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Japan-India Strategic partnership: Imperatives for Game-Changers

Paper No. 5775                                         Dated 25-Aug-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Japan-India Strategic Partnership, though ongoing and evolving, contextually needs game-changers in view of Asian security turbulence generated by China. This should be the prime focus of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s long awaited visit to Japan next week.

Japan and India exist in turbulent security environments with nuclear weaponised neighbourhoods foisted by China and by China’s aggressive territorial claims on both Japan and India. The China Threat is real and strategically in being, challenging security planning in both countries.

Japan and India fortuitously are presently headed by two strong and assertive Prime Ministers who have accorded prime focus to their respective national security challenges and also to Asian security as a whole.

Both Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are engaged in transforming Japan and India and shaking their nations out from decades of strategic and military stupor induced by generations of strategically timid Prime Ministers.

Reflected in my earlier SAAG Papers were the imperatives of Japan and India being the twin pillars of Asian security to face the challenges of a militarily rising China with hegemonistic impulses to dominate the Asian security template. Reflected earlier this year by me at an International Seminar were the imperatives of Japan and India forming the nucleus of an indigenous Asian Security Coalition around which other countries threatened by Chinese military aggression like Vietnam and Philippines can coalesce. Japan has already provided that resonance in South East Asian capitals and the wider Indo Pacific. India also needs to adopt a similar lead.

Strategic partnerships to be robust and effective need the essential ingredient of “Strategic Trust” amongst the strategic partners. Rhetoric needs to be replaced by visible strategic initiatives which connote the robustness and strategic connotations as opposed to tactical expediencies to perceptionaly convey the forging of a long enduring strategic partnership.

The Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Japan would obviously refer to Japan and India’s long standing historical linkages and cultural affinities. There will be enough emphasis on expansion of Japanese trade and investments in India and increase in scientific cooperation. But these are not enough to forge a vibrant and substantial strategic Partnership.

Japanese and the Indian Prime Minister need to reach out over and above these routine initiatives in summit meetings between political leaderships of both Japan and India. They need to tread into untreaded strategic domains to send a strong message to Asian nations that Japan and India are capable and determined enough to provide countervailing strength against China in the decades to come.

Japan-India Strategic Partnership to send a strong message in Asia and their benign stakes in Asian security need to break down the fences of ambiguity in their existing respective strategic formulations and shed long held shibboleths that dominate their political and strategic thinking.

In my assessment there are two major strategic game-changers that Japan and India need to add to their Strategic Partnership as starters and these can be added by the determination of Prime Ministers Modi and Shinzo Abe as they sit down in Tokyo for deliberations on September 01, 2014.

Japan could add a strategic game-changer in the Japan-India Strategic Partnership by finalising the long-pending Civilian Nuclear Agreement with India during this visit.  India’s proven record of being a “responsible” nuclear weapons power needs no reiteration. Japan would be well-advised not to equate India with rogue nuclear regimes like North Korea and Pakistan in terms of any decision to provide civilian nuclear power generation plants in India and associated technologies.

Japan’s domestic opposition to nuclear exports is psychological in nature and is understandable. However, Japanese leaders need to educate the Japanese public that any nuclear exports to India are not to a rogue country but to a country which values and intends to invest strongly in the Japan-India Strategic Partnership and is in the interests of Japanese national security.

Further, such an initiative readily implemented by Japan would contribute immensely to adding ‘Strategic Trust’ in their much desired strategic partnership. It would also transmit appropriate political and strategic signals in Asia and globally too.

India too has a corresponding responsibility in adding a strategic ‘Game Changer’ as its contribution to fortify the Japan-India Strategic Partnership and connote implicit ‘Strategic Trust’ in the future of the Japan-India Strategic Partnership.

The Indian ‘game-changer’ pertains to India shedding its strategic ambiguity on China induced by India’s ‘China Hedging’ policy stances and also an overly deplorable sensitivity to what China wold think as India and Japan forge a robust strategic partnership. Japan may not articulate it as such but this Indian propensity to respect Chinas sensitivities at the expense of Indian national security and India’s imperatives for a strong Japan-India Strategic Partnership does not really endear India to Japan’s national security establishment.

Concluding, one would like to observe that Indian security planners need to jettison  their strategic thinking that any ‘China Hedging’ formulations would bring strategic dividends to India from China. The Indian political leadership and their security advisers need to make the fateful strategic choice whether to place India’s “Strategic Trust” in an adversarial China and its new found tactical overtures to India or strategically invest with unambiguous “Strategic Trust” in a robust, vibrant and long range Japan-India Strategic Partnership, which could eventually prove to be the biggest “Game Changer” for Asian security.