Crafting a strategic vision for Japan

Japan is again seeking to enact laws to enable its Self-Defence Force to operate far from home and with a bigger role that could include backing up friendly countries in situations that impinge on Japan's security. It is now constrained by the need to either seek parliamentary approval for each mission or wait for a United Nations Security Council resolution before moving.

From a strategic perspective, it makes good sense for Japan to have the capacity to respond quickly to grave situations. But this would represent just one part of a larger strategic vision that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must shape to reassure his citizens, allies and neighbours. Such a plan ought to demonstrate how Mr Abe proposes to dovetail overarching policies related to security, the economy and diplomatic relations, with an eye on Japan's well-being over the long term.

A new security legal framework, to address key challenges such as global terrorism, would represent an important component of any strategic plan. The recent Middle East hostage crisis, which took the lives of two Japanese, underlines Tokyo's weakness in crisis management, as noted by an International Institute for Strategic Studies analyst. It also raises doubts over Japan's ability to protect its economic interests overseas. The lion's share of its crude oil comes from the Middle East; yet, it has not invested enough to develop its military intelligence there.

Japan's approach to dealing with a rising China, though largely level-headed, appears reactive and not guided by larger, long-term objectives. China's maritime assertiveness, on the other hand, appears deliberate and calculated. Japan would be a more convincing counterweight in the regional balance of power if Mr Abe showed a willingness to resolve historical differences with neighbours. He has an opportune moment to do so in August, in his anticipated statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

If far-sighted strategies are crafted and take hold in Japan, one might see a different approach to how it can exercise influence in the region opportunistically and purposefully - for example, by participating in the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, rather than shunning it.

On the domestic front, Mr Abe is making some progress towards reviving a lacklustre economy. However, once again, what's missing is a bold strategic plan to address long-term concerns such as the undertow of demographic changes, namely, the decline in the Japanese population due to fewer births and a growing number of senior citizens. Without a bold immigration policy to attract skilled foreign talent, the economy might lack vitality.