- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s desire for Japan to play a more proactive role in strategic affairs stems largely from not just his concern about the nature of China’s rise but the challenge to the post-war liberal regional order that the latter’s rise and behaviour presents. Any disruption to that order is perceived to be extremely detrimental to Japan’s core national interest.
- The concern with reinforcing and strengthening the existing regional order is causing Japan to take far greater strategic interest in Southeast Asia – and also reflects lessons learnt from Abe’s first time in office (2006–07.)
- The increased Japanese strategic interest in Southeast Asia is welcomed by all key states in Southeast Asia and the United States, meaning that the growing Japan-Southeast Asian strategic dynamic is mutually reinforcing.
- Japanese desire to play a more proactive strategic role in Southeast Asia needs to be understood alongside its post-war constitutional limitations. While relaxation of military equipment and technology export policy may be highly significant, constitutional limitations are likely to preclude direct Japanese military involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts.
- There is strong potential and promising possibilities for Japan to play a more proactive multilateral role in Southeast Asia through its standing and participation in regional institutions (especially ASEAN-led or backed institutions) that will further Tokyo’s objectives and advance the strategic and security goals of key Southeast Asian states.
- Japan’s capacity to significantly enhance its strategic role in the region ultimately depends on the success of Abe’s domestic reforms.