To support a stronger Japanese regional role, however, the Abe administration needs to revive the country’s flailing economy. Under the doctrine of “Abenomics”, Tokyo has already undertaken a combination of fiscal stimulus and monetary easing to reflate the Japanese economy. This has been followed by structural reforms, particularly in the realm of corporate governance, which stand a good chance of ending Japan’s decades-long economic stagnation. More importantly, Abe has also received enthusiastic support from countries such as the Philippines, who have openly welcomed Japan’s plans for a more pro-active defense policy.
Overall, what is increasingly clear is that while China has sought to maximize American strategic ambivalence to more pro-actively push its territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing has also run the risk of empowering its historic rival, Japan, which is gradually carving out a new leadership in the region.
Richard Javad Heydarian is a lecturer in international affairs and political science at Ateneo De Manila University, and a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives. As a specialist on Asian geopolitics and economic affairs, he has written for or interviewed by Al Jazeera, Asia Times, BBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The National Interest, and USA TODAY, among other leading international publications. He is the author of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings (Zed, London), and the forthcoming book The Philippines: The US, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Pivot State (Zed, 2015).