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The case for alliance

Rise of China and uncertainty over America’s role in Asia has brought Japan and India closer. Modi and Abe can overcome the bureaucratic inertia that limits the relationship’s possibilities.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published: September 14, 2017 12:02 am
india japan, india china, india china japan, modi shinzo abe, shinzo abe, doklam standoff, india china standoff, delhi tokyo, Japanese amphibious aircraft, indian express, opinion The time is now for Modi and Abe to demonstrate that they can overcome the bureaucratic inertia that limits the defence possibilities between India and Japan. Illustration by C R Sasikumar

That Japan was the only nation to extend public support to India during the Doklam confrontation with China is symbolic of the extraordinary transformation of relations between the two Asian powers over the last few years. Two decades ago, in the aftermath of India’s nuclear tests, Tokyo was at the forefront of the international condemnation and the imposition of collective economic measures against Delhi.

Today it is quite tempting to suggest that Japan has come closest to being India’s natural ally in Asia. Purists will certainly question the idea of an “alliance” between India and Japan. India’s international identity, after all, has long been articulated in terms of “non-alignment”. Japan, in contrast, swears by its lone alliance with the United States.

The emerging Asian dynamic, however, suggests that Delhi and Tokyo must necessarily draw closer. Whether the relationship between Delhi and Tokyo will eventually approximate to an alliance is likely to be determined less by tradition and more by the current convulsions in their shared Asian and Indo-Pacific geography.

Two factors are threatening to unravel the post-war order in Asia. One is the rapid rise of China and the other is the growing uncertainty over America’s future role in Asia. Nearly 40 years of accelerated economic growth has helped China inch closer to the aggregate GDP of the United States. Purposeful military modernisation over the last few decades has given Beijing levers to contest US military dominance over Asia.

As China closes the gap with the US, the imbalance between Beijing and its Asian neighbours has grown massively. Rising China has dethroned Japan as the number one economic power in Asia. It has also shattered the broad parity with India that existed until the 1980s. China’s GDP is now five times larger than that of India. Beijing outspends Delhi and Tokyo on defence by more than four times.

According to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, China’s defence budget ($216 billion) is more than twice that of India ($56 billion) and Japan ($46 billion) put together. As they wake up to strategic diminution vis-a-vis China, India and Japan are also buffeted by the unprecedented political turbulence in the United States. President Donald Trump is challenging the two foundations of America’s post-war primacy in Asia — the willingness to act as the market for Asian goods and bearing the main burden of defending its allies in the region, including Japan.

There is undoubtedly much resistance from the establishment in Washington to Trump’s heresies on free trade and Eurasian alliances. But the tussle in Washington has begun to induce both Delhi and Tokyo not to take America’s political trajectory in Asia for granted. As they cope with China’s assertiveness, India and Japan also worry about the consequences of a potential American retrenchment or a deliberate decision in Washington to cede more space to Beijing in Asia.

While they hope for an enduring American role in stabilising Asia, Delhi and Tokyo also need to insure against wild oscillations in US policy. One way of doing that is to move towards a genuine alliance between India and Japan. America may have no objections to such an alliance. It has, in fact, actively encouraged closer cooperation between Delhi and Tokyo.

A potential alliance between India and Japan can neither replace the American might nor contain China. As Beijing’s neighbours, Delhi and Tokyo have a big stake in a cooperative relationship with Beijing and at the same time a strong incentive to temper some of China’s unilateralism through a regional balance of power system.

While the objective case for an alliance is evident, can Delhi and Tokyo overcome their strategic inertia and take the necessary subjective decisions? To be sure, Delhi and Tokyo have come a long way since the tensions over India’s nuclear tests in the late 1990s. But there is much distance to go before they can showcase at least an alliance-like relationship.

Successive prime ministers in Delhi and Tokyo contributed to this transformation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in Ahmedabad this week for the annual summit with the Indian PM, deserves special credit. During his brief first tenure as PM during 2006-07, Abe outlined the broad framework for a strong strategic partnership with India.

