Japan and India don’t necessarily have the warmest relationship with their neighbor, China.
China hasn’t exactly lessened tensions by enforcing a no-fly zone over Japanese islands. And its rapidly expanding military efforts haven’t brought comfort to India’s government, especially with a long history of border tensions.
Since it has become apparent that the Obama Administration is unreliable in handling complex international policy dynamics, what can Japan and India do?
Go the tradition route: Form a strategic regional alliance.
China on Monday downplayed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India as a bilateral issue, even as the state-media termed the trip as a failure for not succeeding in pinning down Beijing.
“The visit you mentioned is an issue between India and Japan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a media briefing while responding to a question on Abe’s just-concluded visit to India. The visit evoked considerable media attention in view of the China-Japan diplomatic stand off over the disputed islands in East China Sea.
Now what could Japan, whose military efforts have been minimal in the post-WWII era, possibly do for India that would help address its island-based concerns?
The details are still being worked out, but it looks like India is about to become the first country since World War II to buy military aircraft from Japan. This is big news not just for Japan, which is experiencing a revival under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but also for India as it tries to keep pace with a rapidly developing Chinese military.
India intends to buy 15 ShinMaywa Industries amphibious aircraft at a cost of about $110 million each, Reuters reports. “The plane has a range of over 4,500 km (2,800 miles), which will give it reach far into Southeast Asia from the base where the aircraft are likely to be located, in the Andaman and Nicobar island chain that is near the western tip of Indonesia.” India established itself as the world’s biggest arms importer last year.
What does India get out of it? A little independence from the United States, for starters. One of the contributing factors in this new drive was our government’s handling of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who did not receive immunity from criminal prosecution on charges of visa fraud related to her foreign maid (something that only raises eyebrows when our politicos have maid issues). The Indians were outraged, to the point that bulldozers removed security barriers outside the US embassy in Delhi.
In The Hindu, Brahma Chellaney makes a strong case for India to be proactive in building up its own military:
The blossoming of ties with the United States has become an important diplomatic asset for India in recent years. Yet, the heady glow of the much-ballyhooed strategic partnership helped obscure prickly issues that arose much before the Devyani Khobragade episode. In truth, the Obama administration’s reluctance to accommodate Indian interests on major issues, coupled with the fundamental challenge of managing an asymmetrical relationship, has created fault lines that are testing the resilience of the partnership.
….Let’s be clear: India can never emerge as a major international power in a true sense, or acquire a military edge regionally, if it remains dependent on imports to meet even its basic defence needs. The capacity to defend oneself with one’s own resources is the first test a nation must pass on the way to becoming a great power.
Japan has just told China to cut its military spending. Could a well-armed India be its insurance policy against more aggressive Chinese ambitions?
That, my friends, is today’s “Smart Power.”
This week in Canto Talk, I had a chance to question military history expert Barry Jacobsen about the history of India, including these developments.
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