PM Suga's change in phrasing of 'Indo-Pacific' concept raises questions

Kyodo -- Nov 17
A subtle change in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's phrasing of a key Japanese foreign policy concept -- a "free and open Indo-Pacific" -- has raised questions about whether Tokyo has shifted its stance.

Meeting the press on Saturday after attending a series of virtual summits with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Suga said he had discussed major regional issues, including North Korea and the disputed South China Sea, with his counterparts and conveyed his desire to cooperate "to create a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific."

The choice of words raised eyebrows because Japan has consistently used the "free and open" version of the catchphrase since then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed it during a 2016 visit to Nairobi.

The concept formulated amid China's attempts to expand its influence through military strength and economic persuasion has become widely accepted by Japan's partners, with U.S. President Donald Trump even adopting it to refer to his administration's own foreign policy in the region.

But it is unclear whether U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to take office in January after his election victory over Trump, will continue to use the slogan.

- Kyodo