Event ReportsPublished on Dec 26, 2013
Though the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between India and Japan is an achievement in Indo-Japanese bilateralism, much more needs to be done at the people-to-people level to broaden and strengthen the growing relationship.
China rise a trigger for Indo-Japanese relationship

Observer Research Foundation and the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) organised a one-day dialogue on India-Japan partnership in the Asia-Pacific region on 26 December, 2013.

The dialogue covered a wide range of topics, including the nature of China and the US rebalances to Asia, maritime security and territorial disputes in Asia and status of Japan-India global strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific Region.

The first session focused on the approach of the United States towards the Asia-Pacific region. The main point raised was that the US describes its Asia-Pacific policy as a pivot rather than a rebalance. What is problematic in this, is that there is no native equivalent translation of the term ’pivot’. This shows the cultural insensitivity of the US towards the region.

A comparison was made between the Bush and Obama administrations and their policies towards Asia. The speaker argued that during President Bush’s administration, US approach towards Asia was based on an alliance management by the experts who focused more on the Middle-East, whereas, under the Obama administration, the US started focusing on the whole of Asia-Pacific on a political level.

There are four pillars of the US rebalance to Asia:

  1)    A rebalance from the global war on terror to global engagement.

  2)    A rebalance from the Middle-East to the Asia-Pacific.

  3)    A Rebalance from unilateralism to multilateralism

  4)    A Rebalance from crisis handling to economic opportunity

The speaker then explained what rebalance meant from the US point of view, and mentioned the following attributes:

  1)    Strengthening the alliance with traditional allies

  2)    Forging deeper partnership with emerging powers.

  3)    Building a constructive relationship with China

  4)    Strengthening the regional institutions.

  5)    building an economic architecture

It was stressed that there has to be a core and stable China policy in order to maintain the rebalance. US approach towards China is more event-driven, which extends to the rest of the Asia Pacific as well. The wavering China policy led to China perceiving US engagement as a sign of weakness, and China therefore became very assertive. The US thus started to change its attitude towards China, it was pointed out. This was symbolised in defence strategic guidelines, which was a short document presented by Obama in Pentagon. It clearly stated that rebalance is about China and its rise and that the US would confront its rise. Therefore, rebalance was understood as a national security policy.

Since then one could see a great deal of ambivalence in Washington’s policies on the rebalancing. During the first Obama administration, the expression "Indo-Pacific" was very popular but currently, it seems to have completely disappeared.

In the latter part of the session, the comments made were that there is a fundamental power shift taking place in Asia because of the rise of China, and it is going to alter much of the strategic landscape of the region. Given the uncertainty in US policy and the assertiveness of China, there is a possibility for us to imagine a regional coalition to find ways to manage the consequences of such uncertainties.

Speakers said the Chinese have their own vision of the world. Military assertiveness of China is a part of its emergence as a great power. There is a contest between the expanding Chinese military v/s the power of the historic hegemon US - where on one hand, US is trying to strengthen its alliance, China is trying to loosen American alliance. China is going to test the sustainability of American military presence, they said, and added that structural changes would be brought in by the rise of China. This leaves us with a possibility of middle power coalition. It means that irrespective of what independent relationship the regional powers share with China and US, they should get together and do more things in Asia among themselves. In order to insulate ourselves from the uncertainties of US-China relationship, we need to build a stronger coalition among ourselves, it was argued.

A speaker proposed that India and Japan can act as the core of this middle power coalition. It is a challenge and an opportunity we are facing and it will be suicidal if we don’t cooperate and collaborate as it would make us vulnerable to the uncertainties of US-China relations, it was argued.

Territorial issues

In the second session there was a detailed presentation on the three main territorial issues surrounding Japan and the impact of those issues. These territorial disputes have aroused nationalist’s sentiments and seriously affected relations amongst Japan, Russia, China and South Korea.

Kurile Islands dispute, also known as the Northern Territories issue, is a dispute between Japan and the Russian Federation. The disputed islands were occupied by the Soviet Union during the end of the World War II, and are currently under the Russian administration but are claimed by Japan, which refers to them as Northern Territories. There is no immediate crisis over the issue, even though Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit of the controversial islands in 2012 did create an uproar in Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a trip to Russia in February 2013 for resuming the negotiations and to emphasize the importance of maintaining communication. How and when these two nations will reach an understanding over the islands, only time will tell.

Takeshima island row is a territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea. It is a small island on the Sea of Japan. Japan acquired it even before it acquired Korea as a colony. At the end of the Second World War, the San Francisco peace treaty did not give Takeshima to Korea, so it came under the control of America. When the peace treaty came into effect, the island was jointly managed by America and Japan. In 1954 South Korea sent a naval expedition and occupied Takeshima physically. Japan feels it is an integral part of their territory and wants to take the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ); South Korea is not willing to do this. This has strained the relations between the two nations. The US is embarrassed with this situation because both Japan and South Korea are its allies.

