Jai (Japan India) axis with eye on China

modiabe2-kPLI--621x414@LiveMint
Charu Sudan Kasturi

The Telegraph Calcutta

15th September 2017

 

Isaac GomesNote: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and our Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew up a masterplan of collaboration on various fronts in the Indian Subcontinent including Africa and North Korea, to jointly build up an alternative axis to counter China in its ambitious expansionism. Both showed their keenness in pulling their resources and strategies, including investment in North-east India where China is trying its "salami slicing" policy. 

As India's foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said, while speaking to reporters: "Both country-to-country, and Prime Minister-to-Prime Minister, this is a very substantive relationship".

Let us hope this relationship crystallises and survives the test of time, putting a spanner on China's overt and covert expansionism.  Isaac Gomes, Church Citizens Voice). 

  

A file picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on-board the Shinkansen bullet trainNew Delhi, Sept. 14: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe today expanded the arena of their common challenge to China, ranging from Africa to North Korea, with a rare, point-by-point, tag-team pitch as an alternative axis in the region.

Abe, the last of Modi's original international friends still in office, pandered to the Indian leader's penchant for anagrams stuffed with rhetoric by describing the bilateral relationship as "Jai Japan, Jai India", where "jai" – victory – was short for Japan-India.

Two hours after the Japanese Prime Minister's effort at pleasing his Indian counterpart at the launch of a project to build India's first high-speed train financed by a cheap loan from Tokyo, Modi returned the favour, calling Abe "my one-of-a-kind friend".

But while New Delhi's public diplomacy – and Modi's in particular – often resorts to hyperbole on key relations, Thursday marked the tightest handshake yet between their geopolitical strategies, with shared concerns about China at the centre.

Abe, in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar for two days to attend an annual summit with the Indian Prime Minister, and Modi both take pride in standing up to Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing is locked in territorial spats with multiple capitals.

The two leaders today expanded the canvas of their common front against growing Chinese influence from Africa, where they declared plans to pool resources and strategies, to the Korean Peninsula, where both demanded that North Korea stand down from its military threats.

India and Japan have over the past five years jointly criticised China for its unilateral takeover of disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. On Thursday, they added fresh arrows to their quiver – taking potshots at Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative and its shield for Pakistan-based terrorists from UN sanctions, and promising increased Japanese investments in Indian's north-east, which borders China.

"Both country-to-country, and Prime Minister-to-Prime Minister, this is a very substantive relationship," foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said, speaking to reporters in Gandhinagar after the Modi-Abe talks.

The two Prime Ministers had spent over two hours together yesterday: an open-jeep ride from Ahmedabad airport, time at Sabarmati Ashram and the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque, and over a terrace dinner.

Today, Modi, who had made clear early in his premiership that he values "personal chemistry" with world leaders, visited Dandi Kutir – a museum on Gandhi – with Abe, after the two Prime Ministers had inaugurated work on the construction of a high-speed rail link to connect Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

That show of bonhomie was expected. In his first year as Prime Minister, Modi – who was chief minister of Gujarat till then – often appeared trapped in his earlier role, his confidence carrying him through blunders and limited subjects of conversation beyond his home state. But he did forge close friendships with select seasoned world leaders who, he has admitted to aides, helped him understand how to navigate complex multilateral settings.

Among those world leaders were Abe, America's Barack Obama, Australia's Tony Abbott and Canada's Stephen Harper. Barring Abe, the others no longer occupy office.

But the camaraderie between Modi and the tired-looking Abe was also mirrored in the diplomatic discussions between their teams – and their public commitments.

"Belief and trust, respect for each other's interests and concerns and regular, high-level contact – that's the specialty of India-Japan relations," Modi said, speaking after his meeting with Abe.

The meeting between Modi and Abe was their 10th in all, but their first since the resolution of the Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers. Jaishankar suggested that the word "Doklam" wasn't specifically mentioned, but that the two teams did discuss the crisis during an evaluation of regional security challenges.

The two countries, maritime security partners for some years now, agreed to deepen cooperation between their armies and air forces – Japan's military wings are formally known as "self-defence forces", in keeping with its pacifist post-World War II constitution.

As is the diplomatic norm, neither leader mentioned China by name in public – nor did the joint statement India and Japan issued at the end of the Modi-Abe meeting.

But the pointed nature of the consensus that Modi and Abe articulated as their shared vision made clear that their partnership now centres on a common goal, described in their joint statement's title: "Toward a Free, Open and Prosperous Indo-Pacific."

As part of that goal, they iterated their demand that all countries respect the freedom of navigation and overflight – and behave in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas – in the Indo-Pacific. In international diplomacy, that demand has become a proxy for criticism of China's attempts at unilaterally claiming swathes of contested seas.

For India and Japan to commit to working together in securing the channels of maritime trade from any threat isn't new. But today they went further. Japan joined India in a thinly veiled criticism of China's BRI, a connectivity initiative that aims to bind Asia, Africa and Europe through a web of highways, railroads and ports.

India has opposed the BRI because a key corridor of the project passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. But New Delhi has also objected to Beijing's model for connectivity projects, built on what critics argue are opaque plans that ignore ecological concerns and rely on unsustainable loans that create a debt trap. Tokyo joined that criticism today.

"The two Prime Ministers also underlined the importance of all countries ensuring the development and use of connectivity infrastructure in an open, transparent and non-exclusive manner based on international standards and responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment," their joint statement said.

India and Japan have traditionally pursued parallel outreaches to Africa – India holds the India-Africa Forum Summit and Japan the Tokyo International Conference on African Development. The conclaves serve as platforms for India and Japan to commit investments, aid and political support to African nations, at a time China has emerged the continent's largest trade partner and a key investor.

Modi and Abe today agreed to coordinate those two platforms – to collectively take on Chinese influence they can't balance individually. "The focus was on how we mesh what have till now been two autonomous approaches towards Africa," Jaishankar said.

The two countries set up an "India-Japan Act East Forum" to step up cooperation in the northeastern states, including in Arunachal Pradesh, where even proposals of Japanese projects have in the past irked China, which also claims parts of that state.

Modi backed Abe on his concerns about North Korea's provocations – a series of missile and nuclear tests and bombastic threats. But the two countries also criticised China, which along with Pakistan is believed to have facilitated North Korea's nuclear programme.

"They stressed the importance of holding accountable all parties that have supported North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes," the joint statement said.

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