March 18, 2024No Comments

Japan’s OSA: Balancing Security and Stability in the Indo-Pacific

*Authors: Southeast Asia and Oceania Team


Amid escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, exacerbated by assertive Chinese actions, in April 2023, Japan declared a new cooperation framework—Official Security Aid (OSA). Positioned as a strategic departure from its longstanding Official Development Aid (ODA) framework, the OSA marks Japan's commitment to strengthening the armed forces of like-minded nations. This move reflects Japan's response to the evolving security landscape, characterized by Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS) and other geopolitical challenges.

From ODA to OSA

For decades, Japan stood as a bastion of ODA, considered as the main reliable partner for Southeast Asian nations. Its aid is granted under a request-based system and reflects a commitment to regional stability via non-military means.In the postwar era, Japan utilized development cooperation to establish relations with neighboring countries and subsequently to support the expansion of Japanese businesses in Asia. It played a role in the transition from socialist regimes and, amid China's rise, contributed to the development of legal systems and the consolidation of democracies.

The OSA, however, underscores Japan's proactive stance in gaining a more dominant role in the region, marking its first attempt in the postwar era, in which this country seeks to directly enhance the capabilities of foreign military forces. Under the OSA, Japan aims to provide not only equipment and supplies, but also support for infrastructure development to the military forces of like-minded countries, thereby bolstering their security capabilities.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue address marked a pivotal moment in this new approach, with an announcement on doubling Japan's defense spending, and on the necessity in a departure from Japan's traditional post-war foreign policy, primarily centered on economic contributions. Japan's move towards OSA fits with its long-standing role as a vital ally for Southeast Asia in maritime security, especially during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's leadership.

The realization of OSA materialized around the Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) 50th anniversary, culminating in a Joint Vision Statement and an implementation plan which emphasized maritime security cooperation. Subsequently, Japan extended its security assistance totaling $13 million to Bangladesh, Fiji, Malaysia, and the Philippines, demonstrating a commitment to fostering stability beyond its borders.

Furthermore, Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is set to play a pivotal role in providing maritime security support to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. JICA's plan encompasses capacity-building initiatives and the provision of patrol boats, radar systems, and drones. This comprehensive support seeks to address the security needs of nations grappling with regional power dynamics. This move signifies Japan’s intent to forge a broader international coalition, marking a strategic shift in its diplomatic and security engagements.

Strategic Gains

Amid the delicate balancing acts between superpowers, the OSA offers Southeast Asian claimant states an appealing prospect. With territorial disputes and threats from China in the SCS, Japan’s commitment to enhancing defense capabilities might seem to aim to deter Chinese assertiveness.

In this context, and following the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit, Japan has elevated relations with Vietnamand Malaysia to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, and a Security Assistance agreement, including maritime equipment provision, was signed with Malaysia. Additionally, although not a claimant state, Japan plans to build a patrol vessel for the Indonesian Coast Guard. Moreover, coastal surveillance radars will be granted to the Philippines, with discussions on reciprocal troop access and joint military exercises. Japan and the Philippines are also working towards a trilateral alliance involving the US. As Japan has its own territorial dispute with China over its southern islands, the OSA aligns with its ambitions to ensure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and secure regional supply chain resilience.

Source: AkinoriMatsui "World flags" -

Japan also might envision the OSA as a means to reduce Southeast Asian countries' dependence on China. As the Belt and Road Initiative remains a significant diplomatic tool, the OSA introduces new areas of cooperation. For Bangladesh, for instance, which heavily relies on Chinese weaponry (70%), the OSA offers an opportunity to diversify suppliers and mitigate risks associated with the quality of Chinese-made military equipment.

Balancing security and stability

In his address at the Hiroshima G7 Summit in 2023, PM Kishida emphasized the potential parallels between the current situation in Ukraine and future challenges in East Asia. Observing global instability stemming from the Ukraine war, the rise of China, US-China tensions, and the Israel-Hamas War, Japan’s proactive foreign policy aims to foster deterrence and regional security. This change signifies a departure from its conventional stance of following US priorities by shifting towards a Japan-led multilateral security collaboration. It should be asked whether this securitization led to more, or less stability in the region.

While Japan's emphasis on maritime security and support to like-minded Indo-Pacific countries aligns with countering China's assertiveness, extending OSA to the military capabilities of developing countries introduces complexities.

The potential reactions from ASEAN nations, particularly considering their neutrality and non-alignment strive, could lead to heightened tensions and disrupt the delicate balance in the ongoing superpower competition. Moreover, concerns over an arms race in the region emerge; due to ASEAN countries' diverse capabilities and stances in the superpower competition, providing security assistance to certain members might increase tension in the region and undermine the current multilateral system. 

The pursuit of a competitive armament approach, rather than creating a secure environment, may contribute to heightened tension, prompting a more assertive Chinese stance and a Chinese armament of its allies in the region. Furthermore, given China’s extensive arms sales to the region, and its lenient restrictions on arms exports, it is essential to question whether Japan's OSA will genuinely serve as an effective countermeasure to China.


