Japan Takes the Lead in Western Pacific Maritime Security

Japan Takes the Lead in Western Pacific Maritime Security

by John Bradford
April 28, 2021

This article demonstrates that Japan has become the unassuming leader of multilateral security cooperation in the western Pacific and the local partner of choice for extraregional powers seeking to expand their role in maritime affairs within the second island chain.



After a 50-year history of delivering carefully balanced initiatives aimed at improving the maritime safety and security of Southeast Asian states, Japan has earned the region’s trust as a maritime partner. From this position, it has steadily supported multilateral cooperation throughout the region and emerged as the western Pacific’s most important maritime leader. Now, as extraregional powers seek to expand their roles in the western Pacific, they are generally turning to Japan as their partner of choice. Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision offers a common strategic umbrella that provides attractive utility for these states. An analysis of these trajectories shows that Japan has become the key regional maritime partner for Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, and France.

  • Japan’s proactive, balanced, and unassuming approach to security partnerships has earned it favor as the most trusted security partner among Southeast Asian states.
  • Japan leads by example by quietly facilitating multinational arrangements and lending reliable support to states and multilateral groups in the region.
  • The FOIP concept has become a common element of extraregional powers’ policy approaches toward the western Pacific. The varied FOIP conceptualizations employed by these states are generally more akin to Japan’s approach than to the U.S. Indo-Pacific posture, which is regarded as more focused on military aspects.
  • Japan’s expanded efforts to build its bilateral security partnerships have been favorably received by powers outside the region, making it their partner of choice in the western Pacific.

John Bradford is a Senior Fellow in the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) (Singapore). He is also the Executive Director of the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS). This analysis builds on research he conducted as a Council on Foreign Relations–Hitachi Fellow in Japan.

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