Japan's Abe Seeks Friends in Asia—but Not China

Discussion in 'Indo Pacific & East Asia' started by AVERAGE INDIAN, Nov 22, 2013.

  1. AVERAGE INDIAN

    AVERAGE INDIAN EXORCIST Senior Member

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    Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is the first Japanese premier to visit all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In late November, Emperor Akihito will make the first visit by a Japanese monarch to India. Not on either dignitary’s itinerary—China. And that’s no accident.

    Abe, a foreign-policy hawk who’s clashed with the Chinese over the ownership of some Japanese-controlled islands, wants to shore up relations with the swath of nations forming a semicircle around China. Some have their own beefs, including India, which shares a disputed border with China. Abe will visit India next year, and in mid-December will host Asean leaders. It’s all part of his campaign to thwart China’s rulers, who, as he wrote in a column last December, see the South China Sea as “Lake Beijing.”

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    This is powerful but dangerous talk. China is throwing its considerable weight around more in the region, and it may react aggressively if its neighbors push back too hard. As all sides buy more warships, missiles, and fighter jets, such confrontations could escalate. “Nobody has said this is surrounding China,” says Chiaki Akimoto, director of RUSI Japan, an arm of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, a think tank. What Abe wants “is just a friendship network with nations around China.”

    Whatever Japan’s policy is called, Abe is even pursuing it in areas within China’s sphere of influence. In November, he took his charm campaign to Cambodia and Laos. Despite a pacifist tradition dating to the end of World War II, Japan is increasing military cooperation with Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, which have felt China’s wrath over territorial claims. Abe’s actions, says Tetsuo Kotani, research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, make clear that “China needs to think twice before taking assertive actions” in the South China Sea. The official China Daily dismissively says Abe has been “hyping South China Sea tension to gain popularity in the region.”

    One reason Abe is getting a warm welcome is that China’s defense spending hit $172 billion last year, up 64 percent from 2008, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. India has one Russian-made nuclear submarine and may lease a second. It just took delivery of its third aircraft carrier. It has test-fired a supersonic cruise missile that can reach Beijing.

    In the same Dec. 27 column where he made his “Lake Beijing” comment, Abe wrote, “The ongoing disputes … mean that Japan’s top foreign-policy priority must be to expand the country’s strategic horizons. … I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. state of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific.” Abe also wants Japan to join the Five Power Defence Arrangements of Britain, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore.

    In June, Japan and the U.S. conducted Dawn Blitz, a military exercise in California that included a mock assault on a remote island. Japan’s self-defense force wouldn’t have joined such an exercise five years ago, says James Brown, a military fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney. The stress on offensive action has spread to the navy. “We see the commissioning of warships that in external appearance look like assault ships,” says Dean Cheng, East Asian military analyst for the Heritage Foundation. “These are things that Japan shied away from.” Abe has long backed repealing the article of the country’s constitution that renounces war forever.

    As the region’s militaries get bigger, so do the risks. “It strikes me how much the current situation in Asia looks like a replay of the 1930s in Europe,” says Daniel Goure, a vice president with the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va. Brown warns that “there are going to be a lot more submarines, a lot more amphibious vessels, a lot more aircraft, and we haven’t gotten agreement on how everybody is going to avoid accidents. It’s a huge problem.”

    Japan's Abe Seeks Asia Alliances to Counter China - Businessweek
     
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  3. AVERAGE INDIAN

    AVERAGE INDIAN EXORCIST Senior Member

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    Transforming bilateral ties

    Through the last decade, India and Japan have made determined efforts to transform their bilateral ties. The week-long two-city state visit to India by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko is evidence that those efforts have been successful. The Japanese emperor strictly stays away from politics, but his visits abroad are high in symbolism, usually signifying an important juncture in Japan’s relations with that country. After hitting a low in 1998 when Japanese sanctions against India for the Pokharan nuclear tests left relations crippled for more than two years, bilateral ties have grown rapidly within a short time to embrace a strategic partnership and defence links. Constant high-level interaction — the annual India-Japan summit, the regular exchanges between the two defence ministers, a “two plus two” dialogue involving the foreign and defence secretaries, a dialogue on maritime security, and a trilateral dialogue that includes the United States — has kept up the momentum. The two countries are also part of the G4 nations that recently intensified efforts towards text-based negotiations on the expansion of the U.N. Security Council. The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement has boosted trade ties, though the movement of professionals it was meant to facilitate is yet to take off. Japan has been generous with financial assistance for infrastructure projects such as the Delhi Metro and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Emperor Akihito’s visit to Chennai testifies to the significant Japanese investment in Indian industry, especially automobiles, a dominant sector in Tamil Nadu.

    What has remained elusive though is a civilian nuclear agreement. At their last summit in May 2013, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe directed their officials to “accelerate” negotiations towards this. But it will not be easy. Tokyo is interested, and so are Japanese vendors looking for markets abroad after Japan’s decision to cut down dependence on nuclear energy post-Fukushima. The two sides will take it up when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits New Delhi next month, but the domestic opposition to any such deal is bound to weigh on his mind. The healthy state of India-Japan relations is best seen in its own terms rather than as a result of a shared wariness of China. New Delhi and Beijing are engaged in improving relations at various levels, while China-Japan relations are a separate category. For all the sparring, their bilateral trade exceeds $300 billion, and contacts between the two countries exist at many levels. It would be absurd to construe Emperor Akihito’s India visit, planned many months ago, as a move to counter China against the backdrop of new tensions in the East China Sea.

