Thursday 18th of April 2024

All Weather Friend India and Japan join forces Against China Project
Angus Grigg
Region : AsiaSouthEast Asia/India, Japan,
Issue : Conflict Resolution, Cyber Warfare, Energy Security, Security,
Japan and India have formed a new partnership to push back against China's increasingly assertive foreign policy stance, further complicating Australia's regional diplomacy as Canberra seeks to maintain close economic ties with Beijing while fostering security groupings with fellow democracies.
The new coalition will initially involve New Delhi and Tokyo teaming up to deliver infrastructure and aid projects to Africa, in what is being viewed as a direct challenge to China's $1 trillion New Silk Road initiative in Central Asia. But the new agreement also forms part of the so called "Indo-Pacific freedom corridor" championed by Japan and India as an alternative to China's often dogmatic diplomatic posture.
It also aims to curb Beijing's growing influence not just in Asia but across the Indian Ocean and Africa at a time of heightened strategic rivalry.
"China has sought to outflank Indian and Japanese interests in its economic and strategic networks and now they are pushing back," said Rory Medcalf, the head of the National Security College at the Australian National University.
"Japan and India are now engaged in a strategic and economic great game with China, and we should not assume they lack staying power." The new partnership between New Delhi and Tokyo effectively divides the region and will force Australia to be increasingly nimble in its foreign policy outlook. While Canberra naturally leans toward fellow democracies, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has championed the idea of the Indo-Pacific region over the Asia-Pacific, the federal government is limited in how close it can get to this new grouping given its reliance on China for trade and investment.
"Beijing will see this for what it is: an anti-China coalition so there will be some caution in Canberra," said Andrew O'Neil, a professor of political science at the Griffith Business School and a former Defence Department official.
"My sense is that Australia will continue to hedge [on foreign policy] simply because of the China factor." This so called "engage and hedge" strategy with Beijing has seen Australia provide cautious support for China's Belt & Road (New Silk Road) Initiative, while at the same time pushing for new security groupings in the region.
To the surprise of many, the Turnbull Government has thrown its support behind a Japanese initiative to re-establish a security dialogue between the US, India, Japan and Australia.
This grouping, known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, was formed during the Bush Administration but scrapped by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, after much criticism from China - which saw it as an effort to contain its rise.

Mr Medcalf from the ANU said re-establishing this group was not imminent, but it had largely been achieved by "stealth", given the web of overlapping bilateral and trilateral security dialogues in the region. "The Tokyo-New Delhi axis may be the most important new alignment forming in Asia - at least as consequential as the China-Russia one, and certainly based on greater mutual trust," he said.
"Such joint strategic initiatives by Asia's largest democracy and its most developed one give the lie to claims that the future of the region is all about China or about US-China rivalry."
While Tokyo and New Delhi have been growing closer in recent years, their relationship was formalised in 2015 when Japan joined the US and India as permanent members of the Malabar naval exercises. Australia is seeking to join this grouping, where it has previously held non-permanent membership.
But it has been India's strident opposition to China's Belt and Road Initiative which appears to have pushed the two countries closer together, helped by the relationship between Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi. "India very publicly distanced itself from, if not openly questioned, China's motives around OBOR [Belt & Road]," said Nick Bisley, a professor of international relations at La Trobe University.
"Modi and Abe have also hit it off. They not only see each other as having a lot of common interests, but also shared middle power leadership." Mr O'Neil said forming the partnership had an added sense of urgency given the Trump Administration's erratic foreign policy stance and early suggestions it may be less engaged in the region. "There would be a great deal of anxiety in Tokyo about the US alliance," he said.
India's opposition to the OBOR is mainly due to China's duchessing of Pakistan and building of roads and ports for New Delhi's long-time rival.
Partly in protest at what it sees as China interfering in its neighbourhood, India did not send a delegation to the Belt & Road Forum held in Beijing earlier this month.
In announcing the new partnership for Africa, India and Japan stressed "quality infrastructure" would be developed and it "would remain in harmony with the local environment, community, and people's livelihoods". China has often been accused, particularly in Africa, of hastily approving and executing projects which have angered local communities and were of varying quality.
This article originally appeared in the Financial Review
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FORE INDIA

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