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India must focus on events yielding results

Strategic opportunity does not keep knocking at your door for too long. China’s rise and its estrangement with Japan has provided New Delhi with an opening that we would be most foolish to ignore

Strategic opportunity does not keep knocking at your door for too long. China’s rise and its estrangement with Japan has provided New Delhi with an opening that we would be most foolish to ignore. Whatever may be the rhetoric about building multi-polar relations with nations across the board, India needs to realise that it needs to concentrate its effort on occasions that will yield results, rather than chasing the will-o’-the-wisp.

There are two reasons for this opening. First, the increasing bellicosity of China vis-à-vis Japan and second, the Indian entente with the United States. Tokyo and New Delhi are not about to create an anti-Chinese alliance; yet, there can be little doubt that the estrangement between Japan and China is to our advantage. We cannot replace China as a destination for Japanese investment and trade. Some 90,000 large and small Japanese companies operate in China, as compared to just about 1,000 in India. But, starting off as a hedge for Japanese companies, we can attract significant Japanese investment and technology, which can trigger our own manufacturing revolution.

There are two components to the relationship — economic and security. The economic relationship between the two countries has taken off with a sharp rise in Japanese investment into India since 2005, and Japanese companies have made a cumulative investment of $12.66 billion in this period. India has become the largest recipient of Japanese Overseas Development Assistance in the last decade, receiving as much as $36 billion in concessional loans and grants. Relations between the two countries are set to grow further with the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2011. The Abe visit, brought more commitments on the part of Tokyo.

The Japanese perspective on security emerges from the rapidly changing global power balance in favour of China; to this can be added the factor of technological change. In addition, because of North Korea, Tokyo is also painfully aware of the threats arising from WMD proliferation, terrorism and cyber attacks. Japan says that China is rapidly advancing its military modernisation without much transparency, and in the case of the East China Sea and the South China Sea, it is attempting to change the status quo through coercion.

Close US-Japan ties have ensured that Tokyo has been able to maintain its pacifist attitude in the face of grave provocations, for example, from Pyongang. For their part, the Japanese believe that no nation can maintain its own peace and security alone and that they need the assistance of their allies and partners as well. If anything, given the developments with China, they would like to strengthen their alliance with the US, which has famously declared its neutrality on the Senkaku-Diayou island dispute, even while affirming the US-Japan security pact.

In recent months, the Abe government has taken other measures to signal its hardening stand on security issues. As of December 2013, it has created a National Security Council and adopted a new National Security Strategy. For the present, they continue to swear by their pacifist constitution, but with a bit of a nudge from the Chinese, things could change in the coming years.

Japan’s new approach towards national security is to: 1) Strengthen its diplomacy with a view of creating a stable international environment 2) Develop its defence forces steadily and maintain a posture that can deal with an array of situations 3) Protect its territorial integrity 4) ensure maritime security and insist on a regime based on the rule of law 5) Come up with a new set of principles for transfer of defence equipment overseas in view of the new security environment 6) Strengthen cyber security, take measures against terrorism and insist on peaceful uses of outer space.

The Japanese maritime self-defence forces (MSDF) have, at various times, exercised with the Indian Navy and during the Abe visit, a specific invite was given to them to rejoin the Malabar series of exercises that we have with the US.

The Indian and Japanese Coast Guards have been exercising together since 1999 and held their most recent exercise in January 2014.

The lengthy joint statement after the Abe visit underscores the belief that both India and Japan sense opportunity in the current geopolitical situation. The joint statement noted that the two countries have a common view on ‘freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes’ based on the principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They also agreed on the importance of the ‘freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety’ in accordance with the principles of international law and the rules of
the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The bit about ‘peaceful settlement of disputes’ and the issue of overflight and civil aviation safety was new language as compared to past joint statements, and they unambiguously pointed towards China.

India and Japan still need a great deal of patient dialogue and effort to transform the opportunity they have into reality. They need to clinch the Indo-Japan nuclear deal, if only to clear the decks for cooperation
in other high-technology areas. Likewise, they need to successfully conclude their negotiations for the US-2 amphibian aircraft, which Tokyo has offered India. The US-2 may be a minor issue, but behind it lies the promise of deeper ties with Japan in high quality technology, which can be used for defence purposes.

The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

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  • Guest04-Feb-2014

    An idea whose time has come. Had India opened up its economy even earlier than 1991 and been more deeply committed to reforms, a lot of the FDI that has flowed to China - barring from the Chinese diaspora - could have come to us, changing the 4 : 1 disparity that now obtains between the GDP of the two countries. As for security cooperation, it can be most fruitful when it is part of an overarching relationship with the US.

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