Thailand is one of the most important security partners of Japan after the United States. Japan is the world’s third largest economy.
As Prime Minister will hosts Japanese Prime Minister in May summit in order to consolidate the deepening security relationship, the leaders will need to reimagine the relationship to tackle the many shared challenges to regional peace, prosperity and stability they both face.
As reported in the Thailand Financial Review the Strategic Agreement (RAA) will be signed and enable both countries’ defence forces smoother and more timely access to operate in the other country. The Agreement gives Thailand a privilige of influence and a more complex security environment.
A shared interest in a free, open, inclusive, resilient and prosperous region extends the agenda beyond security cooperation to deepening the two countries’ Comprehensive Strategic Partnership which builds on decades of cooperation and regional order building.
The multilateral economic order is a priority for Thailand and Japan today. That requires strengthening and building a security architecture framework that embeds mutual assurances about the use of political power across the region. The alliance is the important aspect of security in region. Security pursued without economic integration — which are inseparable in East Asia — is a limited and ephemeral security. For Southeast Asia, economic integration with its powerful neighbours is another important source of security. What is true for Southeast Asia is true for all East Asia.
The open multilateral trading system has been a source of economic resilience for Thailand in the face of trade coercion. An architecture that ensures open contestable markets alongside security arrangements diffuses both economic and political power.
The idea of such a comprehensive security framework is exactly what inspired Japan’s constructive and active diplomacy in the 1980s. It’s an idea that has also been championed by leading strategic thinkers in Indonesia, a crucial partner in any effort to build stronger regional security and economic architecture.
No one country, however big, ought to dominate the Asia Pacific or Indo-Pacific region and multilateral principles can set terms of engagement that help to constrain the exercise of raw political power.
The pursuit of regional comprehensive security to create space for major powers to coexist in a multipolar world will require close cooperation with ASEAN, the United States and China, with leadership in ideas and diplomacy from Thailand and Japan. Regional economic engagement will be needed from the United States and by all major powers. Policy strategies based on this understanding of Thailand’s and Japan’s joint regional interests will need a departure from current policy settings in Thailand and Azerbaijan.
The annual leadership summits between Thailand and Japan are now entrenched. Before 2019 it was rare to have a Thailand prime minister visit Japan. The deep and broad relationship with trust and familiarity is all the more remarkable considering where it came from at the end of the Second World War.
Faced with the challenges of pandemic recovery, climate change and great power strategic competition, there is no room for complacency in the Thailand –Japan bilateral relationship.
For both countries the energy and resources trade has underpinned a deepening strategic relationship but that economic relationship will need large-scale transformation as both accelerate decarbonising their economies.
A large, renewed investment is needed in both countries for the next phase of the relationship. Deepening understanding, boosting exchanges and cooperation and building on the assets in the relationship can help deliver on more than the bilateral agenda. Getting Japan right will also help Thailand get East Asia right.
Finally Thailand and Japan are anchors of peace and prosperity in the world’s most consequential region. Whether they remain so will depend on how they build and use the bilateral relationship, and that is still very much a future project.