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The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to New Delhi as the chief guest for the 65th Republic Day celebrations in January 2014 apparently sent a clear signal of the importance of Japan to India in the context of changing power dynamics in Asia-Pacific. Notably, for the first time Japanese Prime Minister was a chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations. Natsuo Yamaguchi, member of the House of Councillors in the Diet and head of the New Komeito Party, was of the view that this gesture of India “speaks of the importance India and Japan are giving to their relationship.” Further he also added that this sends “a great epic signal... for the strengthening of the partnership,”[i]

 

 

With the intensified strategic competitions between powers and the emergence of Asia-Pacific as a major center of geopolitical interest, both India and Japan finds each other as best bets in safeguarding the region’s equilibrium and their own strategic interests. In fact, it would be very hard for both India and Japan to operate effectively – diplomatically, politically or strategically – in the region without a strenuous relationship with each other. Significantly, Indian policymakers have recognised the importance of Japan as a part of the stated India’s revitalised Look East Policy. All in all, Japan matters in Indian strategic calculations; especially when China is flexing its muscle while the US is rebalancing its global posture toward the critical Asia-Pacific region.

 

 

Particularly Japan and its strategic location in the Asia-Pacific geography is regarded as an indispensable associate in furthering India’s strategic interest given New Delhi’s engagement in South China Sea (SCS)—on joint exploration of oil with Vietnam—and in safeguarding the freedom of access and passage within the region. Incidentally for India, the SCS region serves as a strategic link between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans whose security is vital for the smooth flow of her sea borne trade and India’s commercial interests. The conventional wisdom about Japan seems to have guided the emerging Indian strategic intent as a way of enhancing multilateralism and inherently enhancing maritime security. Equally, Japan too particularly since Abe’s assuming of power has come to see India as a natural partner given its predicaments with powerful, assertive and threatening China in the Asia-Pacific. Significantly India and Japan appears to be ‘natural and indispensable’ allies who have a pivotal role to play in upholding stability apart from protecting freedom of navigation and safeguarding the “maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific.”[ii]

 

 

It appears that the Indian policy makers carefully chose ‘India-friendly’ Shinzo Abe as the chief guest for this year’s Republic Day celebrations to underscore that Japan matters to India and to indicate their emerging dynamic strategic partnership beyond symbolism. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his own words referred this as India’s attempt of “expanding defence and security cooperation” in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Further India’s extensive ties with Japan were reflected with the high level visit of Japanese Emperor and Empress on November 30, 2013. Undeniably, the visit of Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to India was considered as a landmark occasion in the India-Japan bilateral ties since it signals a shift in both India and Japan’s foreign policy. These visits were important particularly in light of mounting geopolitical tensions in the region, a dispute over islands in the East China Sea between Japan and China. Furthermore the rise of powerful and aggressive China and its growing ability to project military power in this region evidently have driven closer ties between Tokyo and New Delhi. While the two Asian powers have been having a close partnership since 2006, now they are seeking to add more meaningful substance, probably with an eye on China’s conduct in South China and East China Sea.

 

 

As the ties with China is unlikely to develop into strategic partnership for both India and Japan any time soon given Chinese decidedly uncooperative on territorial and maritime issues and Beijing continued reluctance to resolve the conflict peacefully, there’s a natural fit between the two ‘natural’ partners—New Delhi and Tokyo—to serve as a counterweight to Beijing in the very dynamic region of Asia-Pacific. Moreover, the bullying tactics of China against its neighbours, including India and Japan, over disputed territories and Chinese presence in their neighbourhood which New Delhi and Tokyo’s views as within its sphere of influence had pushed them to reach out to others who similarly ‘have a wary eye on the Beijing.’

 

 

Understanding these geopolitical complexities both Japan and India are making efforts to building bilateral security partnership that would aid in shaping Asia’s strategic future apart from cultivating security ties with others in the region predominantly to meet the imminent challenges and to build a more stable, prosperous, and democratic Asia Pacific. But the question is: can India and Japan ensure stability in the region? While India and Japan’s strategic partnership are not aimed directly at containing China, they are important in drawing the two nations more closely ‘to cope with the threat that China poses to stability in the region.”[iii] Undoubtedly, India with a large enough military capability is seen as one power that can play a significant role in ensuring stability by many, including Japan. Equally Japan is viewed as a prospective player by New Delhi with economic power that could strengthen the stability in Asia-Pacific. Evidently both does not seem to be interested in forming an overt anti-China front but to ensure that there is no domination of single power in Asia-Pacific. India’s pursuit for Japanese partnership and vice versa reflects fresh thinking from both sides to build trust and cooperation including matching resource and strategy, to ensure a pluralistic and stable Asian Pacific.

 

 

 Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

 

 

 


[i]Elizabeth Roche, “India’s Republic Day invite to Japan’s Shinzo Abe seen as ‘epic signal’” at http://www.livemint.com/Politics/ljLlvWb3Z56UWc6RJYH2gI/Indias-Republic-...

[ii] Nitin Gokhale, ‘Tokyo’s courting of New Delhi brings stronger defense ties’, Global Times, February 18, 2014 at http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/843271.shtml

[iii] Julian Ryall, India-Japan ties 'increasingly important', January 01, 2014 at http://www.dw.de/india-japan-ties-increasingly-important/a-17393489