The author, Fumiko Yamada specializes in ‘Bangladesh Affairs'. She is a research fellow in ‘Bangladesh Studies’ at the ‘University of Melbourne', Australia. She is a graduate of South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Canada.
Japan and the United States have maintained very close relations since World War II. In reality, the US-Japan relationship, based on economic growth, security interests, and regional stability, has essentially become an effective means of expanding US hegemony. Because of Japan's reliance on US military forces for its security and defense due to post-World War II treaties and agreements, it became easier for the US to use Japan in the world system to suit its interests. That is why Japan is Washington's most important ally in the Asia-Pacific region.
This alliance has now become even more important. US and Japanese Indo-Pacific strategies are designed to achieve much the same goal. It is now able to play a unique and most effective role in implementing Washington's Indo-Pacific strategy and interests. Japan's soft power in South and Southeast Asia is effective and extensive. Japan's influence in the region due to the amount of commercial and development investment Japan has made will help overcome weaknesses in Washington's foreign policy making in the region. The US now realizes that Washington lacks the credibility, soft power and close ties it needs to pursue its interests and strategies across the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific region. Not at all. But Japan is just the opposite. In this regard, Japan has a great reputation throughout the region. Due to Japan's military limitations, there has not been any hegemonic conspiracy or apprehension about Japan. As a result, there has been no problem with Japan's various levels of investment and multilateral relations in the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, especially in South and Southeast Asia.
But Japan is now very much trying to change its global identity. Japan is now keen to play a more active role in the Indian Ocean region, so as to expand its influence. The main reason for this, of course, is to prevent the spread of China's influence. To counter China's growing influence in the Indian Ocean, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, Japan is now working to make major changes in its diplomatic and foreign policy.
The G7 summit became an important opportunity for Japan's change efforts. Japan is the host of this year's G7 summit and the president of the G7 group. At the same time, Japan also got a temporary membership of the United Nations Security Council. In this regard, Japan has recently released three important strategy papers. These strategic documents carry the most visible drivers of Japan's regional security vision, strategy, and policy changes. All three strategies are Japan's national defense strategy and defense capability development action plan. In other words, they have clearly informed the world that Japan wants to play a more active and influential role in the surrounding region by increasing its own capabilities, not only in terms of defense. This sweeping change in Japan's defense and security approach is being done in line with the country's constitution. In other words, Japan still maintains respect for the constitutions, treaties and agreements that it introduced in order to withdraw from the aggressive attitude after the World War. The only change is that Japan is now keen to expand its diplomacy in the areas of defense and security in line with regional economic growth-oriented policies. Japan is no longer a silent bystander, but will be seen in a direct and active role in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific region.
Japan expressed its ambition very clearly at the G7 summit. In addition to the members of the G7 conference, Japan has also invited representatives from India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the African Union. A review of the list of invitees makes it clear that Japan is now keen to establish important and effective partnerships at the global level, particularly in the Global South, to form a more intensive, close and influential role. That is why important members from South-South-East Asia and Africa have been invited. Japan now wants to provide its leadership role in the region for the Western world, namely the Seven Worlds. Japan intends to continue to invest heavily in commercial and development in the region. At the same time, Japan is now committed to increasing its influence in the region for the West by taking any steps, be it trade rapprochement or security policy changes or defense policy expansion wherever necessary. So that China's growing influence and dominance can be resisted at any cost. In other words, Washington is interested in doing the strategy of countering China through India, now through Japan. For a long time, the United States felt that the work was not being done with India. The US has largely failed in its efforts to establish India as a real rival to China in the region. India has only enjoyed regional benefits from the US, repeatedly claiming to play this role effectively. But Delhi could not put up any effective resistance. On the contrary, China's influence in the region, especially in South Asia, has increased rather than diminished due to the so-called rivalry with India.
The relationship of a country like India with its neighbors is surprising. India's relations with almost everyone is strained. It is always heard that India only looks out for its own interests and not others. And India still depends on China for most of its long list of imported goods. In other words, India does not have the ability to be a real rival to China. So, it is clear why India is not able to play its desired role. And now the United States is well aware of that. Interestingly, Japan has none of the weaknesses and inabilities that have prevented India from resisting China in the region. On the other hand, Japan has all the characteristics needed to provide a reliable, capable and influential regional leadership. Japan is also beginning to realize this. So, Japan is now trying to take India's place for the US through a more dominant role in the region. Again, Tokyo wants to work with Delhi, not by removing it. In India's backyard, Japan knows very well that it cannot be done without India.
By doing this, Japan is getting a lot of benefits. To counter China, Japan has some limitations in defense in the Indian Ocean. For this reason, Japan currently does not have the necessary military force to establish a defense effect in the Indian Ocean. So, Tokyo is now relying on India to formulate its new defense role in the Indian Ocean.
Japan is a dependent, respected and tested friend for Bangladesh. Japan has been Bangladesh's biggest development partner since birth. And since 2020, Bangladesh has become the country receiving the most development aid from Japan. These two facts are enough to express the scope, closeness, importance and depth of Bangladesh-Japan relations. Bangladesh's strategic geopolitical position is essential to the geopolitical interests of both Japan and India. Japan is already investing more in the Northeast region of India to increase connectivity between Bangladesh and India.
As in Bangladesh, Japan's development assistance is commendable and effective in Myanmar, India and other states in the region. Japan's relationship with Bangladesh, Myanmar and India can become a very effective and influential tool to counter China's influence in the region. Japan's partnership can play a more effective role in this regard, especially in the northeastern region of India. For this reason, Japan also wants to establish an industrial city in Bangladesh, so as to establish supply chain links with Northeast India, Bhutan and Nepal. This desire of Japan was expressed more forcefully during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit in April. At the same time, Japan is investing in three important infrastructure projects in Bangladesh. Among these, the Matarbari deep sea port is the most important, as it can play a unique role in connecting the Indian Ocean, South and Southeast Asia. Tokyo is making this investment as part of Japan's Big-B initiative. Under this Big-B initiative, Japan will invest in several more high-quality infrastructure development projects in Bangladesh.
About 80 percent of Japan's total trade is through the Indian Ocean. This is why the Bay of Bengal is very important for Japan. And Japan is establishing direct connection to this sea area through Bangladesh. For this, Bangladesh needs Japan not only for trade and regional connections, but also to play the role of a proxy representing Japan's new defense, security and US. However, Japan is keen to establish its new identity globally, especially in the Indian Ocean region, through the G7 Summit, the establishment of connectivity between Northeast India and Bangladesh, and Japan's new defense and security vision. In the coming days we will see a new Japan. So far, the United States has advanced as a pawn, but now it has reached the other end of the board. In this region, Japan has become the new minister of the international chess game of the United States.