Japan's adoption of OSA signifies a proactive response to regional challenges posed by assertive Chinese actions. While enhancing defense capabilities for like-minded developing countries brings strategic gains, potential reactions from ASEAN, fears of an arms race, divisions, and China's extensive influence, warrant cautious consideration. As Japan assumes a broader international role, the delicate balance between security and stability in the Indo-Pacific calls for careful navigation and strategic planning to mitigate potential negative repercussions of such security related initiatives.

*Views expressed in the article belong to the author and do not represent any organization or its affiliates.

May 10, 20212 Comments

Chinese IUU fishing: menaces and challenges for South American Navies

By André Carvalho

Nowadays, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the most significant threat to maritime security worldwide. It is estimated that the IUU fishing is responsible for the annual loss of tens of billions of dollars in revenue for legal anglers. According to data reported in 2020 by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), IUU fishing also affects the global food security preventing the 3.3 billion of people that rely on fish to access their main source of animal protein. Furthermore, it is estimated that 93% of major fish stocks are already “classified, overexploited or fully depleted” due to the IUU fishing mismanagement of maritime resources. Thus, this illegal activity is not only a maritime concern, but also a threat to international security.

China’s IUU fishing has affected the world's oceans and has proved to be a unique and dire threat. The overfishing and water pollution resulting from the illegal activities have caused enormous environmental, economic, and social damages to coastal states affected by these practices. Currently, China has the largest illegal fishing industry in the world. The Distant Waters Fleet (DWF) is the responsible for conducting Chinese IUU fishing operations, and it uses mostly fishing vessels, factory ships and reefer vessels - a logistical scheme to make any legal fishing company jealous. Recent data suggests that the current number of China’s DWF is around 17,000 vessels, making possible for China to diversify its illegal fishing activities near the Korean Peninsula, on the African coast and in the Latin and South American waters

Nonetheless, China’s fishing fleet also has another strategic duty: to function as the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia. In addition, although the militia has a history of harassing only China’s neighbours and strategic surroundings, one can also understand that they are part of a uniquely devised plan to China exert strategic influence around the globe. 

Although the problem is not necessarily new for the South American region, consequences of climate change have altered the composition of fish populations around the world, making the Chinese fishing activities intensify in South American in recent years. The situation started to gain attention in 2016, when ships from the Argentinian Coast Guard sank the Chinese fishing boat Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010 after detecting its illegal fishing activities in Argentinian waters. In 2017, the Ecuadorian Navy seized a Chinese boat which was detected fishing an endangered shark species near the Galapagos Islands. However, it did not seemed to have deterred Chinese intentions in the region. 

The situation escalated in 2020, when the Ecuadorian Navy discovered a huge Chinese fleet with between 270 and 400 vessels piling the waters inside the Ecuadorian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Chinese fleet overwhelmed the Ecuadorian Navy in numbers, making the latter require assistance from the USCG in order to deter illegal activities in the vicinities of Ecuador’s EEZ. The fleet then tried to operate into Chile’s EEZ, leading the Chile’s Chief of Security and Maritime Operations to create a task force to monitor illegal fishing activities along the Pacific Coast of South America.

Within this context, a country with a dishevelled navy, with innocuous floating firepower and without a complete situational control of its territorial sea, may find itself tobe susceptible to Chinese illegal fishing activities. In addition, it makes South American navies rely mostly on the USCG’s capabilities to patrol waters e.g. the deployment of the USCG Cutter Bertholf to help the Ecuadorian Navy patrol illegal activities near Galapagos, and the recent deployment of USCG Cutter Stone to patrol the Atlantic Coast of South America.  

In this sense, dealing with illegal fishing issues has proved to be a major challenge for South American navies due to limitations in their structure, order of battle and relative power. One of the main problems is that – for reasons that remain unclear - most of the South American navies do not admit the creation of a Coast Guard. Therefore, in some cases these navies are equipped with sophisticated war fighting equipment, but are starkly deficient in coastal patrol. South American countries have small fleets for an ostentatious patrolling of its coast and EEZ and this shows a certain neglect of naval patrol capabilities. A clear example is that the Brazilian navy, the second largest navy in the Americas, in a country with an approximately 8 thousand kilometres long coastline, does not have a continuous production program for ocean and coast patrol ships. 

In the same way, South American navies – and armed forces – show a significant absence of tactical and strategic unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for sensing their territorial seas, as well as operational terrestrial observation satellites to conduct Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) operations.

South America is a region where efforts to engage in cooperation hardly sees continuity. However, when the establishment points to the lack of capacity and resources to keep monitoring and controlling territories in an effective manner, defence cooperation can be a pivotal asset on the fight against Chinese IUU in the region. However, the problem with cooperation in such a scenario is that it is geographically limited. Thus, South American countries could also rely on interoperability for joint operations to tackle doctrinal and structural problems, as well as lean towards area and sea denial strategies as a way to get rid of the dependence on American military power.