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Changing Relationship With Japan

Monday, February 03, 2014
By Dr. Rakesh Singh

Dr. Rakesh Singh is Director, Durgadevi Saraf Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai.

The recent visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe preceded by the Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko clearly indicates a change in the geopolitical relationship that is beginning to take shape in the Asian subcontinent. Abe has been vocal about building up the Indo-Japan security framework and a bigger role of these two countries alongwith the U.S. in the Asian subcontinent. 

This has been primarily driven by China, who is pushing its long standing maritime claim stretching deep into South China Sea and claims to the islands in the East Asia Sea, which is now owned by Japan and South Korea, as well as defining the air defence zone which eats into the air defence of Japan. India too is concerned about land borders where China is challenging India and claiming ownership of Arunachal Pradesh. All those who thought that the Chinese will rise and lead the Asian economy towards better prosperity are beginning to wonder about all these developments.

A large number of questions arise on whether China with its aggressive posture today will push the whole Asian subcontinent into a war like situation?  Will the Asian countries unite together to keep China’s aspirations of military power at bay. Is China really in a position to do so?  Where does India stand in all these?

The special relationship between India and Japan, which has started to take place, is quite beneficial to the two countries. Japan is the largest source of foreign direct investment in India as well as the largest donor. Bilateral trade is increasing by leaps and bounds. Abe has announced a loan of 200 billion Yens for infrastructure in India.  Japan is a part of several infrastructure projects in India. It is playing and will play a great role in the economic development in India as a partner.

What is also heartening is that China who has been pushing India, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar and almost all other countries in the East China Sea will force non-Chinese countries to build a comprehensive security system, with India and Japan playing a big role, obviously with the help of U.S. as a major partner, in assuring security in the Asian region.

Chinese new leadership has become nationalists. The primary reason of pushing the nationalist issue too far is because the economy has started showing cracks and if one has to contain the Chinese population, aspirations for their team, nationalism and Chinese pride is the only way forward.  But this nationalism can be a costly affair for China as it is a great open power with a higher ratio of trade to gross domestic product than U.S. and Japan. Being resource poor, China depends on the imports of host of raw materials as well as know-how and technical support.

The conflict with most other Asian neighbours can put a block to these aspirations of China as a global super power. China has been aggressively investing into military, which has led Abe to increase defence budgets, modernise military and define security measures from Chinese perspective.

USA has been a great ally of both Japan and South Korea.  Even if we assume if China will be hell bent on taking on its Asian neighbours, U.S. data suggests that this would be too risky for the future of China. As a military might, Japan is far superior to China and with South Korea, Japan and India supported by the U.S., partners to keep Chinese ambition contained, China will be at the losing end.  What is also to be noted here is that U.S. still controls the seas and if open conflict arrives, U.S. can cut off world trade with China and it can also create problems for China’s liquid foreign assets. The economic consequences would be devastating for China and hence China should be cautious and not push this aggression too far.

In conclusion, it can only be said that it would be good for Asian integration as China will be forced to recognise its limitations of aggression and the benefits would occur to all other countries, including India.

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