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Japan and India in the New Asian Geopolitical Matrix 2017

Paper No. 6216                                   Dated 27-Jan-2017

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Asia’s new geopolitical matrix in 2017 will be determined by the challenges that US President throws at China and the likely reset of US polices on Russia and it is in this churning Asian geopolitics that Japan and India will be called upon as Asia’s Emerged Powers to act in unison to meet the challenges so arising.

The new Asian geopolitical matrix emerging in 2017 and ensuing thereafter would offer no strategic or political space for Japan’s traditional ‘pacifism’ or for India’s attachment to ‘strategic autonomy’. Both of these political fixations have held back Japan and India from formulating assertive security policies and programmes commensurate with their status as contending powers with China. In the process both Japan and India have had to deal with an overbearing China and also contributed to China’s arrogance by their timidity.

Further, the bitter lessons of the two World Wars of the 2oth Century amply illustrate that ‘Responsible Democratic Major Powers’ have no option but to unite against the rise of ‘Rising Revisionist Powers’ intent on a militaristic rise to zoom up their power trajectories and in the process shatter stability and security. In this direction, Japan, India and the United States have a special responsibility.

Already discussed in my recent SAAG Papers is the likelihood of a United States –Russia Détente and the hovering possibilities of US President Trump adopting harsher security and economic policies against China. In either scenario unfolding, Japan and India would be required to calibrate their geopolitical perspectives and the policies that should logically ensue. Why so? Simply because Japan as a military ally of the United States and India in the process of reinforcing substantially the US-India Strategic Partnership, will have to deal with the spill-over effects of new United States policies under President Trump.

The likelihood of a United States-Russia Détente would most likely be not a strategic concern for either Japan or India. Japan is already the lynch-pin of the US security architecture in the Asia Pacific for decades. Japan will continue to be so for many decades to come and with differing political dispensations in power. Japan is being assiduously wooed by Russia as evidenced by President Putin’s recent visit to Japan. Russia has expressed its desire to resume the 2+2 Dialogue of Foreign Ministers and Defence Misters of both countries. This was disrupted for some time by Russia under ostensible Chinese pressure. The fact that Russia sees merit in resuming the Dialogue with Japan, a country that China despises, indicates that Russia is willing to steer clear of China when it comes to Russian relations with Japan in light of Asia’s new geopolitics emerging.

Japan would therefore have no strategic concerns arising from a possible US-Russia Détente. On the contrary, a United States political reach-out to Russia and removing the American frostiness in existing relations with Russia may possibly mean more leg-space for Japanese foreign policy.

US-Russia Détente would also not complicate any foreign policy directions of India. Lately, the peevish responses of Russia of reversing gears in its South Asian policies by a perceptional tilt towards Pakistan to signal India of its political displeasure for more proximate US-India Strategic Partnership, may remove Russian peevishness with India. One should not forget that Russia and India have had a good record of friendly relations for decades.

Asia’s new emerging geopolitical matrix and the centrality of India therein would have sooner or later prompted Russia to shed its peevishness against India and revert back to its original template of its South Asian foreign policy which conceded that it is India that matters.  A possible US-Russia Détente could possibly hasten the foregoing process.

Asia’s geopolitical matrix would register sizeable tremors should US President Trump walks the talk of his election speeches wherein he asserted that under the Trump Administration, the United States would recast its China-policy. He also gave indications that this would incorporate more hard-line American policies on China in the trade and security fields. Obviously, President Trump had in mind that United States decades long China-policy incorporating ‘Hedging Strategy’ and ‘China Appeasement’ would cease. Such a change in American policies should not come as a big surprise as an air of inevitability had started settling down on the chances of a US-China showdown.

The nuances and the intensity of a US show-down with China may vary but the inevitability is there with China not ready to end its policies of currency manipulation and unfair trade practises. More seriously, China has not only pushed aggressively the less powerful of its neighbours in the South China Sea disputes but by conflict escalation and military aggression in establishing Chinese hegemony over the South China Sea generated Asian doubts in United States’ determination and capability to stand upto Chinese aggression, as a security guarantor in the Asia Pacific.

Hence, President Trump’s adoption of ‘no-nonsense’ American policies to restrain Chinese aggression and brinkmanship would be welcomed widely in the Asia Pacific. China can be expected to react furiously react against adoption of strong US policies on economic and security issues. It is now upto President Trump to restrain China’s waywardness in Asia Pacific before the United States is forced to repeat its history of a century back of a military intervention in the Pacific.

President Trump’s adoption of ‘strategic competitiveness’ policies against China coupled with strong trade restrictions would generate strategic challenges for both Japan and India.

Japan and India as it is are weighed down with worrisome perceptions of a potent ‘China Threat’ but stood handicapped so far by United States hedging strategies on China. However, when the United States itself is seemingly becoming realistically alive to a ‘China Treat’ manifesting against it in myriad forms and manifestations, the geopolitical matrix changes drastically.

Japan under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Abe is already in the process of recasting Japanese security policies and military preparedness to manage with China’s increasing military assertiveness against Japan. US President Trump’s intended policies of hard-line approaches against China’s hegemonistic attempts in the Western Pacific could strengthen Japanese PM Abe’s hands to prepare Japan for more strong postures in the security field.

Changed Asian geopolitics outlined in the first paragraph is likely to impact India in two ways. Firstly as a result of China’s reactive responses to United States assertive policies against China and secondly emerging demands by the United States for India adopting security policies both for checkmating China’s rising militarism and also for greater United States calls on India to assume  a proactive role as the nett guarantor of regional security. On both counts, India would be required to increase its defence budgets, resort to fast-track military modernisation, expansion of Indian Navy and Indian Air Force profile and raising additional Army Divisions for the Himalayan borders with China (Tibet).

In the new Asian geopolitical matrix as obtaining in 2017 therefore what becomes evident is that this new matrix would dictate that both Japan and India should increase their military might and move towards more assertive security policies. Since this stands necessitated in both cases of Japan and India by the ‘China Threat’ that is in the making for both Japan and India, and if politically presently de-emphasised, it is a strategic imperative that both these powerful Asian nations coordinate their security policies and their diplomacies towards this end.

Concluding, what needs to be emphasised as repeatedly stressed in my past writings is that Japan and India are the ‘Twin Pillars of Asian Security’ and have to jointly share the load of ensuring the stability and security of Indo Pacific Asia and further that such initiatives would be more fruitful when integrated with similar initiatives of the United States. Stressed again are the lessons of the two World Wars of the 20th Century which amply highlight that ‘Responsible Major Powers’ have no option but to unite to face the onslaughts of a ‘Rising Revisionist Power’ which in the 21st Century is China.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at drsubhashkapila.007@gmail.com)

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