On April 13th, 2021, the Centre for the Study of Global Japan, in partnership with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, welcomed Nobuhiro Aizawa, Stewart Beck, Elina Noor, and Deanna Horton (moderator), to present “Japan and Asia in the Post Pandemic Era: Selective Cooperation vs Strategic Competition in Southeast Asia”.

The presentation, organized by Deanna Horton, discussed The Diplomat editor Sebastian Strangio’s book, In the Dragon’s Shadow, in which he talks about the challenges for Southeast Asia in managing the rise of China. Do Japan’s longstanding ties to the region—including as its largest infrastructure investor– stand it in good stead to provide a counterweight to China? And what can Canada learn from Japan in its approach to this important region? These are the questions that the panel of international experts sought to answer while discussing the roles of Japan, Canada, the USA and China in Southeast Asia. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Strangio was not able to partake in the live presentation.

Following welcome remarks from Phillip Lipscy, Deanna Horton introduced the panelists and moderated the session. The presentation began with panelist Nobuhiro Aizawa, who discussed Strangio’s description of Japan as a “quiet” achiever in the region by examining Japan’s economic approach in Southeast Asia under the Suga administration, and how it fits into the Biden administration’s Asia policy. Aizawa noted that Japan’s approach to Southeast Asia is at a crossroads: while its economic capacity in the region is significant, its current approach is not sustainable and is in need of development. Moreover, the speaker highlighted how Japan’s democracy is also at a crossroads: while it has focused on improving social and economic rights, the country has yet to make political and cultural rights a priority – qualities that are important to its American ally. Accordingly, Japan’s democratic paradigm has become a point of contention within the Biden administration.

Next, Elina Noor discussed Strangio’s contention that, in the backdrop of China’s re-emergence as a global power, the United States and its partners will have to convince Southeast Asian leaders that the Indo Pacific strategy is compatible with the principle of ASEAN centrality. The speaker considered the evolving security situation in Southeast Asia, and the role of ASEAN on the Biden administration’s approach to the region. Noor noted that for many Southeast Asian countries, the primary security concern remains domestic because nation building is still fraught. This is a result of the remaining regional division along racial, religious, cultural, and linguistic lines, generated by the Cold War. On the Indo Pacific strategy, the speaker noted that while the five-page document mentions inclusiveness and cooperation, it fails to include a discussion of the term Asia Pacific and its unique security challenges.

Stewart Beck discussed the results from national opinion polls in Canada since 2011, conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, which covered a broad spectrum of questions including feelings towards Asia and attitudes toward China, Japan, and the United States. Beck noted that the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada hopes to see Canada becoming much more a part of the Asia Pacific region in the years to come. Currently, however, Canadian attitudes towards China and the United States in particular are trending downwards due to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conversely, Canadians have a very positive attitude towards Japan which has been relatively constant. Beck also highlighted two priorities for the way in which Canada should engage in Asia. First, Canada should align its foreign trade and security policy more closely with like-minded democracies such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. Second, Canada should focus on multilateralism in the international context.

The presentations concluded with a robust discussion and Q&A session moderated by Deanna Horton. During the session, the panelists addressed salient political and economic questions including the implications of the Indo Pacific versus Asia Pacific terminology, Canada’s potential position as a leader in Asia, and how Asian economies have navigated between China and the United States, the two biggest economies in the world.

The Centre would like to thank Nobuhiro Aizawa, Stewart Beck and Elina Noor for delivering insightful presentations. We would also like to thank the virtual global audience in attendance for their engaged participation and fruitful questions. To view the full presentation, click HERE

About the Panel:

  • Nobuhiro Aizawa, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University
  • Stewart Beck, President and CEO, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
  • Elina Noor, Director, Political-Security Affairs and Deputy Director, Asia Society Policy Institute, Asia Society
  • Deanna Horton, Senior Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto (moderator)