The Senkaku islands row is a dispute between Japan and China and Taiwan. At the heart of the dispute are five uninhabited islands and rocks in the East China Sea. From 1945 to 1972, the islands were administered by the US. The Peoples Republic of China disputed the proposed US handover of authority to Japan in 1971 and asserted its claims to the islands since that time. The islands also hold high importance because they are close to important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and lie near potential oil and gas reserves. Taiwan has also been claiming its right over the islands since then. Bitterness between Japan and China has increased since 2010, when a Chinese vessel collided with a Japanese coast guard ship. The Japanese arrested the Chinese crew including the captain of the ship only releasing him after a few days. This incident caused huge bitterness in relations between the two nations. In September 2012 Japan nationalized the islands leading to further straining of relations between the two. The trade between the two nations has suffered because of this row. The Chinese underestimated the Japanese government and things have changed sharply in Japan under the administration of Shinzo Abe. The United States is committed to the defence of the islands. Japan is a very important ally for the US but US needs China’s help in solving world crises like North Korea’s and Iran’s Nuclear Issues and for maintaining global peace. It acknowledges that the island row between Japan and China is problematic, but it won’t make any change in its commitment to Japan.

The discussion then focused on the measures that Japan is adopting to deal with these disputes. Japan has decided to have a new National Security Strategy, defence guidelines and National Security Council. Japan’s national security strategy provides more clarity to Japan’s security policy to outsiders and this policy is unlikely to change with the change in government in Japan. It was noted that Abe is doing a lot for external balancing and has made individual efforts with all the ASEAN countries by visiting them, providing liberal and strategic aid. China figures very prominently in the talks between Japan and its ASEAN partners. At the same time, Abe also tried to assuage China by sending some his political colleagues to talk to Chinese leaders. High level consultation meetings on maritime issues have reduced greatly. Relations have suffered because of the absence of a proper mechanism, it was pointed out.

’Japan-India Global Strategic Partnership in Indo-Pacific’

The session on ’Japan-India Global Strategic Partnership in Indo-Pacific’ dealt with the Japanese and Indian perceptions of the security situation in the Asia Pacific and situated the Indo-Japanese relationship in that context. The discussion touched upon how the Asia Pacific countries went from just providing a stage for cold war rivalry at one point to becoming actors since the 1990s. Broadly a bright view of Indo-Japanese relationship was taken during the discussion.

While Japan’s foreign policy became more assertive as it faced threats from North Korea and a rising China during the nineties, India became an important factor in Japanese foreign policy. Japanese PM Abe’s renewed stress on the importance of India fits into that line of thinking, it was pointed out. While the Japan-US relationship continues to be of utmost importance to Japan, India was sought to be incorporated into the Japanese foreign policy equation while diversifying its global cooperation. And fitting India in was not difficult as it was a like-minded country, one speaker put it. India’s inclusion is unique in the sense that it is the only country, which is not an ally of the US, but is a factor when it comes to Japanese foreign policy moves, it was argued.

Also under discussion were the economic underpinnings of the Indo-Japanese ties and the stakes of Japanese businessmen in India’s economic growth. It was said that India’s improving relationship with the US drove Japan to think seriously about India and raise its interest in the billion-strong country even as both countries came together for the first time and engaged in United Nations reforms. Nuclear cooperation, India’s continued interest in Japanese technology, and bilateral naval cooperation between India and Japan were also highlighted. Public mood in Japan, it was said, was in support of Indo-Japanese civil nuclear cooperation.

Future prospects

While discussing the future prospects of Indo-Japan relationship, it was believed that Indo-Japanese ties reflect a strong commitment at the very highest levels. Japan also is the only Asian country with which India meets bilaterally at the annual summit level. While Abe’s stress on India was spoken of during the session, the personal investment into the relationship that India Manmohan Singh has made was also underlined. Also, India’s relationship with Japan is termed ’global’ and ’strategic’, meaning that it hasn’t really been targeted at any individual country (read China.)

But China’s rise has been a trigger for Indo-Japanese relationship, it was agreed. And when growing Indo-Japanese ties are observed in the region, a broader natural bond involving other Asia Pacific countries would also be conceivable. More specifically it was suggested that India should be involved with Japan in joint R&D in the defence sector.

With regard to security cooperation, it was suggested that India and Japan should work together in multilateral forums, where rules for declaring an ADIZ could perhaps also be discussed. Though the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and Japan was mentioned as an achievement in Indo-Japanese bilateralism, it was reiterated that more needs to be done at the people-to-people level to broaden and strengthen the growing relationship.

(This report is prepared by Ananya Pandey, Ateetmani Brar and Abhirup Bhunia, Research Interns, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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