Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2017-09-16 05:44:58 Published on Sep 16, 2017
Japanese connection offers India boon towards manufacturing revolution

Crises, at two ends of Asia, have acted as accelerators in the India-Japan entente. They do not quite bear comparison. A few hundred men with earth moving machines confronting each other in Doklam, do not make your hair stand on end, the way a missile – designed to carry nuclear warheads – does while flying overhead. But, as both India and Japan confront threats that are taking on a new and more dangerous edge, they are discovering the value of closer collaboration.

In Doklam, China, which was content to patrol till the Jampheri ridge till recently, suddenly sought to consolidate itself in a region deemed crucial for India’s defence posture. Significantly, the only foreign country that supported India categorically on this was Japan.

In Northeast Asia, the situation is much grimmer. Japan has the explicit support of the US. Yet, both the US and China appear paralysed as Kim Jong-un tests ever mightier bombs and missiles and makes no secret of the fact that any move to act against him could lead to massive destruction in Japan and South Korea.

One reason why Japan supported India was to emphasise the principle that countries with disputes should not seek to alter the status quo by force or threat of use of force. Tokyo has faced this in Senkaku/ Diayou islands. Till 2008, the Chinese said little or nothing about the issue. Now, they swamp the waters around them with fishing fleets escorted by coast guard vessels. In 2013 they suddenly declared an ADIZ there demanding that all aircraft passing through the air space seek their permission.

New Delhi and Tokyo have been watching as China is altering the status quo in South China Sea by constructing islands with military bases on low tide elevations and claiming territoriality against the ruling of a UNCLOS arbitral tribunal. Both India and Japan are users of the sea lanes that pass through the area.

The regional order in East Asia seems to have reached an inflection point. The US which maintained it – providing credible security guarantees to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – seems distracted, as much by the rise of China as the questioning of those commitments back home. This didn’t happen overnight. The Obama administration allowed China to establish itself in South China Sea with just token protest.

Uncomfortably, Japan is reaching the point where it has begun to wonder whether it must face the twin challenges of China and North Korea all by itself. This is the logic which is driving Japan closer to India.

Although, or perhaps because, it is the dominant player, the US says Senkaku/ Diayou islands are covered by the US-Japan defence treaty but it does not take sides in the actual dispute between Japan and China. It challenges China through freedom of navigation patrols in South China Sea, but, again, says it is neutral on the claims. The US supported India in the 1962 war, but has maintained a studied neutrality on the border issue including the Doklam crisis, where they called on both sides to resolve the matter through dialogue.

Japan’s challenge is greater. It already has a poisonous relationship with the much bigger and powerful China. Now, it has to confront a new factor – a threatening nuclear neighbour, with which, too, it has a historical animosity. At the best of times, it is hazardous to depend on another country for your security, and Japan is having to confront that with the Trump administration’s wayward style.

So, it is seeking coalitions and India fits in well with its strategy since New Delhi, too, is wary of China’s ways. For India, the Japanese connection is a boon. The highly developed country offers New Delhi a means of completing its manufacturing revolution and providing high-tech solutions to its defence problems. Japanese finance can help provide fuel to New Delhi’s regional policy which is otherwise running on an empty tank.

The two nations are seeking to construct a strategic partnership for realpolitik reasons. They are otherwise quite different from each other and lack even a link language. But the relationship will have to develop economic, financial, industrial and cultural sinews to make it truly meaningful.

This commentary originally appeared in Times of India.

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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