Cooperation in contested Asia

Amidst growing competition between great and emerging powers, Australia and Japan must engage collaboratively together and with other regional states to manage East Asia’s increasingly unsettled, fluid security environment.

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East Asia’s security environment is changing rapidly. China’s power and confidence is rising, the US is increasingly introspective and uncertainty abounds about its power and purpose. India and Russia also clamour for influence. Regional powers are entering a period of growing rivalry and animosity, nationalism is an increasingly pervasive force, and prompted by a pervasive sense of strategic uncertainty, military spending is ramping up in many countries.

As a new equilibrium has yet to be established in the security order, how can middle ranking countries like Japan and Australia manage their interests? The two countries have developed a close and cooperative security partnership since 2007. The changing environment is challenging but they can better navigate it by working together in a closely coordinated manner involving both diplomatic and security policy tools.

This La Trobe Asia policy brief explains how Australia and Japan can work collaboratively to advance their shared interests in a dynamic regional order. It is based on discussions held at an experts’ workshop that was convened in Fukuoka, Japan, co-hosted by La Trobe University and Kyushu University and generously supported by the Australia-Japan Foundation.

In managing this increasingly unsettled security environment, this policy brief recommends Australia and Japan should:

  • Coordinate their dual hedging strategy to help bind the US to the region while simultaneously planning for a reduced and less reliable long term US role;
  • Form interest-driven minilateral coalitions to advance the capacity of regional powers to shape their security environment;
  • Work together in institutional forums, both new and old, to advance their shared interests. In particular, they should coordinate their engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI);
  • Diversify their diplomatic and economic relations to become less dependent on the two dominant powers;
  • Ensure their ‘rules-based order’ discourse matches their policy reality.
  • Associate Professor Nobuhiro Aizawa (Department of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University)
  • Professor Nick Bisley (Head of School of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University)
  • Associate Professor Chisako Masuo (Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University)
  • Dr Rebecca Strating (Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy, La Trobe University)
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