ASPI celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. This series reviews the work of ASPI since its inception in August 2001.
Australia established a triangular security relationship with Japan and the United States during the first decade of the 21st century.
In the second decade, on the second attempt, the triangle became the Quad with India. China’s anger helped to sway Quad 1.0, while Chinese stocks revived Quad 2.0.
Japan was the most careful in accepting the trilateral, but became the leader of the Quad.
The shape of Australia’s trilateral relationship with Japan and the United States was prematurely revealed in the main committee room of the Australian Parliament in July 2001.
Concluding the annual AUSMIN with a press conference, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell asked one final question about linking separate U.S. alliances in Asia: Could the U.S. reunite its bilateral alliances with Japan, the South Korea and Australia? Powell delighted and surprised reporters with a revealing answer:
Interesting, we were talking about this topic earlier today, whether or not we could find ways to talk more about it in this kind of forum. I don’t think that would lead to a formal arrangement of the kind you are proposing. But we may need to look for opportunities to get together and talk more often. So yes, we talked about it, but not in the form of a new formal organization. We just started talking about it today.
Foreign Secretary Alexander Downer, sitting next to Powell, spotted a flashing diplomatic light.
Downer confirmed that Australia had had informal discussions with Japan while issuing a caveat: “In order not to allow a hare to rush here, we obviously wouldn’t want to, I think it must be obvious, a new architecture in East Asia that would be an attempt to sort of replicate NATO or something, we’re just talking about an informal dialogue here.
Downer returned to his office telling staff he had avoided a diplomatic explosion.
Rather, his rejection of an Asian version of NATO created an instant label that has since echoed in the Chinese strategic community.
The foreign minister had triggered the Henry Kissinger rule on denials. Kissinger said that when a state denies its intention to do something, it sends two signals. One message is that, for the moment, the country will do nothing. But the second is that the denial is a statement that the country has the capacity to take such action if it wishes.
NATO was aimed at opposing the Soviet Union, just as non-NATO Asia was aimed at China. At every step of the process that created a Trilateral and then the Quad, Canberra denied that it was China. The âdoth protest too muchâ line works for Hamlet as well as Kissinger.
The denial of a NATO-style unification of forces and a single command is clearly true. This little denial matches the facts. The reluctance to respond to China, however, has become increasingly misleading. What were once barbed-wire questions about China’s real intentions in the trilateral have become answers to China’s actions in the second version of the Quad.
The absence of South Korea in the structure of the integrated alliance mentioned in 2001 highlights the magnetic capacities of China, as well as the persistent schism between Seoul and Tokyo.
Thinking back to the creation of the triangle, Downer said that China “objected from the start when we started the diplomacy of trying to set up the trilateral strategic dialogue.” The United States was interested in the trilateral, but it got a dismissive response from Japan’s Foreign Minister (presumably Yohei Kono). Downer recalled:
I discussed it with the then Japanese foreign minister, without much success initially. He said to me, âMinister, why would we bother having a trilateral security dialogue with a country like Australia? You are not a very important country compared to the United States. I thought it was not very diplomatic. I remember when I walked through. He passed like the Minister of Foreign Affairs and others came. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has been quite supportive.
In 2005, John Howard welcomed the coming together of three great Pacific democracies to work âmore closely than everâ on common security challenges:
Our trilateral security dialogue has added a new dimension to the value all parties place on alliance relationsâ¦ This quiet revolution in Japanese foreign policy, which Australia has long encouraged, is a welcome sign of a Japan more confident assuming its rightful place in the world. and in our region.
After the lost decade of the 1990s, Japan began to redefine its regional role and itself, with the idea that it would become a ânormal nationâ.
“Towards a More Normal Nation” was the title of the speech given by the director of the Japanese Institute of International Affairs, Makio Miyagawa, at the ASPI World Forces Conference in 2005: Japan for reassessing its defense strategy and face the new realities of security.
What started as a dialogue between senior officials in 2002 passed in 2006 to the foreign ministers of Japan and Australia and the US secretary of state.
In 2007, Howard flew to Tokyo to sign the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation with Shinzo Abe of Japan.
Howard said the deal meant Japan would have a closer security relationship with Australia than with any other country except the United States. The line of information to Canberra correspondents was that Howard was prepared for a more ambitious treaty of alliance, but Tokyo was cautious.
Australia would have preferred to sign a formal defense treaty, Aurelia George Mulgan wrote, but “stuck with the declaration in the hope of moving to a formal pact at some point in the future.” The end of the game is therefore potentially much more important: a profound change in the security architecture of the Asia-Pacific. “
Whatever Howard’s mind, the agreement did not provide for the parties to assist each other in the event of an attack, stating instead that “Japan and Australia will enhance practical cooperation” between the forces where appropriate. defense and security.
Howard said the statement gave the partnership a “strategic dimension”: “Japan has become, for most Australians, a key partner, economically and now strategically.” In his memoir, Howard wrote that “China’s great power ambitions” meant that “one of the Bush administration’s most astute foreign policy directions was to encourage trilateral security dialogue between states. United, Japan and Australia. The possibility of extending it to India, thus creating a quadrilateral dialogue, was raised during the Bush presidency. ‘
The trilateral was “a non-exceptional way of providing a democratic counterweight to China,” Howard said, and was a “democratic response” quietly welcomed by some of the region’s smaller nations.
ASPI’s Rod Lyon said the 2007 Australia-Japan declaration confirmed that the Asian security order was entering a new phase:
Although the pact is limited in scope, it heralds a time when the great powers of Asia will be more engaged in the regional security architecture, both as full actors and as âpartnersâ in the region. other countries in the region. This phase of Asian security will probably take ten to twenty years to take its course. But when it is over, the era of American hegemony in Asia will be over. The United States might still be the most powerful actor even then, but Asian security agreements will have taken on much more of the characteristics of multipolarity.
The security agreement and the start of negotiations for an Australia-Japan free trade agreement were surprises, according to George Mulgan. Since the 1970s, it has been a âpretty dull predictabilityâ relationship. Many, however, were changing. In May 2007, she noted, China had assumed Japan’s position as Australia’s largest trading partner.
Japan was covering itself against China, said George Mulgan, but also the danger of the United States turning to China and degrading the importance of Japan:
Japan fears being isolated by the United States and China on strategic East Asian issues. Therefore, he wants to create a Japan-centric economic and security system in which he can exert influence independent of China and the United States. Establishing a direct security link with Australia (and India) offers Japan a practical way to exercise greater strategic autonomy.
In December 2007, the 1.5-part dialogue led by ASPI and the Japan Institute of International Affairs discussed a “maritime coalition centered on the Japan-Australia-US trilateral alliance”, how to respond to “Strategic shocks in Asia,” the “impacts of China’s rise in the Asian international system,” the role of the two nations in the emerging security architecture in Asia-Pacific and the prospects for security relations between the Australia and Japan.
Excluding Japan and Australia, speakers at the two-day conference mentioned the United States 62 times, India and the Indian Ocean 116 times, and China or the East China Sea received 466 mentions.
From the book on the first 20 years of the institute: An informed and independent voice: ASPI, 2001-2021.