Mareeg.com- NEW DELHI – Winter is India’s diplomatic high season, with the cool, sunny weather
forming an ideal backdrop for pageantry, photo ops at the Taj Mahal or Delhi’s Red
Fort, and bilateral deal-making. But this winter has been particularly impressive,
with leaders from Japan and South Korea visiting to advance the cause of security
cooperation in Asia.
The first to arrive was South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Despite a strong
economic foundation, the bilateral relationship has long lacked a meaningful
security dimension. But China’s recent assertiveness – including its unilateral
declaration last November of a new Air Defense Identification Zone, which overlaps
about 3,000 square kilometers of South Korea’s own ADIZ, in the Sea of Japan – has
encouraged Park to shore up her country’s security ties with India.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s unpredictable and often provocative policies
represent an additional impetus for improved ties – as do China’s increasingly
visible plans to weaken South Korea’s alliance with the United States. Not
surprisingly, the discussions during Park’s four-day visit focused on grand
strategy, and included detailed talks on maritime security and naval shipbuilding.
Nuclear energy also featured prominently on the agenda, owing to both countries’
dependence on energy imported through dangerous sea-lanes. In 2008, South Korea, as
a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, supported the waiver granting India access
to civilian nuclear technology and fuel from other countries – both of which it had
been denied since becoming a nuclear-weapons power in 1974. Indeed, India’s nuclear
tests are what initially spurred the NSG’s formation. South Korea’s support of
India’s civilian nuclear ambitions earned it high praise in India and helped to
advance bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation.
This budding strategic partnership is undoubtedly important. But when it comes to
the regional balance of power, India’s deepening ties with Japan are even more
While India’s relationship with the United States has been faltering of late,
following the arrest and mistreatment of an Indian consular official in New York,
its ties with Japan are flourishing. The visit last December of Japanese Emperor
Akihito and Empress Michiko was the clearest sign yet of a de facto alliance between
the two democracies.
The imperial couple last visited India more than a half-century ago, as Crown Prince
and Princess, when India was part of the non-aligned movement and Japan was happy
with a security guarantee from the US. But, with China’s rise having shifted Asia’s
balance of power, Indian and Japanese leaders have been seeking new security
assurances, and the visit by the Emperor and Empress was the clearest signal Japan
could send concerning the value it places on this emerging alliance.
The search for greater security was even more explicit in January, when Japanese
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera spent four days in India discussing the specifics
of enhanced defense cooperation. During the meeting, Onodera and his Indian
counterpart affirmed their countries’ intention to “strengthen the Strategic and
Global Partnership between Japan and India,” including “measures ranging from
regular joint-combat exercises and military exchanges to cooperation in anti-piracy,
maritime security, and counter-terrorism.” In fact, later this year, bilateral naval
exercises will be held in Japanese waters for the first time – sending a powerful
signal to China.
But Indo-Japanese relations must extend beyond the realm of security – something
that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has pursued enhanced bilateral ties more
vigorously than any other Japanese leader, seems to grasp. Convinced that a strong
India is in Japan’s best interests, and vice versa, Abe hopes to create a new “arc
of freedom and prosperity” connecting Asia’s two major democratic economies.
While Abe could have done more during his recent visit to India to advance this
vision –for example, by meeting with Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi, who may
become the country’s next prime minister – it seems certain that such a relationship
will be achieved in the coming years. Japan has already surpassed the US as one of
India’s largest sources of foreign direct investment, accounting for inflows
totaling $2.2 billion last year. And the two countries recently tripled their US
dollar currency-swap arrangement, bringing it to $50 billion.
Abe, India’s chief guest at this year’s Republic Day celebrations, also rightly
views enhanced trade as a key element in deepening the bilateral relationship,
thereby contributing to substantially increased security. But bilateral trade
amounted to only $18.4 billion in 2011-2012 – far smaller than India-China trade and
a pittance compared to Japan-China trade.
Even with a significant deepening of ties, however, bilateral relationships alone
will be inadequate to counterbalance China. Achieving an internal Asian balance of
power will require India, Japan, and South Korea to build a tripartite security
arrangement, which can be achieved only if Japanese and South Korean leaders
overcome their historical animosities.
As Winston Churchill declared in his famous 1946 speech in Zurich, “We cannot afford
to drag forward across the years that are to come the hatreds and revenges which
have sprung from the injuries of the past.” Just as France and Germany pursued
reconciliation in order to build a better future in the years following Churchill’s
declaration, Japan and South Korea must learn to tame the hatreds and injuries of
the past in order to build, with India, a structure of peace and a more prosperous
future for Asia.
Jaswant Singh, a former Indian finance minister, foreign minister, and defense
minister, is the author of Jinnah: India – Partition – Independence and India At
Risk: Mistakes, Misconceptions And Misadventures Of Security Policy.