Shinzo Abe’s Visit To Southeast Asia, Return Of Cold War Style Diplomacy?

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on the 13th of January, began his four-nation speed tour of Southeast Asian nations. The Japanese prime minister dined at the Filipino president’s private residence at Davos and agreed to a $9 billion USD investment package and $5 million worth of patrol boats with the apparent goal of helping Manila to combat drugs and terrorism.[1] The Philippines topped Mr. Abe’s agenda in his speed-tour of Southeast Asian countries, as he began with Manila, then moved to Canberra, Jakarta, and, finally, Hanoi.

The visit by the Japanese prime minister, to see the infamous populist Filipino president, does raise a few eyebrows. Ever since assuming office, the “Asian Trump” Rodrigo Duterte and many Western governments have been at loggerheads. Duterte’s ruthless and unapologetic anti-drug campaign has led to criticism from the United Nations Human Rights chief, namely regarding the extra-judicial killings by vigilantes that Mr. Duterte had apparently authorized. Therefore, Mr. Abe’s visit, despite all of the criticisms by the international human rights committee aimed at Duterte, is a triumph of geopolitical interests over international human rights concerns.

Other than the Philippines, Abe is in the process of deepening Japan’s ties with various Southeast Asian states. According to the Asahi Shimbun, the objective of Abe’s visits is to demonstrate Japan’s commitment to law-based governance and foster regional cooperation to counter an increasingly aggressive Beijing.[2] Other than the soft power of persuasion and the personal touch, however, financial investment is also playing a large part in Abe’s diplomacy. In addition to the money and material aid promised to the Philippines, Abe also promised some $646 million USD in investment to Indonesia, as well as potentially opening Japan’s, jealously guarded, domestic agricultural market to Indonesian exports.[3]

What concerns Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, however, is the abrupt geopolitical face-heel turn the Philippines had undergone since Duterte came into office.[4] In contrast to his predecessor, Benigno Aquio III’s, late policies, Duterte chose not to press the Filipino claims in the South China Sea dispute against China, despite the overwhelmingly favourable PCA ruling. Instead, Duterte seems to have cozied up to the PRC. For instance, his visit to Beijing was one of his first foreign visits and he secured an enormous $13 billion trade deal with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The competition between Tokyo and Beijing over influence in Manila is very reminiscent of the Cold War competition over the neutral countries. The Philippines seem to have benefitted enormously from the competition so far, with $9 billion investment from China and Japan, respectively, as well as the addition of economic and material benefits being promised down the pipeline. While the Southeast Asian states are certainly concerned about potential Chinese aggression in the region, it would appear that like their Cold War predecessors, they are more interested in extracting aid from the competitors rather than presenting a united front against foreign influence in the region.

This development, while beneficial for local economic and humanitarian needs, should, however, also be a source of concern. During the Cold War, the non-aligned movement was eventually fractured due to competition between the superpowers. The competition between the superpowers has also led to instability and economic dependence on aid. The consequences of these competitions that are leftover from the Cold War, from military coups, ethnic tensions, and inefficient governments that depend on superpower handouts, have consequences that linger long after the end of the superpower confrontation.


Dancel, Raul. “Abe visits Duterte’s home in soft power diplomacy.” The Straits Times. January 14, 2017, sec. SE Asia. //

“Japan Affirms Deeper Ties with Indonesia with Eye on China:The Asahi Shimbun.” The Asahi Shimbun. January 16, 2017, sec. Politics. //

Watts, Jake Maxwell, and Alastair Gale. “Japan’s Abe Shores Up Friendship With Philippines.” Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2017, sec. World. //


[1] Dancel, “Abe visits Duterte’s home in soft power diplomacy.”

[2] “Japan Affirms Deeper Ties with Indonesia with Eye on China:The Asahi Shimbun.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Watts and Gale, “Japan’s Abe Shores Up Friendship With Philippines.”

Hanyu Huang


The Organization for World Peace