The government of Japan introduced the concept of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) and turned it into a strategy in 2016. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his government’s commitment to this strategy at a conference in Kenya in that year. However, even before formalizing the FOIP as a strategy, similar ideas appeared in the previous speeches or works of Mr. Abe. In 2012, Mr. Abe wrote in his essay titled “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”,
“Peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the Pacific Ocean are inseparable from peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. Japan, as one of the oldest sea-faring democracies in Asia, should play a greater role alongside Australia, India and the US in preserving the common good in both regions.”
Even prior to this essay, Mr. Abe spoke about the “confluence of the two seas” in his speech as the Prime Minister of Japan at the Indian Parliament in 2007. In that speech, he showed the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, which forms an ‘arc of freedom and prosperity’. The US supported and cooperated with Japan while formulating the FOIP Strategy. The US government presented a similar “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” of its own in 2019.
According to the Japanese “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, Japan aims to promote peace, stability and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific region to make it free and open as “international public goods” through ensuring rules-based international order. This includes the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful settlement of disputes, and promotion of free trade. The strategy states that a key to stability and prosperity for the international community is ‘dynamism’, which will be started by combining two continents and two oceans. Asia is growing rapidly while Africa has a huge potential for growth. The oceans are the free and open Pacific Ocean and the free and open Indian Ocean. The FOIP Strategy expands the horizon of the foreign policy of Japan through envisioning the aforementioned factors as an overarching, comprehensive concept. Japan will also cooperate with any country supporting this concept.
There are three key pillars for implementing the FOIP Strategy. An overview of these pillars is:
1. Promotion and establishment of the rule of law, freedom of navigation, and free trade:
This pillar works in terms of cooperation among those who share the fundamental principles and the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. It does so by promoting and establishing the rule of law, freedom of navigation, and free trade in this region. It also deals with the strategic communication in the international arena, which is important for conducting security dialogues among the cooperating countries.
2. Pursuit of economic prosperity:
This pillar works to improve the physical connectivity, the people-to-people connectivity, and the institutional connectivity among the cooperating countries. The physical connectivity includes quality infrastructure development such as ports, roads, railways, energy, ICT, etc. The people-to-people connectivity will be achieved mainly through human resource development. On the other hand, the institutional connectivity will be achieved mainly through facilitating customs. This pillar also works to strengthen economic partnership through the free trade agreement (FTA), the economic partnership agreement (EPA), and other treaties. It will particularly work on improving the business environment across the cooperating countries.
3. Commitment of peace and stability:
This pillar works to provide capacity-building help to countries in the Indo-Pacific region. The capacity-building help mainly includes strengthening the capacity of maritime law enforcement, maritime domain awareness (MDA), and some other fields of human resource development. This pillar also works for the cooperation in fields such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, anti-piracy, counter-terrorism, and non-proliferation in the region. Ensuring peace and stability in the region is the key to getting the desired benefits.
In 2018, the Japanese government rebranded the concept of FOIP. As a result, the FOIP transformed from “strategy” to “vision”. The Abe Administration did so to improve relations with China. It worked out to some extent. The FOIP is considered a strategic concept directed against the grand-strategy of China known as the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI). It increased tensions between China and Japan. But the Abe Administration’s decision to rebrand FOIP played an essential role to mitigate the tensions between the 2 (two) countries. These had happened before the COVID-19 pandemic started.
In the post-COVID era, a new world order is taking shape where China will take a highly influential role. The geopolitical situation of the Indo-Pacific region has become volatile to a considerable extent. Only time will tell what the overall impact of the FOIP will regard the greater good of this region.