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JAPAN’S SOUTH ASIA POLICIES NEED A REVIEW

 

Paper 972                                                       06.04.2004

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

Introductory Observations: The United States may be the unipolar power at the moment but despite overwhelming military and economic superiority its unilateral policies have not met with success. The turn of the millennium has heralded that Asia’s time has come to be the majordeterminant in the global strategic calculus. 

Asia today witnesses three key global players in the making, namely, China, India and Japan. China’s military and economic power is on the ascendant and so also India’s. Japan has been an economic power for a long time but it has not translated this power into political and military power to be reckoned with. 

In East Asia and South East Asia, the political influence of Japan is waning due to greater inroads by China in the region. South Asia prevents Japan  many attractive options in terms of its foreign policies, in terms of an ascendant move in Asia regionalism and Asian security. But that would call for a total re-orientation of Japan’s policies in South Asia. 

Japan’s Foreign Policy Patterns in South Asia- Following United States Cues: Japan has so far not followed any independent foreign policy in South Asia. Japan has always taken cues from American policies in South Asia. 

United States foreign policies towards South Asia have so far been myopic and inconsistent with the strategic ground realities in the Indian sub-continent region. Major characteristics of United States foreign policies in this region have been:

* USA has followed balance of power politics in South Asia by attempting to build Pakistani militarily to offset and impede India’s strategic superiorities.

* In pursuance of this aim, the United States was permissive of China’s intrusive penetration in South Asia and building the nuclear weapons and missile arsenal of Pakistan.

* USA has adopted double standards in terms of absolving Pakistan from its sins of global export of Islamic Jehadi terrorism and nuclear weapons technologies proliferation. 

While Japan, unlike the United States has not added to the military profile of Pakistan directly, but the pattern of Japanese economic aid toed the  strategic priorities of United States in Pakistan as the so-called “front-line state”. 

Japan as a nation critically affected by Pakistan’s nuclear weapons technologies to North Korea lately, has been reticent in criticizing Pakistan because of American sensitivities in this regard. 

Japan, viewed South Asia from the strategic perceptions of the United States and not from the perspective of Asian regionalism and Asian security with specific reference to Japanese security.  If it had done so then Japanese security imperatives would have dictated according a salience to India in its South Asian policies. 

Japanese Foreign Policy in South Asia Needs an India-Specific Orientation: Japan as a sovereign nation is free to choose its allies, partners and friends. However, no nation can ignore its national security interests in this process. Japan’s national security interests in the South Asia region lie in according India a salience in her foreign policies, because India alone is in a position to strategically assist Japan for the following reasons:

* India is the pre-eminent political and military power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region.

* India is the largest free democracy in the world with a record of political stability of over half a century.

* India is on the path of economic growth leading to emergence as the world’s fourth largest industrial power.

* India with the above profile lies astride Japan’s life-lanes i.e. its sea-lanes of communication through which Japan’s energy needs and trade and commerce flow. 

Neither the United States, nor China, nor the strategically delinquent protégé of these two in South Asia i.e. Pakistan can effectively ensure the safety of Japan’s lifelines. This is what Japan needs to recognize while modulating its policies towards India. 

Japan’s relationships with India have to expand far more comprehensively than significant increases in Japanese Overseas Development (ODA) to India. Japan’s foreign policies must orient themselves towards building a strategic relationship with India. 

Japan-India Strategic Co-operation Needs to be Reinforced: “ Japan-India Strategic Cooperation: A Perspective Analysis (SAAG Paper No.126 dated 13-6-2000) was written by this author to present the imperatives that dictated strategic cooperation between the two countries. 

Similar calls were made by a number of Japanese academics at that time. The exchange of prime ministerial visits and multiple visits by the Indian Defence Minister underscored this. Four years down the line, with the exception of some military-to-military contacts/ exchanges no other meaningful strategic approaches stand enunciated or coordinated. 

Japan seems to have soft-pedalled the building up of Japan-India strategic cooperation lately. Once again it can be surmised that this slowness in Japan’s approaches is connected with the United States post-9/11 policies in South Asia, i.e.  giving primacy to Pakistan in South Asia. 

Once again, like in the Cold War years, Japan stands forced to toe the United States policies in South Asia, namely:

* No condemnation of Pakistan for Islamic Jehadi Terrorism.

* No outright condemnation of Pakistan for transfer of nuclear weapons technologies for North Korea.

* No stoppage of Japanese ODA to Pakistan when Japanese security is gravely threatened by Pakistan’s contribution to the making of North Korean bomb. 

Japan-India strategic cooperation can proceed forward only by de-linking Pakistan from Japanese perceptions of South Asia. Pakistan is neither an energy source for Japan nor a protector of Japanese lifelines. It is neither a democracy nor a liberal state. Its state failure will not affect any of Japan’s national security interests in South Asia, South East Asia or East Asia. 

Therefore there are no strategic imperatives for Japan to toe United States policies in South Asia and in the process add to the “psychological distance” between Japan and India generated by the American factor. 

Concluding Observations: Japan today seems to be in the process of redefining her strategic future and strategic priorities. Appropriately, India at this time has emphasized that in any Japanese conception of “comprehensive security”, India can and is ready to be a partner. 

Japan while making initial advances in this direction seems to have shied-away as a consequence of United States post-9/11 policies in South Asia. 

In the estimation of this author, Japan and India are destined to be “natural allies”. India’s hand stands extended; it is for Japan to come out boldly to grasp India’s hand. Both Japan and India with meaningful strategic cooperation  and coordinated responses to regional strategic challenges can go a long way in building Asian regional cooperation and Asian security. With Japan and India so bonded the third emerging Asian power i.e. China would consequently afford strategic space to these two powers and thereby paving the way for Asian security.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email drsubhashkapila @yahoo.com)

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