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Japan-India Special Strategic Partnership and China


Japan –India Special Strategic Partnership which stood further concretised with Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan in mid-November 2016 has been a pointed eyesore for China going by the statements that emanated from China both prior and after the visit.

Expectedly so, because what stands in between China’s efforts to establish full hegemony over the Asia Pacific are the other two major Asian Powers, namely, Japan and India. Adding salt to the Chinese wounds on this score is the over-riding strategic reality that both Japan and India have sound strategic convergences with the United States on the subject of security and stability of the Asia Pacific and so also the wider Indo Pacific Asia in which India has a predominant role.

China would also be painfully aware that should ever the United States ever waver on its resolve to uphold Asia Pacific security against Chinese hegemonistic assaults, there is no reason to doubt that Japan and India put together could rig up an Asian coalition with other Asian nations on China’s periphery to checkmate China. This may not be easily visible presently but when the critical moment come such Asian nations would strategically coalesce around Japan and India.

China’s temerity needs to be noted when it warned Japan and India before the Abe-Modi Summit Meet that both Japan and India should keep aloof and not meddle in the South China Sea dispute. It is worth noting that in the Joint Statement there were implicit references to China’s flouting international conventions on this issue. Some may argue that the references should have been more direct but then in international diplomacy some things are best said less directly. That China should have resorted to warning Japan and India in the run-up to the Summit Meet itself indicates that China was well aware that such references would be forthcoming.

The most significant development that emerged from the November 2016 Summit Meet was the Civilian Nuclear Deal that was signed by Prime Ministers Abe and Modi in Tokyo.

For Japan to make such an unprecedented departure from its long-held reservations on nuclear deals, even though for peaceful use of power generation highlights two major realities. The first indicates as to how highly Japan values its Special Strategic Partnership with India and secondly, Japanese PM Abe’s personal commitment to the cause of forging a strong and substantial strategic partnership with India.

More notably than the above two facts stated above is the recognition that would flow in India’s favour in terms of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group which so far has been stone-walled by China repeatedly. That Japan reputed to be strongly against nuclear proliferation of any kind should have made a special concession for India sends an exemplary message to those who sided with China against India’s entry into the NSG.

One can now expect China to redouble its resistance against India’s entry into the NSG. But then Japan’s concession in this direction would dent somewhat that sort of opposition.

Endless possibilities now also open up for greater cooperation between Japan and India in the fields of transfer of Japanese technology and defence production with focus in ‘Make in India’.

This point was referred by me in my last SAAG Paper on this subject. What I would be looking for is Japan-India cooperation in terms of Japanese technology for Indian Navy’s fast-tracked expansion of its naval combatant ships and submarines. Japan is far ahead of all major powers in this field and India should seek Japanese assistance in the expansion of Indian Navy’s power capabilities. After all, Japan not only has strong convergences with India on the security of the Indian Ocean but also counts on India to provide existential naval security to Japan’s maritime lifelines in the Indian Ocean Region by virtue of its peninsular salience.

China would also be politically peeved by references to state-sponsored terrorism against India and the North Korean missile threats to Japan. With both Pakistan and North Korea as China’s strategic protégés, China would find such references distasteful.

The other heartening reference in the Summit Joint Statement was Japan’s readiness to cooperate in the Chah Bahar Project in which India, Iran and Afghanistan have a shared interest in its completion. That Japan would be aware that the Chah Bahar Project on Iran’s North Arabian coastline is intended to rival China’s prize project of Gwadur in the vicinity in Pakistan make it a strong indication of Japan’s support for Indian strategic initiatives.

Mentioned many times in the past in my SAAG Papers was the centrality that China would constantly attempt to drive wedges in the strategic relationship between Japan and China. The danger of succumbing to such Chinese moves is more in India than Japan. Simply, because in India there are far too many China-apologists even amongst Indian defence journals. The Indian policy establishment has to be on guard against such Chinese moves as some articles in Chinese media alluded that India should not succumb to side with Japan and the United States and that it would not be in India’s interest to do so.

Concluding, what one would like to stress is that irrespective of any twist and turns that may arise in terms of US policies with a new President coming into office, Japan and India should continue with concerted efforts to add more strategic value to the Japan-India Special Strategic Partnership as the two major Asian democratic powers on whose shoulders falls the mantle of safeguarding Asian security and stability against hegemonistic impulses from any quarter.

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group