The real intention behind Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan (ZB)
Just days after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang left India – the first foreign country he visited since taking office, the Prime Minister of the host country, Mr Manmohan Singh, hurried off to Tokyo. He was there to discuss the strengthening of bilateral relations – including military cooperation – with Japan, a country currently in a diplomatic spat with China over the Diaoyu or Senkaku Islands. In fact, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso was just in New Delhi in early May, where he openly proposed military cooperation with India, the US and Australia. It looks like geopolitics in Asia is increasingly locked in a web of alliances, and all with “China’s rise” as the focal point.
Against this backdrop, the timing of Mr Singh’s visit to Japan leaves much room for speculation. The Times of India pointed out that the visit happened only six weeks after the border incident between Indian and Chinese troops, and one week after Mr Li’s visit to India. So, the timing of Mr Singh’s visit to Japan would be interpreted by Beijing as a political signal.
If that were not enough, one could see a common thread in what Mr Singh said in Japan and the echo by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to what he said – both countries have made China the “object” of their exchanges, although it was not spelled out. Mr Singh described India and Japan as “natural and indispensable” partners, with a shared commitment to democracy and international peace. India’s The Hindu ran an analysis that the US and Japan both feel that India can play an important role in negating China’s growing influence in regional economics and geopolitics. Mr Singh’s words have to be taken in this context.
Mr Abe was even more explicit: “India is in the west and Japan is in the east, the coming together of the two most entrenched democracies has become an important part of the common good in the world for the 21st century. I am of a belief that the key to this is that Japan and India should ensure that Asia continues to maintain peace and prosperity.” And given this awareness, Japan seems exceptionally active in its military cooperation with India. Besides more regular joint naval exercises, Japan has also decided to sell India its US-2 amphibian aircraft – which, according to Japanese media, is the first time Japan will export a military product classified for civilian use since its self-imposed ban on arms exports in 1967.
Of course, there are also economic considerations in India’s decision to strengthen ties with Japan now. To meet energy demands, Mr Singh and Mr Abe have agreed to resume talks on India bringing in Japan’s nuclear energy technology; the talks were suspended after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Both sides have also agreed to conduct a feasibility study on Japan building a high-speed railway for India. And to stave off competition from France, Japan is even willing to offer India a loan of about S$1.26 billion for this.
Just as Mr Li described his trip to India as a “handshake across the Himalayas”, the line taken by the Indian and Japanese leaders about a natural partnership between democracies is really more a camouflage for their strategic calculations. India is uneasy over China’s long-term economic and military support for India’s arch rival Pakistan, as well as its political presence in Myanmar and expansion of its influence to the Indian Ocean. Coincidentally, Mr Abe became the first Japanese PM to visit Myanmar in 36 years, where he wrote off Myanmar’s debts and announced substantial amounts of new financial aid to the country.
Of course, such diplomatic moves by India and Japan would be provoking to China. A recent commentary in the foreign edition of the People’s Daily said Japan’s proposed “Democratic Security Diamond”, “Values Diplomacy” and “Strategic Diplomacy” have exposed its shallow and parochial diplomacy, and it even likened some Japanese politicians to “petty burglars” when it comes to China-related issues.
Like the US’ pivot back to Asia, the latest round of diplomatic manoeuvring in Asia is to cope with the geopolitical shifts following China’s emergence. As Europe is mired in economic woes, Asia’s role as the engine of the world is becoming even more important. Such paradigm shifts are full of risks as well as opportunities, and only when a new strategic balance takes shape can a stable world order be maintained for the 21st century.
Issued by Translation Department, Media and Research Division (MCI).