Luckily for India, Abe has had a rare second shot at leading Japan since late 2012. He achieved the near impossible by getting the Japanese bureaucratic establishment to negotiate a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India and the political class to approve it. The conventional wisdom until recently was that Japan’s “nuclear allergy” will never allow Tokyo cooperate with India on atomic energy. On his part, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had put Japan at the very top of his foreign policy agenda. Like Abe, Modi continuously nudged the Indian establishment to think more strategically about cooperation with Japan — from high speed railway development to the modernisation of transport infrastructure in the Northeast.

Under Abe and Modi, Tokyo and Delhi have expanded their maritime security cooperation, agreed to work together in promoting connectivity and infrastructure in third countries in India’s neighbourhood. They are pooling their resources — financial and human — to develop the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.

While all this is impressive, sceptics will argue that without a significant defence relationship, the talk of an alliance between India and Japan remains meaningless. Although military exchanges between Delhi and Tokyo have expanded over the last few years, the two sides are far from a credible defence partnership that can shape the regional security architecture in the coming decades.

That negotiations on India’s purchase of Japanese amphibious aircraft, US-2i, have been stuck for years underlines part of the problem. The time is now for Modi and Abe to demonstrate that they can overcome the bureaucratic inertia that limits the defence possibilities between India and Japan. Modi and Abe have certainly raised the expectations for a potential alliance between Delhi and Tokyo. But they can’t afford to fall short on implementation amidst the current geopolitical churn in Asia.

The writer is director, Carnegie India, Delhi and contributing editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’

