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Japan’s “Asian Security Diamond” Strategic Concept Reviewed

Paper No. 5770                                        Dated 19-Aug-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Japan’s “Asian Security Diamond” strategic concept is the brainchild of Japan’s present Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a strategic response to China casting menacing maritime shadows over the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

The “Asian Security Diamond” strategic concept was unveiled byPM Shinzo Abe as he assumed office for the second time as Japan’s Prime Minister last year. Earlier, in his first term as Japan’s Prime Minister on a visit to India addressing the In dian Parliament in June 2007, PM Abe spoke of the “Confluence of Two Seas” alluding that the security and safety of the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean were indivisible and that Japan and India should take the lead in conjunction with other like-minded nations to ensure the maritime security of what is now being referred jointly as Indo Pacific Asia.

The “Asian Security Diamond” strategic concept as spelt out last year envisaged a strategic coalition of Australia, India, Japan and the US State of Hawaii to safeguard the maritime commons extending from the Indian Ocean and extending to the entire Western Pacific.

PM Shinzo Abe had asserted that “The ongoing disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea mean that Japan’s top foreign policy priority must be to expand the country’s strategic horizons. Japan is a mature maritime democracy and choice of close partners should reflect that fact. I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the US State of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons starting from the Indian Ocean Region to the Western Pacific. I am prepared to invest the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in the security diamond”

That is why initially the stress was on Asia’s “Democratic Security Diamond” implying emphasis on democracies like Japan. Japan’s unequivocal commitment to this strategic coalition needs to be noted and can be expected to pursue the Asian Strategic Diamond concept with full vigour.

While reviewing this concept, the questions that need to be examined are as follows:

  • Why the emphasis on ‘like-minded democracies’?
  • Should not the “Asian Security Diamond” strategic concept be enlarged?
  • The strategic inclinations of countries named by the Japanese Prime Minister in his original grouping. Need examination. How receptive are they to the strategic concept advocated?

Before further examination of the above issues, two facts need to be highlighted and those are that the “Asian Security Diamond” concept is strategically conceived for checkmating the unrestrained rampage of a military aggressive China in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. China seeks full dominance over the entire Western Pacific in terms of maritime navigation and also air flights over the two Seas as evidenced by China’s declaration of ADIZ over the East China Sea.

 Secondly, it is obvious that the Asian Security Diamond has the full backing of the United States even as it attempts strategically engaging China as leverage against Russia.

Now the first issue stated above of the Asian Security Diamond being restricted to like-minded democracies I would recommend that by doing so a strategic concept with a very topical objective would get reduced to ideological contours and would detract from its intended aim. It possibly would enable China which is bereft of “natural allies” presently, to enlist some partners. Even if the preceding is discounted the Asian Security Diamond strategic concept would avoidably be diluted.

With the above background it would be logical to invite all nations of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean region threatened /materially affected by China’s strategy of establishing a maritime hegemony in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean region. The enlarged strategic grouping of an expanded Asian Security Diamond should include countries like South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore besides those nations originally spelt out by PM Abe.

Moving to the strategic inclinations of nations originally spelt out by PM Abe, it can safely be stated that Australia, Japan and the United States would be fully inclined to join such a strategic grouping.

The strategic inclinations of India as the most powerful nation in the Indian Ocean however are ambivalent. While it is drawn towards reinforcing its strategic partnership with Japan and has been participating in Japan-India-US joint naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean and also taking part in Trilateral and Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogues including Australia, perceptively it may shy away from actively joining the Asian Security Diamond. The trouble with India is that it follows a hedging strategy when it comes to China and shirks away from any initiative that would suggest that it is inclined towards any China-containment grouping.

However with a new, bold and assertive Prime Minister in the persona of PM Narendra Modi, it is sincerely hoped that India would shed its debilitating strategic ambiguities generated by an unwarranted deference to China’s strategic sensitivities.

Indian policy makers if persisting with such erstwhile and old policy mind-sets would make India lose out in terms of acquiring strategic leverages in its dealings with an aggressive China.

In this connection, one would like to draw the attention of the Indian policy establishment to statements by the previous Indian Defence Minister and Indian Prime Minister asserting that India is well placed to be a ‘nett provider’ of security in the Indian Ocean region.

As far as the South East Asian countries directly affected by China’s aggressive brinkmanship and armed aggression in the South China Sea like Vietnam and the Philippines are concerned they can expectedly be inclined to join the Asian Security Diamond. Both these nations are being actively being assisted presently by Japan in the capacity building of their naval capabilities.

As China has already started attempting to dominate the Southern Segment of the South China Sea, one could expect that remainder ASEAN disputants and even non-disputants would get induced to join the Asian Security Diamond.

In fact Japanese Prime Minister Abe has now resorted to a political and strategic reachout to France and United Kingdom, that they too should also join the Asian Security Diamond as both these nations have significant strategic, political and economic stakes in the Indian Ocean Region and also the Western Pacific

It needs to be remembered that both France and the United Kingdom have a regular naval presence in the Indian Ocean. At various Shangri-La Dialogues each year they have reiterated their intentions to be active stake-holders in Indo Pacific Asia security and stability.

Concluding, it needs to be reiterated that the Asia Security Diamond strategic concept is a proposition whose time has strategically come when contextually viewed against the Chinese strategy of establishing its hegemony over the vast maritime expanses of the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region. A wide strategic convergence exists in the region for some sort of strategic coalition as opposed to a military alliance, to off-set the Chinese challenge

The China Threat is palpably being felt in Asian capitals and these nations perceptively seem inclined to join in a strategically collaborative initiative like the Asian Security Diamond and where the lead is being given by an Asian Power like Japan, the Asian Security Diamond strategic concept would find more resonance and acceptability.