Leaders of the U.S. and Japan shared strategy of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” during U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan from May 25 to 28. Japan used this term to explicitly express intentions to bolster its defense capabilities. Experts say that Japan is taking advantage of FOIP under connivance of the U.S. to nullify its exclusively-defensive posture maintained since its defeat of the second World War.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first mentioned “FOIP” in the Tokyo International Conference of African Development held in Kenya in August 2016. He emphasized the need to “promote the rule of law, the freedom to navigate and free trade in a free and open Indo-Pacific.” During his visit to Asia back in November 2017, President Trump also stressed the importance of solidarity among the U.S., Japan, Australia and India under the FOIP motto. It is the first time for Washington to quote a motto proposed by Tokyo, to be promoted as a joint objective for both countries, according to a Japanese foreign policy source.
The reason why both countries are promoting FOIP is to counter China, their common enemy which is explicitly showing the nation’s ambitions to build up sea power. Previously Japan had conducted joint maritime exercise with the U.S. only. Since 2017, it has been diversifying counterparts including the U.K., France and India. In late September last year, Japan dispatched its Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers Kaga and Inazuma to the Indian Ocean in order to hold joint exercises with India and Sri Lanka.
Last year, Washington also reorganized the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture to be included in Indo-Pacific headquarters. Also recently, the U.S. announced plans to deploy amphibious assault ship USS America and landing platform dock USS New Orleans in Asia.
Such close cooperation is covering Japan’s exclusively-defensive posture issue. The Japanese government announced plans to convert its maritime convoy Inazuma to an aircraft carrier where jets can take off and land in last December. At that time some voiced criticism that the action would violate Japan’s exclusively defensive oriented defense policy. However, this was silenced when President Trump boarded the Japanese warship Kaga and said that “it will be converted to launch the latest Stealth aircraft F-35B to expand its defense scope.”