What Does Strategic Partnerships with ASEAN Mean for Japan’s Foreign Aid?

Published date01 December 2018
Date01 December 2018
Subject MatterArticles
What Does Strategic
Partnerships with ASEAN
Mean for Japan’s
Foreign Aid?
Dennis D. Trinidad1
This article examines the implications of Japan’s strategic partnerships with
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-countries on its for-
eign aid policy. Although there were previous attempts at aligning the broad
goals of Japan’s aid policy with security and defence objectives, it argues that
these partnerships have increasingly led to the emergence of a securitized aid.
This is because strategic partnership, as a new form of security practice in the
Asia-Pacific, extends the scope of Japan’s regional cooperation to the fields of
defence and security. The overall extent of Japan’s aid securitization is still mini-
mal but prominent in terms of the aid discourse, pattern of allotments or choice
of recipients and institutional structures. Despite the adoption of new develop-
ment cooperation charter in 2015, the use of Japan’s ODA is still confined to
non-military use which limits Tokyo’s desire to deepen its security cooperation
with ASEAN partner-countries.
Japanese ODA, development cooperation, ASEAN, strategic partnership, China–
Japan strategic rivalry
Of late, strategic partnership has increasingly become a common feature of
Japan’s security strategy in East Asia. Since his first term as prime minister, Abe
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
5(3) 267–294
2018 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797018798996
1 International Studies Department, De La Salle University, Malate, Manila, The Philippines.
Corresponding author:
Dennis D. Trinidad, Professor and Coordinator for Japanese Studies Program, International Studies
Department, 4F Faculty Center, De La Salle University, 2401 Taft Avenue, Malate, Manila 1004,
The Philippines.
E-mails: trinidad.dennis@gmail.com; dennis.trinidad@dlsu.edu.ph
268 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 5(3)
has either strengthened Japan’s existing strategic partnerships or established new
ones with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
As of April 2018, Japan has such kind of partnerships with nearly all of ASEAN
members. There are three plausible reasons why strategic partnership as a security
strategy is attractive for Japan. One, it conforms neatly with Abe’s proactive con-
tribution to peace strategy and extends defence cooperation with a partner-country
without necessarily creating a formal alliance. Two, strategic partnership has
increasingly become a major platform of Japan’s evolving realignment strategy in
the Asia-Pacific in response to an increasingly expansionist and assertive China,
and the rapidly diminishing power asymmetry between the United States and
China (De Castro, 2016; Hughes, 2009; Sukma & Soeya, 2015; Wilkins, 2010).
Through its multidimensional coverage, strategic partnership flexibly enables
Japan to contribute to the Southeast Asian region beyond financial assistance.
Indeed, strategic partnership has become fashionable and a buzz word recently
in the conduct of bilateral relations among countries particularly in the Asia-
Pacific. Recent studies on strategic partnership have attempted to clarify its key
features as well as its scope. Broadly, strategic partnership is defined as
‘relationship between two or more states that involve mutual expectations of
some kind of policy coordination on security issues under certain conditions into
the future’ (Envall & Hall, 2016a, p. 91). Envall and Hall (2016a) note that
strategic partnerships existed in the Asia-Pacific region in as early as the mid-
1990s and since then have become a new security practice adopted by states as a
strategy in managing national and regional security. Strategic partnerships are
appealing to many Asia-Pacific countries because they are perceived as new form
of alignment (Parameswaran, 2014) but unlike formal alliances, they do not bind
states to cooperate militarily or use force in the defence of an ally (Envall & Hall,
2016a). Envall and Hall (2016a) also add that strategic partnerships are neither
security communities nor informal coalitions. Vidya (2010) traces its origins to
China’s effort in promoting a post-Cold War new security concept as the world
moves towards multi-polarity.
In his study of the European Union’s strategic partnerships, Reiterer (2013)
notes that there are external and internal conditions that must be met to qualify
one partnership as strategic. Internally, the elevation of relationship into strategic
partnership must be preceded by some years of trust and confidence building
between or among partners. Externally, the partnership should rest on reciprocal
interests, either normative or substantive, as well as on rights and duties to realize
mutually defined goals. In terms of issues covered, Envall and Hall (2016a)
observe that most strategic partnerships recently cannot be purely categorized
either as issue area-specific or open-ended but rather exhibit characteristics of
both. In addition, strategic partnerships must be multidimensional in substance
covering various aspects of bilateral relations including politics, security, eco-
nomics, finance, trade and people-to-people mobility (Reiterer, 2013). Moreover,
the geographic scope of such partnership should be global or at least with a ‘strong
regional impact’. Envall and Hall (2016b) stress that strategic partnerships are
formed not only ‘for mutual benefit, based on shared values and interests’ of
partners but are also formalized by rival nations ‘for mutual management, driven

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