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Japan and India looked back at China

Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi strengthen military and economic cooperation

Japan and India looked back at China

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
In the second decade of September, the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe paid an official visit to India. He was warmly and cordially received by his Indian colleague Narendra Modi. It was the 10th meeting of the two leaders since Modi came to power in 2014. In recent years, relations between Asia's second and third economies have deepened significantly as Abe and Modi, who have established a close relationship with each other, intend to work together to balance China as the dominant power in Asia. According to the American news agency Reuters, quoted by the Tokyo-based newspaper Asahi Shimbun on the eve of the Japan-India summit, a Eurasian analyst said: "Almost everything that happens during the visit will be partially done with China in mind."

Notably, Abe's visit came just days after New Delhi and Beijing agreed to end the longest and most serious military confrontation in decades in a disputed stretch of territory along their common border. This dispute has raised concerns in the world about a border conflict between Asian giants with unpredictable consequences. During the meeting, the two prime ministers reaffirmed their countries' security and economic cooperation aimed at confronting, according to Japanese and Indian analysts, China's territorial and military expansion.

In the military sphere, India and Japan intend to rely on a powerful naval presence in the region of the United States, the main potential enemy of the PRC. The heads of both states agreed to expand the joint exercises conducted by the Indian and US Navy, as well as the Japanese Marine Self-Defense Forces. In a joint press conference with Modi, Abe said: "We will continue to promote cooperation between Japan, India and the US based on the relationship of mutual trust with President Donald Trump." The two leaders also discussed, one-on-one, the discussions on the suspension of the deal on the acquisition of several Japanese amphibious aircraft by India. In addition, the agenda of economic cooperation between the two countries is the construction of nuclear power plants in India on Japanese technologies.

Abe and Modi again agreed on the need to ensure freedom of navigation in the face of the growing, in their opinion, China's expansionist activities in the seas and oceans. As the Japanese commentators point out, both figures actually spoke in favor of cooperation in the creation of a united anti-China maritime security front with the participation of Washington as well. On this occasion, Abe said: "We will strengthen the cooperation of like-minded countries that share our values."

The Chinese factor is behind the building up of economic cooperation between the second and third economic powers in Asia. The Japanese-Indian infrastructure deal also refers to China. Abe and Modi have agreed to create a new India-Japan Act East Forum to develop roads, electricity and other projects in Northeast India. Japan provided the Indian government with 38,6 billion yen ($ 349 million) to develop the road network there. In this regard, the Japanese Prime Minister said: "We will provide comprehensive support to the northeastern states of India, and both countries will continue to contribute to the prosperity of the entire region." However, these beautiful words conceal specific practical calculations.

The fact is that this region of India is located not far from the Doklam Plateau, a border area disputed by China and Bhutan, an ally of India. The construction of the road by China in the disputed area, discovered in mid-June, led to a confrontation between the Chinese and Indian military, which lasted two and a half months. Thus, with the help of the development of Northeast India, Tokyo and New Delhi intend to hinder Beijing’s potential advancement to the Indian Ocean.

For their part, Japan and India intend to actively develop the coast of this ocean with the help of investments. So, both countries are already cooperating in the construction of a terminal for the import of liquefied gas at the port of Colombo in Sri Lanka - in the very island state where China is already promoting the development of the specified port. Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative aims to create an international infrastructure corridor to Europe by land and to Africa by sea. Japan and India intend to oppose China in this area by creating their own sea and land lines.

A joint statement following Abe's visit to India, released by the two prime ministers, underlines the "importance of freedom of navigation" as well as "peace, stability and development in the Indo-Pacific region." These expressions combine Abe's maritime strategy, which he put forward last year, to what he claims is freedom of navigation in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and Modi's Act East policy, which focuses on India's cooperation with East Asian countries. ...

It should be noted, however, that while New Delhi is increasing its wariness of China's so-called maritime expansion, as demonstrated by the aforementioned participation of the Indian fleet in joint naval exercises with Japan and the United States in July this year, India maintains extensive economic ties with China. on the land. Not to mention the fact that both countries are members of the BRICS economic grouping that is increasing its influence on the world arena. For Japan, China has also recently become the number one foreign economic partner.

These moments should serve as a certain brake on the path of transforming the military and economic link between Tokyo and New Delhi into a structure openly aimed at containing China. It is also obvious that the sophisticated Indian leadership will not allow anyone to play their country as an anti-Chinese card. There are also certain differences in the approaches of Japan and India to their great neighbor. Thus, in contrast to India, which unequivocally negatively views Beijing's One Belt, One Road initiative as a competitive strategic project, Japan has recently begun to give more positive assessments of this initiative and is even considering its participation in it.

According to a high-ranking official of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, if Japan squeezes in creating an anti-Chinese tandem in Japan and India, then New Delhi may distance itself from its Far Eastern partner. Let's add, at least to maintain its own image of a state that has not changed its policy of non-alignment.
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