Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected visit India and the Philippines in late April, in a move to strengthen regional ties after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.
Suga’s travels will include meeting India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Kyodo News, citing Japanese government sources.
According to analysts, Japan wants to strengthen ties in Asia to counter Beijing's growing clout in the region. That echoes the agenda for his White House meeting, which was seen as emphasizing the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance before their shared rival, China.
Analysts told VOA Mandarin that Suga’s expected visit is aimed at boosting cooperation with India and the Philippines based on a shared vision of a "free and open Indo-Pacific region."
They said there is an expectation that regional security cooperation will increase among countries including Japan, the United States, Australia, India and the Philippines as they perceive a growing threat from China.
However, Japan's security cooperation with India and the Philippines will likely develop slowly as all three countries want to maintain economic relations with Beijing.
The ‘Quad’ and regional security
Since Biden took office in January, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, has become the focus of measures to counter China's growing economic and military influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The Quad consists of Japan, the United States, Australia and India.
Last November, Japan held the Malabar Joint Maritime Exercise with the other three countries to demonstrate the Quad’s naval strength. In March, Quad leaders agreed at a virtual summit to jointly address the challenges China brings to a "rule-based maritime order" in the South and East China seas.
The Print, an Indian online publication, said, “At present, India, Japan and the Philippines are all facing challenges at the hands of China, with threats to their territorial integrity.”
India has been locked in a border standoff with China in an area along their shared northern Himalayan border for almost a year. Japan and China have been disputing the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea for years. The Philippines and China have been disputing fishing rights and territorial control of the South China Sea for years, a fight joined by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Denny Roy, senior fellow and supervisor of the POSCO Fellowship Program at the East-West Center in Honolulu, said India is the most reticent of the Quad members.
India “will always be more cautious about confronting China because of its traditional nonalignment, its lack of consensus on its desired regional strategic role and its economic interdependence with China,” he told VOA Mandarin.
Roy said the growing anxiety about Chinese dominance and the recent border skirmish “are making India increasingly supportive of security cooperation with Japan.”
Richard Weitz, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Political-Military Analysis, told VOA Mandarin via email that although India and Japan are both concerned about Chinese aggression and threats, India is reluctant to join an alliance in opposition to China.
“That said," he added, "holding an in-person Quad Summit on the sidelines of G-7 Summit in U.K. in June would not be that provocative a step and can be defined as a meeting of the world’s leading Asian democracies.”
In the Philippines, Duterte seems to be continuing to move closer to Beijing. He announced a “separation” from the United States in 2016, accepted $2 billion in Chinese funding to redevelop a former U.S military base in 2019, and the first batch of China’s Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine purchased by the Philippine government arrived in Manila on March 29. Duterte personally welcomed the vaccines.
The purchase came after China donated vaccines to the Philippines in February, which Duterte described as a “gesture of friendship and solidarity — the hallmark of the Philippines-China partnership,” according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.
Chinese vessels near islands, reefs
Then on March 31, the Philippine government reported that more than 250 Chinese vessels had been spotted near six islands and reefs Manila claims as its own in the South China Sea. The government, which believed the vessels were operated by the Chinese military, demanded that Beijing remove them immediately.
After these events, Roy said that it is hard to predict how Duterte will react to Suga’s visit, although Duterte and Suga spoke by phone late last year.
“Duterte and Suga are off to a good start in their relationship based on their phone call last December," Roy said. "Duterte has been schizophrenic in his relationship with China, but currently he seems to be in anti-China mode after Chinese fishing boats swarmed Philippine-claimed Whitsun Reef, probably under orders from Beijing. Suga will certainly be interested in encouraging the Philippines to stand up to Chinese territorial encroachment.”
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report, which originated in VOA's Mandarin Service.