Solving the Indo-Japanese equation

December 13, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In geopolitics, neighbours rarely make great alliances. However, distance does not impede strong partnerships.

In the case of Japan and India, historical bonds nurtured by Buddhism and the Japanese providing the wherewithal to freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose for the Indian National Army, provides for the necessary people-to-people connect.

The Japanese emperor’s recent visit to India is not just historic. In the context of the congruence of threat perception of the two countries, it was the expected announcement to the Asia-Pacific region of a partnership to counter an increasingly belligerent China.

The common threats that both nations face include oil from west Asia traversing sea lanes that the Chinese could interfere with, and territorial disputes. Indians face an increasing Chinese cartographic invasion that encompasses almost the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh. Repeated incursions across Indian perceptions of the line of actual control exacerbate the threat. The Japanese, on the other hand, are faced with Chinese claims on the Senkaku islands.

The Indo-Japanese relationship rests on strong pillars that include accepting each other as strategic partners, as well as a security and comprehensive economic partnership agreement. India’s post-independence dilemma, with Japan being U.S.-centric and India more socialistic, have been relegated to the dungeon. Indo-Japanese trade is also expected to increase to $25 billion in 2014.

Negotiations are on for a civil nuclear deal, while procurement of Japanese equipment for modernizing India’s military inventory is in progress.

However, keeping in view the increasing adoption of the coercive approach along the Indo-Tibet border and the recent Chinese declaration of an air defence identification zone, the Indo-Japanese relationship needs to focus on substantial military teeth. Notwithstanding the defence pact between Japan and the United States, Indo-Japanese forces have to serve as an adequate deterrent.

A beginning was made in 2012 with joint maritime exercises. The greater dimensions of joint operations, including planning and execution of large-scale manoeuvres in scenarios likely to be obtained against the Chinese, co-opting air power and employment of land forces in such exercises, need to be addressed. Joint cyber capabilities, provision of logistics support, and more mundane issues like creating large pools of linguists also need to be addressed.

The Chinese have been on a high growth curve for years. Their investments in force modernization, strategic forces and outreach capabilities have seen a steep growth.

Purely on economic parameters, existing disparity between India and China is bound to grow. The military’s modernization has not dominated public debates in India, having been overshadowed by other issues. A rapid acceleration may not be possible for the foreseeable future.

As far as the Japanese are concerned, imports of raw material will have to ensured at all costs. Notwithstanding the Asian pivot of the United States, the Asia-Pacific region’s stability will need to be shouldered by India and Japan.

The two Asian nations have to jointly develop capabilities and be a credible deterrence to Chinese belligerency. A host of South and East China Sea nations, which are facing similar Chinese threats and coercion, will gravitate to such an axis in times of crisis.

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