Trade to Benefit from Japan-India Strategic Alliance

Trade to Benefit from Japan-India Strategic Alliance

The trend towards a growing alliance between Japan and India has gained momentum for some time, due to ongoing developments in the region involving China.

Much focus in the international affairs community in East Asia has lately revolved around Japan. Given recent electoral developments, this is quite understandable. On July 21, 2013 the Japanese people made an important vote, where the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) gained control of the House of Councillors, Japans’ upper house. This means that the party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now controls both legislative houses in the Japanese Diet and will no doubt assist in the implementation of Abe’s agenda, economic and otherwise. Importantly, some of this agenda will include developing strategic ties between Japan and India that will have likely have consequences reverberating beyond Pacific and Southeast Asia.

 During a visit to Japan in May, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed concerns regarding growing Chinese assertiveness, stating “prosperity has not fully eliminated disparities with and between nations and there are continuing threats to stability and security in the region.” India’s concerns toward China carry deep historical memories of the 1962 conflict between the two countries, as well as ongoing concerns over Tibet and China’s historic association with Pakistan.

Chinese forces have crossed into Indian Territory often over the past five years with an incident in April drawing particular attention and international concern. Such occurrences may show intentional effort by China to protest increased Indian infrastructure and patrols in the disputed border area, or could merely be rogue Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) elements. China has continually asserted the need to ensure secure borders and has strongly defended sovereignty, but it has a long historical memory about the dangers previously posed by lapsed borders to China’s domestic security.

Japanese security concerns regarding China have also peaked in recent years. Disputes over the Senkaku Islands and recent increases in Chinese air and naval surveillance of the islands have helped foster a growing concern in Japan. The fallout from a 2010 boat collision involving citizens of both countries, as well as China using Japanese trade dependency on rare earth commodities as a means of hard coercion during disputes, has only worked to increase Japanese fears.

Coupled with unfavorable demographic trends and two decades of relatively lackluster growth, Japanese nationalism has also increased. Indeed, some conservative Japanese conservative supporters of Abe and others work to revise the Japanese constitution, particularly Article 9, which restricts Japans’ ability to wage war. Such efforts have been met with concerns in the international realm and within Japan itself, but they have easily gained supporters owing to the disputes with China and continued worries over North Korea. Although Abe still lacks the legislative calculus in the Diet to make such a change, growing strategic ties with India may offer a means to assuage concerns of both countries.

With shared security concerns and growing economic ties as well, Japan and India have moved towards a growing bilateral relationship. Since 2005, both countries have strengthened security ties in repeated talks and agreements, including increased efforts to combat piracy, a constant concern of India’s in particular, as well as efforts towards natural disaster relief. A recent summit resulted in more Japanese aid to India for infrastructure and potentially the sale of Japanese arms, as well as increased exchange of civil nuclear technology.

While the last of these will likely present some pitfalls for Abe, the summit was an anticipated success for both countries as they seek to redefine their respective roles in both Asia and the world. In fact, the potential agreements between the two countries may represent the first major arms sale export from Japan since the recently lifted half-century ban. The two plus two dialogue between top level Japanese and Indian military and defense officials is the only such arrangement that India has with another country, further stressing the importance of this development.

While some have expressed skepticism of the growing relationship, noting that Japanese economic problems, India’s traditional history of foreign policy independence, and the bilateral nature of these agreements may prevent them carrying any real momentum in implementation, there is nonetheless reason to think that such ties will continue to grow. As both countries seek to avoid the potential costs balancing China, a growing strategic alliance is likely. Additionally, such an alliance will be viewed favorably and even encouraged by other countries with strong economic ties to India and Japan, not the least of which is the United States.

While China predictably has expressed concerns over this ongoing development, a closer relationship between Japan and India will further preserve stability on the seas and ensure the development of commerce routes. Given the myriad of problems that currently confront both countries and historical reluctance towards such a move, the likelihood of the success of the alliance will rest largely on implementation, China’s response and the ability to work past problems that naturally arise in increasing bilateral alliances.

Categories: Asia Pacific, Security

About Author

Sean Durns

Sean Durns worked as a research assistant to a former high ranking Pentagon official and the Director of National Security Strategies at a DC based think tank. His analysis has been referenced by a variety of media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Roubini's EconoMonitor, OilPrice, and many more. He holds a M.Sc. in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics where he focused on US foreign policy, security studies, and energy security.