Policy and politics shifted dramatically in 2022 in the Indo-Pacific region. From the rise of and cooperation between the authoritarian super-states of China and Russia to the impact in Asia of the war in Europe, the assassination of Shinzo Abe, and direct military threats of China and North Korea against democratic states, the Indo-Pacific became a world theater under stress. The year’s dramatic events foreshadowed significant changes in the domestic politics and foreign policy of Indo-Pacific democratic states.
The new year recalls the mid-1930’s moment in Europe – quiet before a great storm. Military investment are in a hurry-up mode to hopefully deter war or if deterrence fails, counter the initial onslaught.
The following is a brief review of 2022 events in the northern Indo-Pacific:
- Russia launched a war against Ukraine (February) and China showed affinity toward Russia’s aggression to secure it so-called territories and in its confrontation with the West. This alliance is accompanied by China’s increased authority over Hong Kong and hostility toward Taiwan.
- Japan follows Germany in shedding its WWII foreign policy of low defense budgets and non-intervention foreign policy. Under a new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, Japan has made overtures to South Korea, begun defense talks with Australia, shown expressions of support for Taiwan’s sovereignty and initiated closer integration into the US deterrent.
- The Korean peninsula shifts its politics with new a South Korean leader, Yoon Suk- yeol, looking to be more engaged in the Indo Pacific, resolve disagreements with Japan, strengthen security arrangements with the U.S., and react aggressively to North Korea’s missile program.
- Taiwan steps up its defense preparations and welcomed a host of high level visits from European and American leaders.
Highlighting the dangers in the Indo-Pacific was the tragic loss of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose signature policy initiative was defending a free and open Indo Pacific. Simply avoiding an incident in 2023 that leads to conflict will be considered a success.
President Joe Biden meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace on May 23, 2022, in Tokyo.