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India-Japan ties: A new paradigm
The PM Abe’s visit comes at a crucial time:
Japan has been unsure of the US commitment to its allies ever since Donald Trump started his presidential campaign.
The ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capability of North Korea has aggravated Tokyo’s worries about the decoupling of the US-Japan alliance.
It is not clear whether the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) will be able to hold its own in the face of increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region.
Indo-Russian relations, a stabilizing factor in the past, are in flux. In this scenario, India and Japan are the only major forces of stability in the Indo-Pacific.
Emerging Geopolitical trends:
Indo-Pacific emerging as new playground:
The shift of the geopolitical centre of gravity from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific region. Most of the rivalries are being played out in the crowded geopolitical space of the Indo-Pacific, and Asian economies now account for more than half of global GDP and becoming larger in coming years.
Rise of China:
The rise of China. China’s rise is reflected in a more assertive China. According to President Xi Jinping’s ‘two guides’ policy announced in February, China should guide ‘the shaping of the new world order’ and safeguarding ‘international security’.
Today’s China is not just willing but eager to assume leadership and expects other countries to yield space.
Its assertiveness in the East China Sea with Japan and in the South China Sea with its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) neighbours sends a signal that while multipolarity may be desirable in a global order, in Asia, China is the predominant power and must be treated as such.
Even though China has been a beneficiary of the U.S.-led global order, it is impatient that it does not enjoy a position that it feels it deserves, especially in the Bretton Woods institutions. During the last five years, it has set about creating a new set of institutions (the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank) and launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to create a new trading infrastructure that reflects China’s centrality as the largest trading nation.
The BRI is also complemented by a growing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean. Beginning in 2009, the PLA Navy started rotating three ship task forces through the Indian Ocean as part of the anti-piracy task force off the Somalia coast. In addition to Gwadar, China is now converting the supply facility at Djibouti into a full-fledged military base.
Recent developments accelerating the trends:
The outcome of the U.S. elections last year. By invoking ‘America first’ repeatedly, President Donald Trump has made it clear that the U.S. considers the burden of leading the global order too onerous.
Recent nuclear and long-range missile tests by North Korea have added to South Korean and Japanese anxieties. Given the U.S. push for more sanctions that depend on China for implementation, most Japanese reluctantly admit that North Korea’s nuclear and missile capability is unlikely to be dismantled any time soon.
Another significant development was the Doklam stand-off between India and China that lasted from June to August. Differences with China in Doklam was preceded by the stapled visa issue for Indians belonging to Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, growing incidents of incursions along the disputed boundary, blocking of India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group last year, ensuring that no language relating to Pakistan-based terrorist groups found mention in the BRICS summit in Goa and preventing the inclusion of Masood Azhar from being designated as a terrorist by the UN Security Council by exercising a veto.
A new strategic landscape:
The contours of a new relationship were defined during Mr. Abe’s earlier tenure, in 2006-07, when annual summits were introduced, the relationship became a ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’, Japan was invited to join in the Malabar naval exercises and a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation was concluded.
A singular achievement was the conclusion of the agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy in 2016. Under negotiation for five years, this was a sensitive issue for Japan given the widespread anti-nuclear sentiment and faith in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
To deepen strategic understanding, the two sides initiated a 2+2 Dialogue involving the Foreign and Defence Ministries in 2010. A memorandum on enhancing defence and technology/security cooperation was signed and talks on acquiring the amphibious maritime surveillance ShinMaywa US-2i began in 2013.
Trilateral dialogue involving both the U.S. and Japan and covering strategic issues was elevated to ministerial level in 2014.
Japanese participation in the Malabar exercises, suspended because of Chinese protests, was restored in 2015.
A new trilateral at the foreign secretary level has been initiated with Australia as the third country.
India has also extended to Japan an offer denied to any other country, which is to assist in infrastructure development in the Northeast.
The numbers on Japanese foreign direct investment (FDI) and overseas development assistance (ODA) to India have been climbing. FDI flows from Japan have almost tripled in last three years.
Other than the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail, many other high-profile projects like the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and Mumbai Trans-harbour link project are under different stages of execution.
