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Japan-India Special Strategic Partnership Needs Added Special Robustness

Paper No. 6414.       Dated 26-Aug-2018

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Perceptively missing and noticeable in the last one year is that the Japan-India Special Strategic & Global Partnership is progressing routinely without the fizz that should be attendant on it by two powerful Asian giants and pillars of Asian stability. This perceptiion  arises from India positioning this ‘Vital Partnership’ in Indian prism of relations with China and Chinese sensitivities on India’s proximate strategic relations with Japan.

Global and Asian geopolitics dictate that India should accord highest priority to add geopolitical robustness and strategic weight to solidify strategic linkages with Japan –a nation that noticeably stood by India during the Dokalam Standoff with China, in stark contrast to China which even till 2017 was indulging in military adventurism against India.

China’s spasmodic friendly political outreaches to India tactically coincident with its global isolation at a given moment of time cannot supplant and should not supplant Japan’s honoured and enduring strategic support of India.

Repeated many times over in my SAAG Papers on this aspect are a number of factors which inhibit Indian policy establishment and India’s Foreign Office’s diplomatic perspectives in adding the much needed impetus to give oversized security and geopolitical-centric dimensions to the Japan-India Special & Global Strategic Partnership.

The millstone around Indian policy establishment’s neck inhibiting and holding back giving a robust impetus to India’s most crucial Strategic Partnership in Asia and which has global ramifications is that the Indian policy establishment fights shy because of the ‘Chinese Dragon’ factor. One thought that the Indian policy establishment had exorcised their imaginary fears of China after India standing tall against China over China’s Dokalam military provocations in 2017.

But it seems that Indian policy establishment has reset its China policy more out of ill-established fears than an objective assessment of China’s strategic vulnerabilities which abound in 2018 and which too were analysed by me some time back. The biggest casualty of India’s misperceived China Policy Reset 2018 is to let slip in the background the Japan-India Special Strategic Partnership.

Admittedly, India has signed a number of joint statements of intent on its Special Strategic & Global Partnership’ with Japan and carrying out military exercises, but then why should India shy away or soft-pedals buying the long delayed Amphibious Planes for the Indian Navy or other advanced Japanese military hardware? Why does India after renewed interest in the Pacific Quadrilateral then let its strategic ardour fizzle out? Is it just because China frowns on these deals and strategic initiatives?

The Indian policy establishment should be wide awake to the damaging perceptions that are so generated in Asian capitals by India’s China Policy Rest 2018. An impression that would soon gain more ground in Asian capitals is that India does NOT HAVE THE WILL to stand up to face Chinese provocations, of which many in Asia have been victims of. How can then India be recognised as the ‘Nett Provider of Regional Security” which both the previous regime articulated and the present regime in New Delhi swears by?

India and its policy establishment need to shake themselves out of their ‘Balancing Act Syndrome.’ What was the need to have the Chinese Defence Minister visiting New Delhi just a day after the visit of the Japanese Defence Minister? What was the need to give media prominence to the Chinese Defence Minister? India is not a vassal State of China and the Chinese Defence Minister visit should have been conducted in the same low-key manner as that of the Japanese Defence Minister.

Such a contextual background, as the above, calls for a comparative analysis of China’s and Japan’s strategic significance in relation to Indian National Security interests in 2018. While obviously the scales are weighted against China in this analysis in comparison to Japan, the analysis needs to be outlined repetitively for China apologists in India, abounding in the Indian policy establishment, India’s political parties, Indian strategic community or the Leftist-inclined Indian academia----all of them still clinging to Nehruvian delusions on China.

In sharp contrast to these Indian China-apologists there is an overwhelming animosity against China in Indian public opinion for China’s duplicitous and destabilising moves against India in collusion with Pakistan. This animosity which was a by-product of China’s 1962 betrayal of India now stands further reinforced by China’s establishment of a naval base at Gwadur in Pakistan on India’s doorstep and the speedy execution of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor---CPEC, in which the word  “Economic” is only a fig-leaf for a more potent and wider strategic game against India.

China does not want an Asian peer competitor in the form of India or Japan and their strategic calculus is geared towards this end. It is for nothing that China’s pronounced adversarial postures in Asia are directed against Japan and India and so also generating border disputes with them.

Strikingly, Japan carries no historical baggage of conflict or animosity against India. There are no border disputes to divide them and nor are they contenders like China in downsizing each other. In fact both Japan and India perceive that both these nations have to stand strategically tall against Chinese attempts to impose a China-centric hegemony over Asia.

Japan has consistently supported India’s candidature for Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and Japan does not feel threatened as China does by India’s ascendancy on the global power ladder. Japan stood by India in India’s latest military Standoff against China in Dokalam in 2017 without any reluctance or ambiguity.

More noticeably, Japan’s diplomatic initiatives in South Asia or even in Indo Pacific Asia do not undermine Indian interests as China does in its strategy of downsizing India in the region

Japan is interested in a big way in ensuring that the Indian Ocean remains ‘Indian” not only in name but also in its wider geopolitical and military connotations. China on the other hand contests that why the Indian Ocean should be called as ‘Indian” and this has been articulated at Chinese highest military levels. Does it have to be pointed out that in the last five years or so more noticeably, Chinese Navy intrusive presence in the Indian Ocean, including Chinese nuclear submarines has increased. To what effect? Obviously, for reasons spelt out in my Book: ‘China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives’.

Overall analysis, therefore suggests that in the long term geopolitical perspectives which today surpasses the strategic, India needs Japan as a reliable and enduring ‘Strategic Partner’ not only for securing India’s national interests but also for the wider objective of Indo Pacific security and stability against Chinese military adventurism as has been evident in the South China Sea, East China Sea and lately in the Dokalam Military Standoff provocations against India.

To that end, it is more incumbent on India to add robustness both in content and in connotation to the host of Agreements centred on Japan-India Special strategic & Global Partnership’.  To make this much needed Strategic Partnership really ‘Global’ in character India should focus more on this vital relationship than wasting time on China-centric and China-dominated organisations like BRICS and its new permanent membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and its military activities.

The Chinese strategic game in the above has been to drive weges in the privileged Strategic Partnerships evolving between Japan-India and US-India. Why cannot the Indian policy establishment not recognise this strategic reality? Strategic Non-Alignment is anachronistic in contemporary geopolitics and so also the Indian lei-motif of Indian diplomacy that is ‘Strategic Autonomy.

The harsh reality of today’s world geopolitics is ‘Balance of Power’. There is no such thing as “Balance of Interests’ coined by a former Indian Defence Minister, later President of India.

Finally, concluding, it needs to be stressed that Japan and the Japanese people are very sensitive in all its widest connotations. Japan is not so naïve as not to see through Indian establishment’s hedging moves and pussy-footing Chinese strategic sensitivities at the expense of its more vitally needed Special Strategic Partnership with Japan. It is for India to ensure that such perceptions do not take root firmly in Japan’s perceptions.