From July 27 to August 3 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a tour of several Latin American countries, during which he visited Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. Two weeks earlier, a similar tour was conducted by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping, each of them has scheduled a journey across the continent right in time for the next summit of the BRICS held in Brazil.
Thus, in this month alone Shinzo Abe has become third head of the leading world powers, who has found it necessary to make a political “pilgrimage” to the region, which major powers had been considering a backyard of the international politics, ie the United States.
A century long process of transforming Latin America into a backyard of the American foreign policy ended at the turn of 20th century when the spheres of influence between the British Empire and the United States were divided. The former by this time reached the peak of its power, while even then its inability to properly manage vast territories was apparent. At the time a new contender for leadership just started gaining its military-political and economic muscles.
There have been many important events over the past hundred years. Those are the two major bloody wars and a cold one. With the completion of the latter started a processes of relative decline of the role the United States is playing in the world, at the same time China emerged as a new contender for leadership and then the two big losers of WWII that is, Japan and Germany returned on the world’s political arena.
The fundamental change in the global game that appeared at the end of the Cold War is the shifting center of gravity of the international politics, which has moved from the Euro-Atlantic area, where it had been for centuries, to the Asia-Pacific region . In this case, both American continents now form the eastern boundary of this space in which the major political events should be unfolding. However, the roles which the Americas are playing are still fundamentally different.
If the US-led northern continent of America (including Mexico, that is a “typical” Latin American country integrated into the North American economic relations through regional association NAFTA) is one of the main participants, the subject of the regional game, South America as a whole remains rather an object of this game. But the significance of this “object” on the he international stage is increasing, which explains the increasing attention that leading powers are paying to this continent.
The special attention in this respect should be paid to China and Japan, which have been consistently trying to outmaneuver each other in the Asia-Pacific region, this game largely determines the overall political situation in this space. Until now this game has been clearly visible in Southeast Asia. But in the last couple of years it has quite unexpectedly reached the Korean peninsula, and now – Latin America.
In part, the nature of the mutual Sino-Japanese maneuvers is similar to the situation on asoccer field when a dangerous attacking player gets some “personal care” from a member of the opposing team. During the match, both players can walk silently next to each other. The leaders of these two powers are “silent” in their quest for dominance since they’ve been unable to solve any bilateral issues for two years now.
However, the said mutual “personal care” is observed not only in the Asia-Pacific region. Equally Japan is “following” China in Western Europe and, it seems, in Russia.
There’s a number of points Shinzo Abe scored in Latin America. Among them one can name the promise Japan’s Prime Minister made to the countries that work in the regional association of CARICOM (Carribean Community). While visiting Trinidad and Tobago Shinzo Abe said he would extend the financial support to those 14 Caribbean states.
In this connection, commentators did not fail to recall that almost a year ago, the Caribbean countries have effectively managed to hold a meeting with Xi Jinping who was visiting Trinidad and Tobago as well.
In Colombia, Shinzo Abe said that Japan’s intentions to develop economic relations with a group of countries forming the so-called “Pacific Alliance” remain unchanged. This trade bloc which unites Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru was formed in 2012. The parties involved have made a decision to accelerate the negotiation process on the conclusion of a free trade agreement between Japan and the members of the bloc.
Shinzo Abe concluded his tour across Latin America with a visit to Brazil. The result of his successful talks with the president of this largest Latin American country, Dilma Rousseff was a number of agreements in the field of economic cooperation being signed, including cooperation in third countries.
A lot of attention of the international media was drawn to the statement the two leaders made on the need to reform the UN Security Council. In addition to Japan and Brazil, this long-debated topic has been periodically brought up by global players, including India, Germany, and etc.
In general, some commentators say that the latest tour of the Japanese Prime Minister hasn’t gone by without some significant political components. In exchange for the promotion of economic development of Latin American countries Shinzo Abe wanted to obtain their support in the upcoming next year‘s UN vote on the proposal that Japan should obtain a status of the non-permanent member of the Security Council, along with getting additional supporters in the dispute with China over the Senkaku islands.
But if he can count on their support in the first matter, when it comes to the second one, the leaders of Latin American countries while welcoming strongly the economic benefits provided by Japan, have made it clear that they are not going to give preference in situations when someone is in dispute with China.
Finally, the list of the important results of the Latin American tour of Shinzo Abe should also serve as a confirmation to the latest trend in Japan’s foreign policy which implies attempts at achiving greater independence from its key ally - the United States. On the background of Japan‘s latest success in the promotion of relations with economic cooperation organizations that deal with the countries of Europe, Africa, and now Latin American, the long awaited success in the process of creation of a “Trans-Pacific Partnership” hasn’t been achieved yet again.
The main challenge for the completion of this process remains the same as it was in the past few years, that is, the US-Japanese differences on the terms of entering the Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
Vladimir Terekhov, leading research fellow at the Center for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.