8 Nov 2020
One of the more gritty challenges in an Asian century -maritime security – was the subject of a recent lecture hosted by the Consulate-General of Japan – Melbourne.
Vice Admiral Kaneda (ret.) described major shifts in the maritime security environment and spelt out his vision for regional harmony. And the future, says Mr Kaneda, will mean closer ties between Japan and Australia, one of a number of new closer relationships needed to counter an emerging superpower – China.
It was an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a military expert, for whom a day at the office includes submarines, aircraft-carriers, missiles and satellites. These are the means to maintain sea lines of communication (maritime routes vital for trade), combat piracy as well as the traditional role of defending national interests.
The audience, a mix of students, businessmen, journalists, military officers and others interested in a Japanese perspective of regional security, got to see how maritime forces take part in international relationships.
Mr Kaneda covered the following topics: the Asian security environment, Chinese maritime advancement, regional risks and Japan's maritime defense strategy. The expansion of the China's military power, in pursuit of a 'Great China' policy was a major theme. Other countries in the Asia-Pacific wonder what this will mean.
Does Vice Admiral Kaneda see China as a threat? 'No.' he said, in reply to a question from the audience. 'I say risk, so far… no threat.' He believes cooperation is to the mutual benefit of all nations, including China.
'We must display, always, strong words to defend ourselves but we seek to stabilise.' he said.
A stable security environment is necessary for trade between countries to occur, continued support of each other and a peaceful region that operates in accordance with international law.
However, the Vice Admiral believes that a number of core maritime coalitions are required in an expanded Asia. India has a role to play in an expanded east-west Asia and Australia in an expanded north-south Asia.
Clearly, Mr Kaneda is hopeful about closer ties between Japan and Australia. He paused during the lecture to say, 'I thank the people of Australia, and the Australian government for dispatching aircraft to Japan at the time of the national disaster in 2011… making a big contribution to restore Japan.'
Both Australia and Japan are allies of the US, who continue to play a pivotal role in the Asia-Pacific. The shared link entitles both countries to consider their closer relationship, Mr Kaneda told the audience. As China expands, this relationship along with coalitions of other like-minded countries, will be needed for maritime security.
Vice Admiral Kaneda does not speak on behalf of the Japanese Government. However, his comprehensive understanding of geopolitical affairs was clearly on show, and his authority in matters of maritime security assured by his extensive experience.
He is Director for the Okazaki Institute and an Adjunct fellow of the Japan Institute of International Affairs. He was also a Senior Fellow of the Asia Centre and J.F.Kennedy School of Harvard and Guest Professor of Faculty and Policy of Keio University. He served in the Japanese Defence Force from 1968 to 1999, primarily in Naval Surface Warfare at sea, while in Naval and Joint Plans and Policy on shore.
The speaking tour began in Adelaide and was organised by the Centre for Asian Studies – The University of Adelaide , the Centre for United States and Asia Policy Studies – Flinders University, the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the Consulate-General of Japan.
Mr Kaneda only briefly mentioned the current tension between Japan and its neighbours over islands in the East China Sea. Instead, he chose to focus on the grand strokes of maritime strategy and policy, describing the likely scenario to unfold in the Asia-Pacific region.
There was a solid round of applause as Mr Kaneda concluded the lecture. An Australian naval officer attending the presentation had this to say in the wind-up at the end.
'These themes have been going on for ten to twelve years; they are now gaining momentum.'
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Text: Peter Dewar