    Transforming bilateral ties - The Hindu
     
  4. AVERAGE INDIAN

    AVERAGE INDIAN EXORCIST Senior Member

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    A Sign of Strong Ties with Japan

    Japan described the first ever reigning emperor Akihito’s India visit as ‘non-political’ and not aimed at ‘countering’ China. Being nominal head of state the emperor does not command any political power. But his visit to any country usually is very significant and symbolises peak level in bilateral relations.

    Nevertheless, officials deny the political significance of the visit but at least Indian media news and views could take note of undercurrents. Strangely, Japanese media focused more on US Vice-president Joe Biden’s politically very significant Tokyo visit. Departing from protocol PM Manmohan Singh himself received the Emperor and his delegation at the airport.

    On the recommendation of the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and his cabinet Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited India to boost all-round bilateral ties besides improving trade, nuclear and defence relations. India and Japan have corresponding views on many issues and Japan is involved in several infrastructural projects of great relevance to India’s economic transformation and both cooperate in sensitive and strategic domain including maritime security.

    “India and Japan share a vision of promoting peace and stability in building a new Asia full of promise and opportunities”, President Pranab Mukherjee remarked. India-Japan partnership is based on the bedrock of shared values of democracy, the rule of law and individual rights. The President said India deeply values and attaches the highest importance to its close friendship with Japan which is based on a strong foundation of mutual respect and admiration.

    If the visit was typically cultural and not political, then cultural and educational exchanges might obtain prime spot and see manifold increase on signing of MoUs between academic institutions and cultural bodies next month.

    “Buddhism is a sacred link. India and Japan have had academic and scholarly exchanges since ancient times. Both countries are presently collaborating in the revival of the Nalanda University.” Bilateral relationship today goes much beyond as the two countries work for global partnership with converging strategic interests.”

    India and Japan have pledged for an early resumption of negotiations for civil nuclear cooperation and hope for an early of conclusion agreement. Only months ago it was decided to expand the bilateral currency swap arrangement to $50 billion, talks on introducing high speed railway system in India, progressing Delhi-Mumbai Freight Corridor, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor, talks relating to introducing high speed railway system in India, progress in defence and security cooperation even in maritime security and counter terrorism — all augur well in any expanding bilateral framework.

    In 2012-13 India-Japan bilateral trade touched US$ 18.6 billion. Indian exports to Japan were at US$ 6 billion, and imports at US$12.5 billion. In effect, India’s exports and deficit were nearly equal. As of March 2013, cumulative commitment of ODA was Yen 3807 billion. Comprehensive economic partnership agreement is in force since August 2011 and covers such areas as trade in goods and services, investments, intellectual property rights, customs procedure. CEPA goal is to abolish tariffs over 94 per cent items bilaterally traded over a period of next ten years.

    India has not officially commented on the rising tensions between China and Japan, where as China “viewed the visit and recently warming India-Japan ties would be favourable to regional stability.” Tensions are on the rise in the East Asian region since China declared last week a new Air Defence Identification zone. The brewing tensions may persist with US despatching two B-52 bombers to fly through without information to China. If Japan and China had managed successfully the territorial problems to the benefit of economic gains hitherto and mechanism collapsed all of a sudden then it is failure of diplomatic and crisis management instruments.

    Unlike ASEAN, India is more than reasonably convinced that it need not get involved in East Asian regional tensions. In the backdrop of India’s own problems with China, avoidance of identification as a member in anti-China camp is the need of the day since an insecure China is not certainly in India’s future security interests.

    The conflict threatens to accelerate Japan’s slow but sure military build-up. Japan considers that its military must be capable of countering any threat to its territorial integrity. Its navy already has one of the strongest fleets in the world, despite constitutional restrictions on military expenditure and capabilities.

    The United States refrains from involvement in Japan’s territorial disputes though bound by the Japanese constitution to defend Japan and it hesitates to take position on the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands claims. Last month, the US and Japan agreed to broaden their security alliance.

    The US supports Japan’s attempts to strengthen its military, and its military ties in Asia, as a counterbalance to China’s own build-up. Japan has slowly been pushing the bounds of the constitutional limitations on its military for some years now, partly in a response to China’s increasing power and assertiveness in East Asia. Abe has already increased military budget for the first time in 11 years besides proposing to amend the Constitution to remove restrictions on the military but allows the military to come to the aid of United States forces if necessary.

    The significance of the Japan-US alliance in countering China’s establishment of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea encompassing the Senkaku Islands was emphasised early this week as Abe and Joe Biden met in Tokyo.The emerging geopolitical dynamics and evolving Indo-Pacific security architecture present good opportunity for India and Japan to broad base and diversify their relations and cooperate at complex regional and global issues. Japan and the US now realize they need each other more than ever to maintain peace and stability in Asia while countering a rising China. The Emperor’s visit gives an impetus to the attempts of two societies to engage in fresh initiatives and lift the relationship to higher parlance. As China plays down Emperor’s visit to India, and India keeps neutral position in tension of East Asia, there is more in store than diplomatic denials if scheduled India visit of PM Abe actualises next month and India buys US $ 15 billion worth of SU-2 seaplane and arms.

    (H S Prabhakar teaches Japanese Studies at School of International Studies, JNU. Email: [email protected])

    A Sign of Strong Ties with Japan - The New Indian Express
     

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