ASIA: by Dr Sharif ShujaNews Weekly
Japan, India and China - new strategic alliance?
, March 12, 2005
The formation of an India-China-Japan axis has been proposed by Japan's ambassador to India, Yasukoni Enoki, who argues that it would be "important for Asia's stability and prosperity".
Indian officials feel that the Japanese proposal is a response to its view of the likely changes in standing of different countries on the world stage. An earlier proposal from Moscow for developing a Russia-India-China axis had a similar meaning.
Russia is attempting to build a coalition outside bloc politics. As Vladimir Putin stressed, in a speech to the Nehru Foundation (at the fifth annual India-Russia Summit) on December 4, 2004, "These coalitions are not militarist in nature, nor are they specifically directed against any power. They would, however, favour a greater and consistent use of international law, use a multilateral approach and support plural systems and methods of development. Russia believes that India and China are natural partners in such an engagement."Multipolar world
Putin has joined the ranks of those who would like to shape a multipolar world without the use of force or Cold War tactics.
This alternative approach is one that would suit India's national interest, as India itself has said on occasion.
Looking for foreign-policy initiatives of its own, the new United Progressive Alliance Government in New Delhi is realising that its interests lie in a multipolar world and is searching for a greater role in the international political system.
The Indians once had a Pakistan complex. That complex is gone, and the Indians see themselves as a future superpower, as indeed does the world. The global stature of India today as an emerging power is a result of its recent economic growth, its nuclear tests and capability, and its search for a new sort of engagement with China.
The US firm Goldman Sachs predicts that, in light of India's present 6 per cent economic growth, it is possible that India by 2050 will rank as the world's third-largest economic entity after China and America.
In today's rapidly changing international environment, India is keen to develop mutually beneficial relationships with countries wherever it can.
China looms large in India's sights, and last year saw a rapprochement and friendship established between the two countries. Economic synergies have brought India and China closer than ever before. The two countries have skirted around border disputes in order to speed up progress in every other area.
No Indian's business itinerary is now complete without a visit to China; no holiday package excludes a trip to Shanghai or Beijing.
Trade between the two countries has multiplied, and the two biggest Asian countries - one a democracy and the other ruled with the iron-fist of communist rulers - find that their mutual interests in trade and market accessibility are in harmony.
India and China are set to become new powerhouse global economies. Together, they account for almost one-third of the world's population, are among the fastest-growing economies and have a combined GDP of over $17 trillion. The skills and competence of their people are almost legendary.
The prospect of India-China trade touching $100 billion within the next few years is no longer an impossible aspiration.
India's External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, said that building strong ties with China is a top priority for the new government. India will continue to have "close relations with the United States of America while at the same time strengthening relations with other important nations such as Russia, China, the European Union and the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) countries".
Mr Singh pointed out that Sino-Indian relations are "problem-free, except for the border question, but a mechanism has been set up for addressing that problem".
Chinese officials like to emphasise that they do not view India as a regional or strategic rival. "It is always better for your own security," a Chinese analyst has said, "that your neighbour remains a friend and is not an enemy."
Beijing is keen to push for a boundary settlement with India and develop a constructive and cooperative partnership with New Delhi.
Asia's economic integration is now well advanced. China has replaced the US as Japan's largest overseas market.
India and Japan have recently established several high-level contacts to ensure a major boost to their bilateral ties. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi visited New Delhi recently for the second time in two years, with ministers for information technology and economy, trade and infrastructure also visiting.
Both sides agreed that there was vast, untapped potential for close bilateral relations and sought to cooperate on major projects so as to realise this vast potential. They underlined the need for a strong Japanese business presence in India.
Kawaguchi also informed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the two sides had agreed they would extend mutual support for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.
India and Japan also agreed to "exchange views and cooperate in the field of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery".Trade boom
It should be noted that, during the 1990s, Japan-India economic and trade relations boomed. In 1997, Japan's foreign direct investment in India reached $532 million.
Japanese industrial giants such as Toyota, Honda, Sony, Mitsubishi, Matsushita, Fujitsu and YKK had begun to establish their presence in India.
Japanese banks, insurance and securities companies opened their offices in India, and Japanese airlines established direct flights to India.
India's nuclear tests in 1998, however, put an almost complete end to this process. Japan retaliated by imposing sanctions, or what it called "economic measures".
These included the freezing of grant aid for new projects, suspension of yen loans for new projects, the withdrawal of Tokyo as a venue for the India Development Forum, and the imposition of strict controls over technology transfers.
The Japanese ambassador to India was recalled temporarily for consultation. The Diet described the nuclear tests as acts of destruction of the global environment and ecosystem, and as constituting a threat to humanity's survival.
Japan virtually broke off all communication.
What hurt India the most, however, was Japan's intense international campaign targeting India and Japan's advocacy of a "nuclear flashpoint" theory calling for a quick resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
This phase is now over, and both countries seem to realise the need for closer dialogue at the political and security level to reduce the possibility of such misunderstanding in the near future.
Yet, why Japan would want China to be included in a new axis with India is still not fully understood in India's decision-making circles.
Tokyo's proposal reflects the Japanese penchant for pragmatism. It sent troops to Iraq, despite its self-imposed post-World War II rule never to deploy its military on foreign soil.
Japan is already trying to play a larger role on the international stage by crafting a multipolar resolution of the Iraq crisis.
New Delhi has no problem accepting Tokyo's desire for a more visible international role, so long as Japan acknowledges India's own interests in this regard.
The declaration by both countries, at the end of Kawaguchi's recent India visit, that they will support each other's candidature for the UN Security Council "to enhance the effectiveness and credibility" of the UN is being seen in this context.Important roles
Above all, Japan is now trying to develop close ties with China and India to better face the challenges of a multipolar world scenario in which its Asian neighbours are likely to play important roles.
The general view is that China, Japan and India are the three Asian countries where conditions for being big powers are most available. There is no reason why they should not come together.
China has had territorial and other disputes with both India and Japan. Japan has no such disputes with India. Japan probably feels that India can play a stabilising role in its relationship with China. Perhaps China, too, feels the same way. Hence the need for and feasibility of a trilateral axis.
These three Asian countries together account for 20 per cent of the world's gross domestic product. Situated at different levels of development, they are economically complementary.
One can cite demographics to buttress this contention. Japan's population has already aged, while the Chinese population, too, will begin to get older by the next decade. By 2020, India will have the largest working and consuming population in the world.
Supporters of an India-China-Japan trilateral axis in all three of these countries are united on one point. The notion of axis should not be understood in its traditional negative sense. The grouping is not meant to confront any country or alliance, and especially not the USA.
In fact, all three are seeking to improve relations with Washington. It is simply an interesting idea at the moment, designed to bring the three countries together for mutual benefit.
There is, however, a lot of resistance to the idea as well. By and large India's strategic community feels more comfortable with India developing close strategic ties with the US, Japan and Israel.
Many are particularly opposed to closer ties with China, at least until China vacates the thousands of square kilometers of Indian land it captured in the 1962 war.