December 16, 2009: Dr. Kuniko Ashizawa and Ambassador Rust Deming

(Click to Enlarge) From left to right: Dr. Kuniko Ashizawa and Ambassador Rust Deming discuss Japan's trilateral relationship with Australia and the United States.

Japan's Emerging Trilateralism? Australia-Japan-US Security Cooperation and the US-Japan Alliance

(Washington D.C.) December 16–Japan has become increasingly interested in trilateral cooperation in Asia due to disappointment in the progress of multilateral institutions in the region. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia Pacific Security Seminar, Dr. Kuniko Ashizawa, visiting fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, and Ambassador Rust Deming, adjunct professor at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS, discussed Japan’s participation in the Trilateral Security Dialogue (TSD) with Australia and the United States, explaining Japan’s motivations in pursuing trilateral cooperation in Asia and the prospects for the future of TSD.


In the last few years, there has been a new trend toward trilateral consultative groups in Asia, many of them including Japan. The TSD between Japan, Australia, and the United States first became active in 2002 and continued through the years with regular meetings of senior level officials and ministers as well as quieter cooperation between military officers and consultation on counterterrorism activities. Though all three countries have experienced leadership changes in the last year and the momentum of the TSD appears to have slowed, Dr. Ashizawa noted that senior officials meetings continue to take place regularly.


Dr. Ashizawa explained that Japan has been an enthusiastic supporter of trilateral consultative mechanisms in general and the TSD in particular for a variety of reasons. First, Japan sees the TSD as a tool not only to bring U.S. attention back to Asia but to strengthen the U.S.-Japan Alliance through increased cooperation in new areas. For example, she argued that Japan sees the TSD as a way to expand its security role in Asia by cooperating with the United States and Australia in peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and disaster relief activities. Next, Dr. Ashizawa explained that Japanese policymakers see the TSD as a kind of soft hedging strategy against China, a way to prepare for China’s activities in the region. Finally, she noted Japan’s growing disappointment with the many regional multilateral mechanisms in Asia, groupings that Japan feels have been too slow to develop into useful forums and too slow to act on pressing regional concerns.


Dr. Ashizawa argued that this increased interest in trilateral mechanisms points out some key changes in Japanese policymaking in the last decade. She explained that in the 1990s, Japanese policymakers had a marked preference for multilateral activities in Asia, but as these mechanisms failed to achieve the goals that Japan had for them, the policymakers began to renew their interest in bilateral cooperation. But Dr. Ashizawa argued that current Japanese policymakers seem to have no clear vision of the kind of architecture that they think that Asia should develop. She said that it appears that they are currently trying out many different options, trying to find the best fit for the region. Further, Japanese foreign policy rhetoric is increasingly using the language of democracy. Dr. Ashizawa explained that policymakers were reluctant to use this rhetoric in the past due to the large number of undemocratic countries located in Asia, but a generation change in Japan has led to the concept of democracy becoming more embedded in the country’s identity. Finally, she noted that Japan continued to be a strong supporter of the U.S.-Japan Alliance while at the same time maintaining a subtle desire to have more autonomy within the relationship.


Ambassador Deming explained that while the TSD is likely to continue, the recent leadership changes in Australia, Japan, and the United States may lead to a change in the dynamics of the relationship. He noted that pressing concerns in all three countries, both economic and political, will likely prohibit a meeting between the three leaders in the near future. The new Australian leadership seems hesitant to enter into cooperation with regional countries that would exclude China, supporting instead regional institutions that have a wide, inclusive mandate. Ambassador Deming argued that this approach to regional relations might decrease Australia’s interest in the TSD. As for the United States, the new administration has returned its focus to Asia and expressed an interest in revitalizing bilateral relationships all over the world. What this will mean for trilateral or multilateral cooperation is yet to be seen. He explained that Japan’s new administration, on the other hand, seems to be drawing a line in the sand between itself and the United States and that there are continued disagreements between these two countries over base issues in Okinawa. He noted that it is unlikely that the TSD can make any significant trilateral progress if two of the parties are engaged in disagreements over their bilateral relationship.


Kuniko Ashizawa is a visiting fellow at the East-West Center in Washington and a senior lecturer in international relations at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. Previously, she was a lecturer in the department of political science at the University of Pristina in Kosovo and a visiting scholar in the graduate school of international relations and Pacific studies at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Ashizawa’s publications include “When Identity Matters: State Identity, Regional Institution-Building, and Japanese Foreign Policy,” International Studies Review , Vol. 10, 2008; and “Japan, the U.S. and Multilateral Institution-Building in the Asia-Pacific: The Case of APEC and the ARF,” in T.J. Pempel and Ellis S. Krauss, Beyond Bilateralism: U.S.-Japan Relations in the New Asia-Pacific (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).


Ambassador Rust M. Deming joined SAIS as an adjunct professor in Japan Studies in September 2005 after a 38 year career in the Foreign Service. His last overseas post was as Ambassador to Tunisia from 2000 to 2003. He served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (June 1998 to August 2000), Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from December 1997, and from October 1997 to December 1997, he was the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau’s Senior Advisor to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Amb. Deming has served in Japan as Charge d’Affaires, ad interim, from December 1996 to September 1997, and as Deputy Chief of Mission from October 1993 to December 1996. From September 1991 to August 1993, Amb. Deming was Director of the Office of Japanese Affairs in Washington. He served as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the American Embassy in Tokyo from August 1987 to July 1991.