A Japan-India-US triangle in the making?

Updated On: Mar 27, 2007

Some argue that Japan and India are striking out in their own way to international prestige by offering on the one hand, an alternative to Washington's model of unilateralism and preemptive action which has irked many developing countries and, on the other extreme, Beijing's model of aid without conditions in the name of non-intervention, sovereignty and multipolarism.

Both India and Japan needs to go through adjustment pains to adapt to their new international roles.  Japan needs to behave more independently from the US whileIndia needs to get off the fence and away from the non-aligned movement. India has been extremely cautious in joining the Australia-Japan-US Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, seen often as a precursor to a Washington-led China containment policy.

In many ways, however, India does have its suspicions of alliances or partnerships in the region. For example, despite all the talk about China containment, in 2006, Sino-US trade (US$263 billion) was almost 10 times India-US trade ($29 billion). Australia, which has hosted the trilateral congregation, sees China as an exceedingly important customer of raw materials and energy. Japan for all its tough talk on China by the ruling conservative witnessed Sino-Japanese trade ($207 billion) growing 10 times as fast as Sino-Indian trade ($25 billion) in 2006.

So far the US is courting India as another counterbalance to growing Chinese power. However, not too long ago, in December 1971, US President Richard Nixon sent the USS Enterprise into the Indian Ocean as a warning to India during its war with Pakistan. In contrast, recently, the Bush administration has wedded US national interests with Indian courtship through the US-India nuclear-cooperation agreement signed in March 2006 and the Henry J Hyde US-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act signed in December 2006 with US President George W Bush pledging to assist India in emerging as a "world power".

Japan is playing an increasingly interventionist role in South Asia, providing aid to Sri Lanka to promote a ceasefire between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam deploying Japanese troops to Nepal for monitoring ceasefire and peacekeeping missions. Many in India like other South Asian nations see Japanese imperialism during WWII as a counterbalance and independence-catalyst in getting rid of colonial British imperialism and therefore, when Japan fought to be in the UN Security Council member as a Permanent member, it was supported by South Asian countries like AfghanistanBhutan and Maldives.

Despite India’s desire for international place in the sun, it does have a considerable number of limitations. Economically, China's trade with Southeast Asia exceeded $160 billion in 2006, while India's trade with the region was less than $30 billion. Without economic power, India lost energy assets to China in numerous states, including AngolaEcuadorKazakhstan and Myanmar. Even India-Japan ties are weak. Japanese investment in India was about $2 billion in 2006, far less than the $57 billion that Japan invested in ChinaChina has also emerged as Japan's and India's second-largest trading partner. Sino-Indian trade exceeded $25 billion in 2006, while Sino-Japanese trade was more than $207 billion, far less than Japan-India trade, which amounted to $7 billion.

Some are tapping into history for the formation of the Japan-India (maybe Washington axis) in the region. Historically, Japan supported Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army during World War II against British imperialism while Indian Judge Radhabinod Pal opposed punishing Japan at the Tokyo trials. To reflect this historical closeness, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Japan, which returned Koizumi's visit to India in April-May 2005, resulting in the signing of the "Joint Statement Toward Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership". In his book A Beautiful Country (Utsukushi kuni e), Japanese PM Abe proposes a pan-Asian order that is a coalition of AustraliaIndiaJapan and the United States.

Now, Japan seems on route to this dream.  Japan and India launched their first strategic dialogue at the foreign ministerial level on 22 March.  The stage is also set for greater defence cooperation, and on the agenda is a joint naval exercise by JapanIndia and the US in the Pacific Ocean.  Another likely proposal is for JapanIndia, US and Australia to hold consultation on a regular basis.  This also came shortly after the signing of the defence pact between Japan and Australia.

While denying that any such alliance is directed against anyone, China would definitely be paying close attention to the evolving strategic game and President Hu in his visit to Russia this week will be playing his Russia cards perhaps with an eye on the evolving relationship between Japan and India.  (27 March 2007)


Abe's LDP backers seek Taiwan-India China foil (Japan Times, 25 March 2007)

India-Japan-US triangle in the works (Straits Times, 24 March 2007)

Japan and India begin strategic dialogue (Straits Times, 23 March 2007)

Stage set for greater defence cooperation (Straits Times, 23 March 2007)

The strengthening Japan-India axis (Atimes, 6 March 2007)