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North East Asia Strategically Notices India

Paper 5635                                              Dated 16-Jan-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

North East Asia is a strategically significant region which earlier experienced intense Cold War confrontations and is now witnessing the unfolding of possibly a new more intense Cold War, this time between China and the United States and in both cases Japan and South Korea are significant regional players on this chessboard.

With China looming large as a threat perception in varying shades in North East Asia and in Asia as a whole, India stands strategically noticed by the two prominent regional actors, namely Japan and South Korea, possibly because India’s power differentials with China are not too wide and Japan- India and South Korea-India have enough strategic convergences.

Strategically, it is naïve as some believe in India that there is some concept as ‘strategic non-alignment’ and that it can be pursued as India’s overall strategy in global power-politics. India has to realise that even without entering into military alliances strategic space exists to practise ‘balance of power’ politics. Asian security demands that with the United States obsessed with ‘China Hedging Strategy’, it is the Asian powers themselves which have to formulate ‘balance of power’ strategies as deterrence against any threats to Asian security and stability.

Japan and South Korea in recent times have forged ‘Strategic Partnerships’ with India whose significance and import has not been lost on China This stands evident from two recent newspaper articles by the Chinese Ambassador which indirectly reflect concerns at Japan and South Korea reinforcing strategic partnerships with India and highlighting that India conversely has more to gain strategically from China.

Significantly, the onset of 2014 witnesses India hosting visits of its North East Asia ‘Strategic Partners’ to New Delhi for apex level political discussions and meetings. The South Korean President Park Geun-hye is currently on a state visit to India heading a large delegation for substantive discussions on reinforcing further strategic and defence ties besides economic relations. South Korea is expected to make a bid for construction of nuclear reactors in India in which field it has good experience. South Korea also has figured as an economic power-house and has a thriving defence industry.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is headed for India a few days later to be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day Celebrations on January 26, 2014. That the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit follows in quick succession of the royal visits of The Imperial Majesties of the Emperor and Empress of Japan is rich both in symbolism and strategic significance.

Japan and India both figure as the leading powers of Asia along with China but China refuses to acknowledge this and has recently adopted even more military confrontation postures against both Japan and India in its territorial disputes with them.

Japan despite some economic slowdown still figure as one of the leading global economic powers and has an advanced high technology defence production industry.

In terms of military power both Japan and South Korea have for long had sizeable military capabilities to which I have been a personal witness as a military diplomat in both countries in the early 1980’s. Earlier this was geared to their Cold War alliance commitments and presently both nations are geared towards military self-reliance as a safe-bet strategy against the uncertainties of United States security alliance commitments with United States deferring to Chinese sensitivities oblivious to Japanese and South Korean sensitivities.

The stark strategic reality is that Japan, South Korea and India have been impelled to move strategically closer and forge strategic partnerships, is born out of strategic convergences in the not too peaceful military rise of China. It is a different matter that all these three powerful countries may be muted in acknowledging this strategic reality openly.

What cannot be ignored is that stretching from South Asia to South East Asia and continuing to East Asia and North East Asia the security environment stands viciously stirred by China. China is at adversarial odds with a number of countries in each of the said regions.

India offers a lucrative economics and trade investment market to both Japan and South Korea and both countries today are entrenched in the automobiles and electronic appliances and electronics industry in India.

In terms of economic interdependence, Japan and South Korea are attracted by India’s burgeoning consumer market whereas India needs Japan and South Korea as reliable sources of foreign direct investment in India’s infrastructure projects. Both Japan and South Korea are also attractive sources for India in relation to science, high technology and defence production.

 However, it is the contextual strategic and security environment in Asia as a whole which determines Japan and South Korea strategically noticing India even though India itself shies away and is reluctant to adopt more assertive military postures in relation to China-generated military turbulence and brinkmanship endangering Asian security and stability.

Presumably, even if India, at  present, is strategically timid in relation to China, it is perceived by Japan and South Korea that India’s military profile and expanding Indian Navy signature in the Indo-Pacific region provides existential security and stability especially in relation to the security of sea-lanes which are the lifelines of Japan and South Korea for their energy security, trade and commerce.

India needs to justify the strategic trust that Japan and South Korea have reposed in India as a source and asset for Asian security and stability. Further, India has to demonstrate that India too values the potential contributions that Japan and South Korea can make in relation to India’s comprehensive national security.

India has established a number of forums and dialogue mechanisms for strategic dialogues and military cooperation with Japan and South Korea. High level defence visits also stand exchanged with India. The Japanese Defence Minister was recently in New Delhi to further reinforce the Japan-India Strategic Partnership.

Any assertive steps that India undertakes in relation to furtherance of Asian security and stability and security of sea-lanes in strategic cooperation with Japan and South Korea bilaterally with them or ideally trilaterally, would most likely will not be opposed either by the United States or Russia as the major powers with crucial stakes in Asia Pacific.

Japan and South Korea have made their strategic moves and it is now for India to reciprocate these moves effectively and substantially reinforce the strategic partnership with both nations.