The two countries are exploring cooperation on infrastructure and human development projects beyond India.
The Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor is more than symbolism, in demonstrating that high-cost Japanese technology is viable in developing countries and that India has the absorption capacity to master it.
Completing it in five years is a management challenge but the bigger challenge will be to transfer the know-how of best practices to other sectors of the economy.
Another major initiative is the recently launched Asia-Africa Growth Corridor to build connectivity for which Japan has committed $30 billion and India $10 billion. This adds a critical dimension to the ‘global partnership’ between the two countries. If pursued with an unwavering focus, the AAGC, has the potential to become a serious counterweight to China’s BRI. Unlike BRI, the AAGC promises to evolve a consultative mechanism towards identification and implementation of projects.
Both the title of the joint statement, “Toward a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific”, and substantive paragraphs on cooperation in the region, indicate a much closer alignment between India and Japan in countering China’s influence in the South China Sea, its forays into the Indian Ocean, and investments in South Asia and Africa.
The joint statement calls for a “rules-based order” in the Indo-Pacific region where “sovereignty and international law are respected, and differences resolved through dialogue, and where all countries, large or small, enjoy freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development, and a free, fair and open trade and investment system”.
The joint statement also took a swipe at China’s OBOR initiative by calling for transparency in the development of connectivity and infrastructure development in the region, and reaffirmed the India-Japan project to connect Africa and Asia.
The statement condemns North Korea, but for the first time, includes “the importance of holding accountable all parties” that helped that country develop its nuclear programme, which is not just an allusion to China, but also Pakistan.
The joint statement also endorses the principles on which India decided to sit out the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In a way, India and Japan show themselves to be an open and democratic bulwark against the malafide conduct of the Rawalpindi-Beijing-Pyongyang axis.
It is imperative that India and Japan also look beyond their lofty geopolitical aims, at the more basic aspects of bilateral engagement.
Stronger economic times needed: The strategic partnership needs stronger economic ties. Today, India-Japan trade languishes at around $15 billion, a quarter of trade with China while Japan-China trade is around $300 billion. The trade numbers—below $15 billion annually in the last two years—do not reflect the economic ties between the third and the fourth largest (on purchasing power parity terms) economies in the world. Long pending defence deals—especially the sale of US-2 amphibious aircraft to India—too haven’t moved forward.
While Japan is India’s largest donor and the third largest provider of FDI, bilateral trade has steadily declined since 2013, and is down to $13.61 billion in 2016-17 from $14.51 billion the year before.
The decision to finalise four new locations for special Japanese industrial townships may be only one way of addressing the difficulties businessmen face in India.
Both New Delhi and Tokyo have to keep in mind that they have independent relations with China, with problems unique to their own bilateral histories. As they join hands, they cannot wish China away. Thus, the next step in the India-Japan partnership has to be constructive engagement with China.
The two countries should work on strengthening security cooperation. If the emerging geopolitical environment helps Japan become a “normal” military power—it is currently restrained by its own Constitution—it will help New Delhi and Tokyo in evolving a robust security architecture in the Indo-Pacific.
India needs to change its style of implementing projects abroad, most of which have been plagued by cost and time over-runs. Ensuring effective implementation and setting up mechanisms for delivery will align Mr. Modi’s Act East policy with Mr. Abe’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. This alignment sets the stage for the reordering of the Asian strategic landscape.
Thus, it is time to get down to brass tacks and address some of the issues in order to facilitate closer ties between India and Japan, even as the two leaders and militaries forge closer bonds.
The emerging India-Japan alignment surely sets the stage for the reordering of the Asian strategic landscape. India and Japan are infusing bilateral ties with a sharper geopolitical agenda. Only time will tell if Japan can be new Russia or much more than that for India.
Connecting the dots:
Strengthening ties between India and Japan should seen in the context of emerging geopolitical trends viz, rise of China and the shift of the geopolitical centre of gravity from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific region. Analyze.
It is imperative that India and Japan look beyond their lofty geopolitical aims, at the more basic aspects of bilateral engagement. Critically analyze.