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More From C. Raja Mohan
  1. M
    Murthy
    Sep 15, 2017 at 3:15 am
    Judging GDP, Size of the Economy, is okay. BUT Japan is a hi-tech innovator, China is a copier or, worse, sneaky stealer. Japan has NO territorial claims on India, China does. China has antagonised both Japan and India. China made Pak a Nuclear Weapons State. Japan has not. Since 1956, China's Asia Policy has had ONE Constant - PUT INDIA UNDER PRESSURE by keeping the border issue ALIVE. China expected INDIA TO COLLAPSE AS A COUNTRY, long ago. Much to its surprise, India seems to have got STRONGER, particularly, with Narendra Modi's Election to power. Currently, INDIANS can expect the MOST RACISM from Mainland China. I mean their policy towards INDIA is buttressed by RACISM towards Indians in general.
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    1. P
      Podaanga
      Sep 15, 2017 at 7:07 am
      Modi goes to Israel to suk their DIK and then all bhakts suk Israeli DIK. Now Japa nese DIK. Then French DIK. All brahmins are foreign DIK SUKKERS.
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    2. S
      sullu
      Sep 15, 2017 at 12:07 am
      GARBGE 'Shining India' murder through abortion of girls in India to get son hugyahy general are so massive that marks the most unbalanced maasrunmyn Indian society where girls and boys have been much lower. Now do not get married for the boys to girls in India, it has become a serious social problem hy.balksus Haryana state, where the number of women than men had exceptionally low hy.dnya's fourth largest economic power of women in India especially when fundamental rights are not a matter of inheritance. If a woman is trying to turn right to inherit family refused to accept his person. Since India is a country where girls are tasked not be tolerated before the birth. If there is nothing wrong with that girls should be married to a man other states like Haryana states, but they are 'things' that considered conflicting policies which are often recycled are sold to hy.'brts Medical Journal an estimated 20 million children in India over the past three decades were killed in the womb of the
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      1. M
        mark
        Sep 14, 2017 at 10:50 pm
        Plus the author is maybe unaware about Japan Cons ution and the limitations imposed on Japan by 1945 peace treaty: This is not "bureaucratic inertia that limits the defence possibilities between India and Japan" but the status of Japan after 1945 and its defeat after relentless attacks leading to the brutal death of tens of millions of Asian people, Korean, Chinese, the list is long (it includes Indians, nor ranking high in the racial classification of the Imperial Japan)... or is the author a closet admiror of Netaji? Strange. As for Abe he is certainly a negationist, refusing to accept the responbility of Japan in its self-inflicted defeat of 1945. To sum up, Japan is forbidden by int'l law and treaties to export military hardware and technology.
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        1. B
          Bharat
          Sep 14, 2017 at 11:07 pm
          Life moves on, you Chinese pimp. We need Japanese arms.
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          1. S
            sullu
            Sep 15, 2017 at 12:00 am
            bagger , Japan's do not sell arms neither they can. go lick Israeli feet. better eat cow dung cake and cow cola and have fun racist begets.
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            1. M
              mark
              Sep 15, 2017 at 6:23 am
              Japan is forbidden to sell arms or weapons, period, this by the US and 1945 winners and not by China alone (even if a signatory of the treaty) strangely many Indians are extremely racist concerning Chinese (I'm not one, so you can bark at the moon as long as you want), so they should enquire about where Imperial Japan was putting Indians in their interesting racial scale of values ... or you'd better try to find out why such a large country as yours (like China BTW) still has no convertible currency ... this is related to the present topic, since this is putting India (here, the Indian taxpayer) in difficulty in any kind of int'l deal (weapons included). But, fortunately for India, your PM is much more clever than you or the author of this piece, bullet trains and key civilian technologies (where China made serious breakthroughs and invested massively) are more important than "arms", an area where leaders are anyway the US, far ahead, Russia and Europe.
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              1. P
                Podaanga
                Sep 15, 2017 at 7:05 am
                You just don't stop sukking every country in the world you brahmin a s s o l e.
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                1. B
                  Bharat
                  Sep 15, 2017 at 7:50 am
                  Have a word with Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Russians, Vietnamese, Koreans. Japanese, Indonesians, Filipinos, Indians. They will tell you plenty about Han Chinese racist expansionism.
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                    No name
                    Sep 18, 2017 at 6:07 am
                    This Bharat did NOT understand the article by Raja Mohan yet he comments on it. This is the state of the mental growth of the so-called educated in India. This bhakt is a paid ass. Don't have any shame!
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                  2. B
                    Bharat
                    Sep 15, 2017 at 7:04 am
                    This what the Indian Express says today on Abe-Modi talks in regard to defence cooperation: "On defence, they agreed to enhance defence and security cooperation and dialogues, including MALABAR and other joint exercises, defence equipment and technology cooperation in such areas as “surveillance and unmanned system technologies”, and defence industry cooperation. They also flagged cooperation between the two navies on “anti-submarine aspects”. The joint statement said that the two Prime Ministers noted recent progress in bilateral cooperation on defence equipment and technology, including the commencement of the “technical discussion for the future research collaboration in the area of Unmanned Ground Vehicles and Robotics”." Your harping on 1945 to try and block the Indo-Japanese alliance against racist Chinese imperialism is the stuff of comedy. Obviously it burns you up that there is such an alliance. Great! . And the USA is joining in. Netaji by the way is venerated by all,
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                  3. Employ Ment
                    Sep 14, 2017 at 8:36 pm
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                    1. U
                      U.NADAR
                      Sep 14, 2017 at 5:22 pm
                      I dont think China is going to overtake USA any time soon. We are underestimating the strength of the USA in its world standing and Military migth. They are more advanced in the Technology and can also draw on the Europeans to support them. It takes a long time and money to develop world class defence technology . Besides US has built up Bases in strategic places around the world to sa uard its interest and have build alliances with other countries painstakingly over so many years with its CIA operations overtly and covertly. The USA has also helped these countries to move towards a democratic way of government with capitalist ideas and market economy. That is why it is considered a super power and it can leverage countries to vote with it in the UN. China is no where close to this stage to dominate the world to become a super power. Most countries will not allow the communist system to dictate and always lean towards the democratic system as in the USA. China has to learn a lot.
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                      1. B
                        Bharat
                        Sep 14, 2017 at 10:07 pm
                        The sooner the USA, India and Japan become allies against China, the lesser the chance of China winning. China knows this. It dreads precisely such an alliance.
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