made clear Japan’s willingness to participate in NATO’s anti- piracy efforts off Somali and the Gulf of Aden and to call for cooperation in the maritime domain. With France and the UK, Abe has supported a 2+2 framework for regularly scheduled discussion of foreign policy and security issues. While Abe has been successful in advancing Japan’s international role as a proactive contributor to peace, closer to home, issues related to history and territorial disputes continue to beset relations with Northeast Asian neighbors.

That Abe and Xi did meet in November represents s a small step forward. However, deep-seated issues of the past and the future remain and are nowhere close to resolution. Any optimism must be extremely guarded. Abe and Park share responsibility for continuing stagnation in relations at the cost of enhancing critical bilateral as well as trilateral security cooperation with the United States in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat. The late 2014 intelligence sharing agreement on North Korea offers some hope that security interests may serve to advance much needed political dialogue. In 2015, the 50th anniversary of ROK-Japan relations and the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, offers leaders in Japan, China and the ROK an opportunity to put an end to history and set a course toward a better future. The challenge is great, and can only be met with farsighted political leadership in all three capitals in East Asia.


1. “Abe Naikaku Sori Daijin nento kisha kaiken” January 5, 2014,


3. Abe had to shorten his Southeast Asia trip and return to Japan due to the hostage situation in Algeria.



6. In 2006, Abe made his first foreign trip to China; the “ice-breaking” visit was widely viewed as indicative of the priority then attached to resetting relations with China after the Koizumi years. Abe’s visit was followed by the “ice-melting” visit of Premier Wen Jiabao in the spring of 2007. Until Abe, prime ministers had made Washington the destination of their first foreign travel.



9. Speech by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at North Atlantic Council. “Japan and NATO: Toward Further Collaboration,” January 12, 2007,

10. In December 2006, Abe hosted the visit of Indian Prime Minister Mohamed Singh to Japan. At the conclusion of the visit the two governments agreed to enhance political and economic cooperation, people-to-people exchanges and to advance a global strategic partnership.

11. Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, December 17, 2013,

12. Ibid.


14. Ibid.

15. -to support-foreign.








23. http://japan.kantei.go.jp96_abe/statement/201307/26singapore_e.html.

24. /201312/14kaiken_e.html.



27. On July 4, Japan and the UK signed agreements on defense industry cooperation and information security. http://japan.kantei.go.jp_96_abe/statement/201309/30ukjapan_e.html.