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International relations

Japan sharpens focus on Indo-Pacific with new defense post

Tokyo bolsters staff for coordination with India, Australia and Southeast Asia

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and the Japanese Maritime Self-defense Force's destroyer Fuyuzuki sail alongside the Indian fleet tanker Shakti in the Indian Ocean. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

TOKYO -- Japan's Ministry of Defense plans to establish a new team in charge of Indo-Pacific affairs as part of its efforts to advance a regional strategy involving the U.S., India and Australia, Nikkei has learned.

In a change slated for as early as next month, the ministry will assign another international affairs officer to its Bureau of Defense Policy, in effect doubling its staff for coordination with countries other than the U.S.

The organizational expansion reflects the importance Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government places on its "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" at a time when China's maritime presence is attracting renewed attention.

The new official in the bureau's International Policy Division, who will hold a similar rank as the division's director, will focus on cooperation with quasi-allies India and Australia, as well as Southeast Asian nations. The current division director will deal with China, Europe and other partners.

There have been calls in U.S. foreign policy and defense circles to bolster America's cooperation with Australia, India and Japan -- a relationship sometimes called the Quad.

In teleconferences over the past two months, Defense Minister Taro Kono called on counterparts in India, Southeast Asian nations and other countries along vital Indian Ocean sea lanes to oppose "attempts to change the status quo" with the threat of force -- a veiled reference to actions by China.

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