ASIA’S PIV­OTAL TRI­AN­GLE

In­dia has to build on its close ties with Ja­pan to coun­ter­bal­ance an as­sertive China

India Today - - NATION - BRAHMA CHELLANEY Brahma Chellaney is a strate­gic thinker and author

In­dia, China and Ja­pan, as they ma­noeu­vre for strate­gic ad­van­tage, are trans­form­ing re­la­tions be­tween them­selves in a way that por­tends grow­ing strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween New Delhi and Tokyo but sharper geopo­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion be­tween China and the other two Asian pow­ers. This had an echo in two vir­tu­ally back- to- back sum­mit meet­ings: The gen­uine warmth and ex­pan­sion of sub­stan­tive co­op­er­a­tion that boosted Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh’s Ja­pan visit con­trasted vividly with Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang’s all- smiles- but- no- com­pro­mise ap­proach dur­ing his In­dia tour, which, be­hind the hype, helped to un­der­score the deep Sino- In­dian di­vide.

Li, who brought a large team of ex­porters, sought to se­cure big­ger com­mer­cial ben­e­fits in In­dia— in­spite of an al­ready lop­sided trade— while safe­guard­ing China’s lat­i­tude to box- in In­dia from prac­ti­cally all sides. The visit stood out for the man­ner it at­tempted to cloak or un­der­play the con­tentious is­sues and put a pos­i­tive gloss on the cur­rent bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

But just as Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao’s 2006 In­dia trip was pre­ceded by Bei­jing’s jar­ring res­ur­rec­tion of its claim to Arunachal Pradesh in the east and Pre­mier Wen Ji­abao’s 2010 tour fol­lowed China’s chal­lenge to In­dian sovereignty in the western sec­tor, Li also de­liv­ered a pre- visit gift— a stealthy, 19 km- deep in­cur­sion into Ladakh. The dar­ing mil­i­tary raid af­ter over six years of in­creas­ing Chi­nese ter­ri­to­rial as­sertive­ness should have prompted In­dia to link closer po­lit­i­cal and com­mer­cial en­gage­ment with China to sub­stan­tive progress on the ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes. Yet, a po­lit­i­cally be­sieged Singh re­sponded in a way that can only em­bolden China to step up its pres­sure on In­dia.

First, China vin­di­cated its co­er­cive diplo­macy by end­ing the in­tru­sion only af­ter In­dia de­stroyed de­fen­sive for­ti­fi­ca­tions at Chu­mar to the south and sus­pended pa­trolling along that crit­i­cal bor­der­line. And sec­ond, Li had his way on the joint state­ment, which omits the stan­dard com­mit­ment to try and re­solve the bor­der dis­pute “at an early date”; in­stead it ex­presses strange “sat­is­fac­tion” with never- end­ing bor­der talks that con­tinue to take In­dia round and round the mul­berry bush. Bei­jing has sig­nalled it will not cede its ter­ri­to­rial and bor­der cards against In­dia.

Th­ese are also the cards China is now wield­ing against Ja­pan. In the way it is try­ing to furtively dis­rupt ter­ri­to­rial and in­ter­na­tional river flow sta­tus quo in the Hi­malayas, it launched a stealth war in the East China Sea to as­sert ter­ri­to­rial claims over Ja­pan’s re­source- rich Senkaku Is­lands. China’s open­ing gam­bit— to com­pel the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to recog­nise the ex­is­tence of a dis­pute— has been suc­cess­ful, and fore­shad­ows fur­ther dis­tur­bance of sta­tus quo.

Far from al­low­ing its boom­ing bi­lat­eral trade to come in the way of its stealth wars against Ja­pan and In­dia, China is em­ploy­ing trade as a po­lit­i­cal weapon. With China serv­ing as Ja­pan’s largest over­seas mar­ket, Bei­jing has sought to pu­n­ish Tokyo through an in­for­mal boy­cott of Ja­panese prod­ucts since last Septem­ber. For China, trade is also about geostrate­gic in­ter­ests. It val­ues the lop­sided trade with In­dia as a strate­gic weapon that un­der­cuts its ri­val’s man­u­fac­tur­ing base, yet yields hand­some div­i­dends for it.

The more openly China has em­braced mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism, the more na­tion­al­ist it has be­come, en­cour­aged by its lead­ers’ po­lit­i­cal- le­git­i­macy need for an in­dige­nous al­ter­na­tive to the im­ported but wornout Marx­ist dogma. An in­creas­ingly mus­cu­lar for­eign pol­icy thus is in­ter­twined with national re­newal.

With China cast­ing the shadow of a power dis­e­qui­lib­rium over Asia, Singh’s Tokyo visit high­lighted the im­per­a­tive for Ja­pan and In­dia to lead an ef­fort to build freedom, pros­per­ity, and sea- lane se­cu­rity in the Indo- Pa­cific re­gion, the world’s lead­ing trade and en­ergy se­away. Given China’s mer­can­tilist strat­egy to as­sert con­trol over nat­u­ral re­source sup­plies and their trans­port routes, the main­te­nance of a peace­ful mar­itime do­main, in­clud­ing unim­peded freedom of nav­i­ga­tion, has be­come crit­i­cal to the well- be­ing of re­source- poor Ja­pan and In­dia.

The fast- grow­ing re­la­tion­ship of th­ese nat­u­ral al­lies is re­mark­ably free of any strate­gic dis­so­nance. How­ever, mean­ing­ful strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween them hinges on im­por­tant shifts in their poli­cies. Ja­pan, US’s treaty ally, has es­tab­lished mil­i­tary in­ter­op­er­abil­ity only with US forces. Fol­low­ing its 2008 se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion ac­cord with In­dia, Ja­pan— with Asia’s largest navy— must also build in­ter­op­er­abil­ity with In­dia’s navy, so that, as Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe said in New Delhi be­fore re­turn­ing to power, “Ja­pan’s navy and the In­dian navy are seam­lessly in­ter­con­nected.”

SIPRA DAS/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

SHINZO ABE AND MAN­MO­HAN SINGH

G U E S T C O L U M N

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