Japan as partner in the East

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by LETHALFORCE, Jan 21, 2013.


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    Japan as partner in the East | The Asian Age

    If Japan is keen to enhance strategic cooperation, it could consider offering the Soryu-class submarines to India, with complete transfer of technology for building in India

    A resurgent China is busy shaping the strategic arena with a combination of its sea power and diplomacy in the areas of its declared core national interests (the East and South China Seas) with the aim of converting almost 80 per cent of this oil- and mineral-rich region, as part of its territorial sea.

    Regional powers are looking to counterbalance the Chinese moves, and some, like Vietnam and now Japan, are beginning to look at India as a “strategic partner” as a hedge against any of the present skirmishes in the Asia-Pacific region. India, given its geostrategic location astride the sea lanes in the Indian Ocean region, is in a position to ensure safety of shipping lanes on which Japan and the Asia-Pacific region nations, including China, depend for trade and energy imports. These nations are also aware of India’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region (50 per cent of Indian trade by sea passes through the region), and are conscious how growing Indian sea power can contribute to stability in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific regions.

    Japan and India, which have had historically good relations, should now deepen their cooperation. At present, Indo-Japan trade is about 15 per cent of the $74 billion India-China trade, and Japan has, in the last 20 years, invested hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign direct investment (FDI) in China, while hesitant to export nuclear power plant machinery to India. Hopefully both nations will now move towards a genuine “strategic partnership”.

    Regular high-level visits between the leaders of the two nations have taken place in the last decade. Now that China’s GDP is larger than the $5 trillion Japanese GDP, and the Chinese Navy has begun flexing its muscles in the South and East China Seas, and with the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the eight Senkaku islands (Japanese-controlled, but claimed by China) reaching dangerous levels, the Japanese, under their newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have begun to look at India as a strategic counterweight to China.

    Mr Abe has an interesting background. He became Prime Minister on December 26, 2012, when his Liberal Democratic Party of Japan won a landslide victory over the Democratic Party of Japan. Mr Abe was earlier Prime Minister from September 2006 to September 2007, and during this brief period he tried for closer ties with India, and also propounded the abortive “Quadrilateral Initiative” comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia to counterbalance China. Mr Abe now wants to increase Japan’s military budget from its present one per cent of GDP while enhancing ties with the US and India. All this at a time when a debate is raging in Japan on whether the Japanese Constitution should be revised to permit the Japanese Self-Defence Force to become a “complete military force” to deter a resurgent China.

    So given its self-imposed limitations, what can Japan do to strengthen its ties with India. It has already committed to setting up the $4 billion Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, and helping India mine its rare earths and export them to Japan. The August 1, 2012, Indo-Japan Comprehensive Partnership Agreement is further expected to boost trade from its present paltry figure of about $12 billion.

    Another important area is FDI. Japan has $1 trillion in reserve. I believe a section of the Japanese establishment is considering increasing its paltry FDI in India. It would be mutually beneficial if Japan made a strategic investment of a few hundred billion dollars to improve India’s creaking infrastructure — roads, seaports, shipbuilding and repair yards, power generation (including civil nuclear power plants), railways etc. In addition, both nations have a robust space exploration programme and could cooperate in manned space flights (India is planning a manned flight by 2015 and a manned moon mission by 2020).

    Cooperation in the military field is a little more complex. Even if Japan does decide to export technology to India, it is handicapped by the fact that most of its equipment is imported. However, there are two areas where Japan can export to India — its home-designed and home-built submarines and seaplanes. In 1997, on a official visit to Japan, I had been on board a Sachisio-class conventional submarine of 1989 vintage and a ShinMaywa US-1 seaplane of 1980 vintage and found both these platforms to be fully capable of carrying out their designed missions. The latest Japanese submarines and seaplanes are even more sophisticated and mission worthy.

    The latest Japanese conventional submarine of the 2950-ton Soryu-class entered service with the JMSDF in March 2009. At present, one new Soryu-class submarine joins the JMSDF every year. These are ultra-modern submarines equipped with the latest Japanese sensors and weapons and also have the Stirling Air Independent Propulsion System (AIPS), which permits the submarine to operate completely submerged for 15 to 20 days without the need to come to surface every two or three days to charge its propulsion lead acid batteries. The high production rate of one submarine a year is maintained because these submarines are built simultaneously by two shipyards— Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation. Given the five-year delay in building the Scorpene submarines under Project 75 in Mazagon Dock Limited (Mumbai), perhaps it’s time for India to emulate the Japanese example of building submarines in more than one shipyard. If Japan is keen to enhance strategic cooperation with India, it could consider offering the Soryu-class submarines to India, with complete transfer of technology for building in India.

    Post-Second World War, the Japanese have been making their own seaplanes. The latest version (2010 vintage) is the ShinMaywa US-2 long-range seaplane which can land in rough seas with wave heights up to three metres and has a maximum range of 4,500 kilometres, while carrying 30 persons and a tonne of cargo. Such an aircraft would be very useful for search and rescue (SAR) missions at sea, provide logistics support to India’s 1,197 islands, surveillance of our vast Exclusive Economic Zone (which is at present almost three million square kilometres), anti-piracy and assistance during natural disasters like tsunami.

    What will Japan gain from a strategic tie-up with India? Due to its geostrategic position, an economically well-off India, with a strong Navy and ICG, can ensure safe seas for merchant ships carrying cargo and oil to and from Japan as they traverse the Indian Ocean. This strategic tie-up need not be against China, but, since both nations rely heavily on seaborne trade, a rich India with blue water capability and a sea-based second strike nuclear deterrence would be in Japan’s long-term interests. The two nations have had historically good relations and no areas where their national interests conflict. The time is ripe for cementing a strategic partnership.

    The writer, a former vice-admiral, retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2013
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