Strategic Diversification towards Southeast Asia? Analyzing Japan’s Security Initiatives in the Asia Pacific between 2012-2016
Japan’s evolving security policy in Southeast Asia has added a new focus to the ongoing and wide ranging scholarly debate regarding contemporary change in Japan’s security policy. Tokyo’s Pivot South, i.e., Japan’s increasingly assertive foreign policy towards Southeast Asia and countries of the Asia-Pacific region to expand its security ties and to boost Self-Defense Forces power capacity, has become a prominent concept to describe Prime Minister Abe’s security agenda in the Asia Pacific. The present research discourse, however, lacks empirical data and is thus unable to assess the depth of Japan’s new security policy appropriately. This article examines how Japan has expanded its security policy towards the Asia Pacific since Prime Minister Abe took office in late 2012. After tracing the political initiatives that led to a strengthened Southeast Asian focus in Japanese security policy, the study compares the variation of Tokyo’s regional bilateral security relations. By examining the ways these security relations have developed, this study provides a larger empirical assessment of transformations in Japan’s regional foreign policy towards Southeast Asia. Its goal is to refine the focus of the scholarly debate and point to strong cases in the Asia Pacific by providing new empirical data that demonstrates cases of structural security policy transformation.