Event ReportsPublished on Oct 18, 2014
The idea of a united Indo-Pacific put forward by t he Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is becoming increasingly concurrent with the foreign policy initiatives of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the Ambassador of Japan to India, Mr. Takeshi Yagi.
Abe's and Modi's policies on Indo-Pacific becoming concurrent: Japanese Ambassador
The idea of a united Indo-Pacific put forward by t he Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is becoming increasingly concurrent with the foreign policy initiatives of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the Ambassador of Japan to India, Mr. Takeshi Yagi.

Delivering his inaugural address at the workshop on "Regional Integration in the Indo-Pacific: Prospects and Challenges," organised by Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata on October 18, the Ambassador also claimed that "the area encompassing India, China, Japan, the countries constituting the ASEAN and Australia form a single continuum".

The Ambassador introduced his address recalling Modi’s visit to Japan. At a speech delivered in course of his visit, Modi had affirmed that the 21st century could be shaped by India-Japan relation. Referring to the Tokyo Declaration for India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership, the Ambassador mentioned about cooperation in defence technology and equipments, agreement on peaceful use of nuclear weapons, 2 Plus 2 dialogue, continued participation in India-US Malabar series of exercise.

The Ambassador recalled that the issues of freedom of navigation or peaceful resolution of conflicts being discussed by Modi in his US visit are very much parallel to Japan’s international concerns. This makes way for a more intense Indo-Pacific cooperation. He also drew attention to the progress made in economic relations between India and Japan. He mentioned about the announcement of India-Japan Investment Promotion Partnership, an intended 3.5 trillion Yen of public and private investment and financing from Japan, setting up industrial parks, feasibility study for High Sped Railway project, Japan’s cooperation for enhanced connectivity and development in Northeast India and linking the region to other economic corridors in India and to Southeast Asia, and active engagement in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks.

In the area of people to people exchange, the Ambassador reemphasised the points of increasing students’ exchange and participation in the ’Sports for Tomorrow’ programme mentioned in the document.

The Ambassador was of the opinion that India’s North East, ASEAN and Bangladesh forms part of the broad gamut of Indo-Pacific Connectivity. The reason behind Japan’s interest in Southern India (Chennai-Bangalore corridor) is an attempt to connect India to Southern end of ASEAN countries.

Concluding his views on the growing India-Japan relations, the Ambassador reiterated the phrase coined by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj "from Look East to Act East" for more comprehensive partnership of the two countries.

The Ambassador elaborated on the rapidly changing global power balance in the 21st century which has necessitated several reforms in Japan’s security policy. Referring to China’s aggressive expansionism, he pointed out that defence expenditure in China has increased by 3300% in last 25 years. China’s ADIZ declaration over East China Sea or claim over Nine Dash Line in South China Sea has been quite unsettling for Japan.

Prof. Tsutomu Kikuchi of the Department of International Politics, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo and Adjunct Fellow, Japan Institute of International Affairs, was the keynote speaker at the workshop. His presentation focused on the overlapping security and economic organisations in the Indo-Pacific region and their interest in ’new regional architecture of Asia’. In this region, he singled out several institutions -- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN plus 3, ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting, Chinese-Japanese-Korean Cooperation, Six Party Talks, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, etc. being the traditional ones while Trans-Pacific Partnership, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, etc being newer initiatives. The main question he raised was whether there is any possibility of convergences in these overlapping institutions which have proliferated in last two decades.

Prof. Kikuchi was of the view that ’geo-economics’ has established itself expansively in Asia and, therefore, Asian countries are both economic partners and competitors. Prof. Kikuchi felt that the relations among major powers are getting tensed as also regional structures are becoming fluid. This is evident in rising nationalism, military expenditure, territorial disputes and threats to global commons. He hinted at the important power shift in US-China relations. He said neither is US full-fledged hegemon nor is China a rising power in all respects. Apart from overcoming vulnerabilities, they need the support of the ’rest of Asia’.

In Prof. Kikuchi’s view, Japan-India or India-Australia relations signify important partnership within ’rest of Asia’. Prof. Kikuchi also laid emphasis on concepts of institutional engaging, soft balancing and risk hedging as institutional strategies. As engagement is a national strategy, firm commitment is deficient in various regional institutions and bilateralism precedes everything else in such forums.

Prof. Kikuchi analysed possible responses to two ’uncertain powers’ -- US and China. Responding to unilateral use of power by US often under pretext of democratic intervention, China may be used as a constraint. Similarly, US may be propped up to contain China. Together, the US and China make regional institution building competitive and complicated, added Prof. Kikuchi.

Prof. Kikuchi feels no institutional convergence is at sight because bilateralism reigns supreme in the Asia Pacific. In summing up implications for regional architecture, Prof Kikuchi raised few salient points. Except for TPP, regional institutions are pretty weak in Asia. If regional institutions are limited to being talk shops they will never contribute to mitigating inter-state tensions and conflicts. For the Indo- Pacific region to integrate, ASEAN’s role is critically important, Europe-Asia Summit needs to be strengthened, and TPP and RCEP must also converge, said Prof. Kikuchi.

Prof. K.V. Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF as the first discussant pointed out that India, China and Japan are three countries playing key role in the Indo-pacific region. He referred to an Asian Development Bank report which states that Asian countries are more interdependent than their European and South American counterparts. Since 2002, the numbers of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have increased enormously in the region.

He evaluated the China factor and the US factor playing an all pervasive role in the region. China is the biggest power for many Asian countries. The rise of China as an economic and military power and even reports projecting a power transition from US to China in 2030 has led to many geo-strategic shifts in this part of the world. US played key role in providing security to this region for the last 60 years with close allies like Japan, Australia and the Philippines. Prof. Kesavan was also of the view that without US security shield, the region may not have economically progressed this far. US’ role is still prominent in debates surrounding freedom of navigation or in TPP dialogues. However, the India-Japan Security Cooperation in 2008 or other such agreements with Vietnam, Australia or the 2plues2 agreements signal the emergence of ’second line of defence’. These are groupings independent of US or China pointed out Prof. Kesavan. In this context, he also drew attention to the fact that the rising defence budget of Asia has surpassed Europe.

Prof. Anindyojyoti Mazumdar of the Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, was the second discussant at the workshop. Prof. Mazumdar began by reiterating the expressions, Vistaarvad (expansionism) and Vikasvad (developmentalism) raised by Modi in one of his speeches during Japan visit. Prof. Mazumdar viewed Japan and India as geo-strategically located at two corners of Asia and integrated not just by economy but also by cooperation in land and maritime security matters. In this context, he reminded of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as response to China’s expanding stance. In this scenario, Prof. Mazumdar felt it was relevant that Global Times (China) reported that the increasing intimacy between Tokyo and New Delhi will bring at most ’psychological comfort’ to the two countries.

Prof. Mazumdar was of the view that all these ’regions’ are geo-political constructions. They are imagined spaces. According to him, macro-regions are responses to security dilemmas whereas micro-regions are formed for functional needs. He said economic connectivity may not necessarily translate into political integration as individual power politics come to play. From this tangent, Prof. Mazumdar assessed that integration in Indo-Pacific region was at best a reflection of flexible coalitions.

(This report is prepared by Swagata Saha, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation Kolkata)

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