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Vietnam-India-Japan Trilateral as an Asian Strategic Coalition

Paper No. 5810                                  Dated 24-Oct-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Imperatives exist for the crystallisation of an Asian Strategic Coalition comprising Vietnam, Japan and India for a more balanced Asian security environment and the foundation for this is already in existence in the form of Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership, Japan-India Special Global &Strategic Partnership and Japan-Vietnam Strategic Partnership.

Advocacy for this Asian Strategic Coalition stands made in the last year or so by me in my Presentations at International Conferences in Vietnam and Russia. Rise of Asian Strategic Coalitions was argued was a logical outcome of Russia not willing to de-link from China and the United States not wholly dispensing with its China Hedging Strategy. Rise of indigenous Asian Security Coalitions was therefore a natural corollary.

The Asian security environment cannot afford a strategic vacuum where China has an undeterred run of the Asian strategic landscape in the absence of the United States and Russia shirking from a wholesome shouldering of their strategic responsibilities as Great Powers and their own considerable stakes in Asia Pacific security.

Imperatives therefore exist to weld together the existing strategic partnerships in a Trilateral Strategic Coalition of Vietnam-India-Japan. It is my assessment that such a process would not raise hackles of the United States or Russia. In fact one could say that both these Great Powers would welcome such a step towards a balanced Asian security environment. This is evidenced by the United States lifting the ban on arms sales to Vietnam and Russia selling six submarines to Vietnam along with scores of Fighter Combat Aircraft.

China would be the only Asian nation which would make noises against such a Trilateral Coalition fully conscious of the reality that the rise of such a Strategic Coalition, as opposed to a formal Military Alliance is by itself in the nature of imposing political and strategic deterrence on China’s military brinkmanship across the Asian landscape and Asian maritime expanses. It has already come out against the nascent crystallisation of such a Trilateral and that strong Chinese opposition is ample evidence that such a Trilateral is an imperative for Asian security.

India under its new dynamic and assertive Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands uniquely placed to weave the Vietnam-India-Japan Strategic Trilateral Coalition into shape with the benefit of his discussions with Japanese Prime Minister during his recent visit to Tokyo and now can have discussions with the Vietnamese Prime Minister when he visits New Delhi on October 27-28, 2014. There can be no differences of opinion between Vietnam, India and Japan on the imperatives of such a Trilateral going by the strategic convergences that exist between these three nations. Nuances may differ but these can be ironed out by more detailed discussions.

Vietnam is crucially impacted by Chinese military adventurism and aggression in the South China Sea maritime expanse and India and Japan both have sizeable strategic and economic stakes in the security and safety of ‘global commons’ which now cover both maritime and aerial space dimensions after China’s unilateral declaration of an ADIZ over the East China Sea and is estimated to attempt the same over the South China Sea region.

Vietnam is the pivotal state in South East Asia and a powerful one too with its elongated configuration running parallel to the South China Sea. It has an unrivalled geostrategic location in relation to the security dominance of the South China Sea. China fully conscious of this reality has indulged in ‘island grabbing’ of Vietnamese Islands that dot the South China Sea. In terms of Asian security and the security of the South China Sea maritime expanse it is only Vietnam that stands between China and its military ambitions for full-scale sea control of the South China Sea at the expense of subverting the safety of the ‘global commons’.

Japan and India are the two contending Asian Powers against China’s unilateral strategic dominance of the Asian strategic space which China covets as its exclusive domain. China has laid bare its intentions in this direction in no uncertain terms, with Vietnam as its first target. It is now upto Japan and India to shoulder their responsibilities as responsible and benign stakeholders in Asia security to weave a Vietnam-India-Japan Trilateral Strategic Coalition for effective Asian security. This is an idea which was long overdue but its moment has now crucially arrived.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is Consultant, International Relations &Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analyses Group. He can be reached at