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Japan debates arms exports

Krishna and Antony visit to Tokyo will open up new avenues for bilateral cooperation in security arena.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | New Delhi |
October 28, 2011 2:51:40 pm

As External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and Defence minister A K Antony travel to Tokyo this week and the next,new avenues are opening up for bilateral cooperation in the security arena.

One is in the arena of regional maritime security and the other is the prospect of India buying arms from Japan.

Krishna and Antony are going to Japan at a time when the new prime minister Yoshihiko Noda is trying to lend a little more purposefulness to the listless Japanese establishment.

Japan has been battered by a stubborn economic downturn that has lasted nearly two decades,profound internal political instability,turbulence in the relations with its main external partner (the United States),and the recent devastation caused by a massive earthquake,Tsunami and the nuclear accident at Fukushima.

The internal coherence has prevented Tokyo responding vigorously to the rapid changes in its strategic environment — the rise of China and its growing assertiveness in East Asia,especially in the waters around Japan.

Japan has now prepared an initiative on maritime security which is likely to be presented at the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Bali,Indonesia in mid November. The objective is to develop a framework for building cooperative arrangements in the disputed South and East China Seas which now carry most of Asia’s sea-borne trade.

Tokyo has already briefed the governments of Southeast Asia on its proposed initiative. Washington is backing the initiative and Beijing is a bit wary.

As they meet their counterparts in Tokyo,Krishna and Antony will be all ears. India is a member of the EAS and has growing economic stakes in the Western Pacific. As it strengthens its strategic partnership with Hanoi,Delhi is being drawn into the widening conflict in South China Sea between China and its neighbours.

Antony will also be interested in getting a first hand account of the unfolding debate in Tokyo on arms exports. For decades now Japan has refused to export weapons,military equipment and related ‘dual use’ technologies.

Japanese industry has been lobbying for long for a change in this policy of self-denial. Sections of the strategic community in Tokyo too have been calling for an active pursuit of arms exports to increase Japan’s regional influence as well as expand its strategic space in Asia. If all goes well Tokyo is likely to announce new guidelines for arms exports in the coming weeks.

Whatever the Japanese motivation,the prospect of its arms exports opens up more options for India’s defence acquisition. As one of the world’s largest defence markets,India has traditionally relied on Russia and Western Europe. In recent years,Israel and the United States have emerged as important suppliers.

Given the extraordinary sophistication of Japan’s industrial and technological base,Delhi must look beyond the mere purchase of arms from Japan and focus on the possibilities for long-term defence industrial collaboration.

As it awaits the liberalisation of Japan’s arms exports,Delhi’s immediate focus should be on exploring the possibilities for major purchases within the current Japanese guidelines which permit export of advanced non-lethal equipment for peaceful military uses like search and rescue.

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