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Japan: Indian Imperatives to Enhance Strategic Bonds to a Higher Plane November 2016

Paper No. 6191                                 Dated 02-Nov-2016

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Asia’s evolving geopolitics places a high premium on Indian imperatives to enhance strategic bonds to a higher plane during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan on November11-12 2016 for the Annual Summit Dialogue.

In the Asian geopolitical and security environment the historical moment has come which dictates that both Japan and India as contending Powers with China jointly enhance their Special Global and Strategic Partnership so that Asian peace and stability under assault by China’s military rise, is safeguarded. History has placed at this momentous moment two dynamic Prime Ministers in both Japan and India who can drive this process, namely Japanese Prime Minister Abe and Indian Prime Minister Modi. Both together can craft a game-changer in Asian security and stability. 

Indian diplomacy should stop pretending that all is well between India and China. In November 2016 the strategic picture obtaining indicates lucidly that China in the arrogance of its newfound overwhelming military power finds itself not only at strategic odds with both Japan and India, but  is also engaged in military provocative actions on India’s borders with China Occupied Tibet and in the East China Sea against Japan.

Japan and India are also being subjected by China to China-generated turbulence in their neighbourhoods through its nuclear weaponised proxy states of North Korea and Pakistan.

China clearly recognises that what stands in between China establishing complete Chinese hegemony over Asia are Japan and India. China will try its utmost to drive wedges between Japan and India to divide them as it has done in dividing ASEAN Region over the South China Sea disputes. Japan and India would have to be alert on such Chinese manoeuvres.

China may not succeed with Japan in this direction as Japan has a long diplomatic historical experience to see through such games. China will certainly try to woo away India from Japan by offering inducements of normalisation on the border disputes. India must recognise that China-India military confrontation will out-last the 21st Century as argued in my recent Book: “China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives”.

With the commonality of China figuring as the main military threat to Japan and India, there are logical reasons for capitalising on the strategic convergences that flow from this reality check. Also, flowing from the foregoing are that strong imperatives for Japan and India to enhance their Special Global and Strategic Partnership to substantively higher levels to manage the Chinese menace.

Perceptionaly, Japan long wedded to strategic realism and now liberated by Prime Minister Abe from Constitutional straitjacketing on playing a wider security role would have no problem in enhancing and adding more muscle to the Japan- India Strategic Partnership. The challenge is for Indian diplomacy to break-out from Nehruvian mind-sets that international strategic relationships can be pegged to “Platonic Relationships” devoid of security and political realism.

Prime Minister Modi’s personal dynamism and personal initiatives must come into full play during his forthcoming November 2016 visit to Tokyo and be liberated from advisories from the policy planning establishment which invariably start accounting for Chinese sensitivities.

Prime Minister Modi’s top-most agenda during the forthcoming Summit Dialogue in Tokyo is to make forceful assertions on the South China Sea and that China should respect the ruling of The Hague International Tribunal that China’s claims on the South China Sea are illegal and void.

India needs to recognise that Japan as an island nation feels vulnerable to China establishing military control over the South China Sea  through which Japan’s lifelines of trade and commerce traverse. Japan needs all the support to meet Chinese coercion, though Japan is hardly the country with its rich martial traditions to buckle under Chinese coercion.

Coming to the Japan-India Civil Nuclear Deal which would enable Japanese investments in India’s nuclear power generation, India has to exhibit patience and understanding in the processes involved in Japan to get through both political and psychological hurdles. One is confident that Japan under the dynamic leadership of PM Abe will able to swing this Deal ultimately. The Indian media would be well-advised to not to make this issue as an index to the success of PM Modi’s visit to Japan.

Japan and India should ensure that no meaningful ties are maintained with those ASEAN countries that cosy upto China, for whatever reasons on the South China Sea dispute at the cost of ASEAN solidarity against Chinese military adventurism in the South China Sea.

Defence production, defence purchases from Japan and involving Japanese majors in PM Modi’s pet project of ‘Make in India’ military hardware is an important area for Japan-India strategic cooperation. Having been on a diplomatic assignment in Japan for nearly four years, one can vouchsafe that Japanese military hardware backed by their high technology expertise is the best in the world.

Japanese Navy despite numerically lesser in number than the Chinese Navy is by far the most superior Navy in Asia with total indigenous production including helicopter carriers. The entire range of Japanese Navy combatant ships are of indigenous production origin with a record of speedy production schedules.

Indian Ocean is being churned up by China’s intrusive ambitions to affect a substantial presence, courtesy Pakistan. Japan maritime lifelines traverse the Indian Ocean and therefore the scope of Japan-India naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean is endless and fathomless, along with the United States Navy. Japan and India must now graduate to a higher level of naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean than mere joint naval exercises.

Japanese intelligence too is backed by long history of successes and meaningful intelligence liaison and cooperation by India is a much needed imperative, especially when it comes to China coverage.

While on the issue of Japan, it needs to be emphasised that the US-Japan-India Trilateral and the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral need focussed attention and participation by India as the common denominator in both are Japan and USA with which India is now aligned for all practical purposes. India under the last political dispensation virtually opted out of these strategic purposes as at that time both the Prime Minister and his National Security Adviser were weighed down with the burden of “What would China think and how would China react?” One is tempted to ask as to whether these eminences ever pondered whether China was similarly sensitive to India strategic sensitivities, especially concerning Pakistan?

India should realise that it is high time that the Indian policy establishment sheds this infructuous and illogical millstone around its neck as to “What China would think?” The Indian policy establishment should be more concerned as to how India’s national security interests are best secured against a domineering China which goes to the extremes to shield Islamic Jihadi terrorists of Pakistan in the United Nations.

Concluding, it needs to be re-emphasised that as Prime Minister Modi heads to Tokyo in mid-November 2016 for the Third Summit Dialogue with Japanese Prime Minister, Abe, the burning desire should be to give firm shape and contours to the Japan-India Special Global and Strategic Partnership. Asian geopolitical imperatives demand the same. 

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