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Emerging axis: Will India add shine to the Democratic Diamond?
Amidst the race to lure nations in its camp in the fast changing geopolitical equations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh  charted a path breaking visit to Japan, sending strong signals to China, whose leaders were obviously perturbed by the developing proximity between India and Japan.

The kind of below the  belt comments that emanated from Beijing, even before the two nations could issue joint statement, describing Japan as petty burglar, was indicative of the nervousness  in the Zhongnanhai , the seat of Chinese power.

Though Japan and India entered into the Global and Strategic partnership in 2006, the two nations sat down with greater sincerity and purpose for the first time to give effect to this resolve, which has the potentials of creating a new strategic equation in the Asia Pacific region.

In the background of the new US policy of Rebalancing Asia or Pivot to Asia, the Chinese PM had embarked on a protocol breaking first overseas trip to India and launched a charm offensive to lure the Indians into its fold.

But only a week later, the Indian Prime Minister landed in Tokyo and very demonstrably conveyed a message to the Chinese and the world powers that India would rather add shine to the Democratic Security Diamond.

Maritime cooperation

It was proposed by Shinzo Abe, who had said “I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the US state of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific. I am prepared to invest, to the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in this security diamond.”

And the statement by the Indian PM added weight to this  strategy “at a time of global uncertainties, change and challenges, India and Japan are natural and indispensable partners for advancing prosperity in our two countries and for a peaceful, stable, cooperative and prosperous future for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.” He also framed the Indo-Pacific as the new axis for cooperation in the region.

Abe had said that China intends to convert the South China Sea into Chinese lake and India has similar concerns relating to South China Sea, hence the two leaders reiterated the commitment of India and Japan to the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This is a formulation not liked by China in relation to the South China Sea.

Thus Manmohan paid a very significant but delayed annual visit to the land of rising sun only after a week of receiving the leader of the Middle Kingdom which is engaged in territorial disputes with all its neighbors including India.

After hearing high sounding rhetorical statements from the Dragon King on Sino-Indian friendship, Indian Prime Minister sat down with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on 29th May, 2013 for a reality check of the ground realities in the Asia Pacific, specifically the South China Sea and assessed the Chinese intent to establish its dominance over the international waters from the Asia Pacific to the Indian Ocean and how it will impact on the mutual strategic interests.

If the recent flurry of very high level visits of top military leaders of Japan and India to each other’s country is any indication of evolving defence and military relations between   the two self proclaimed peace loving nations, the two countries are on a strategic alliance mode.

The statements and the joint declarations of the two nations, whose maritime interests are simultaneously threatened by the Dragon King, gave a clear indication of two countries resolving to fight jointly the hegemonistic intentions of China, without naming the country as such.

With the US Pivot to Asia policy raising alarm in China and the coming together of the  three countries India, US and  Japan on a trilateral dialogue forum and holding regular  annual bilateral military exercises, the visit of Manmohan Singh to Tokyo would further cement the process of jointly standing up to the Chinese aggressive postures.

A beleaguered Japan eager to find new friends to raise its morale in its stand against China, sent clear messages to the Indian strategic establishment that Japan is ready to stand behind India to become an economically and militarily powerful nation.  

Japan has already shed its militaristic inhibitions and for the first time offered to transfer and jointly manufacture an amphibious plane for the Indian military, the first ever such military sales to India. Both the countries have already signed a defence cooperation agreement with the very important provision of technology transfer and are now engaged in joint military exercises for joint operations.

Though neither India nor Japan would come to the rescue of each other in the event of a military conflict or standoff between them and China, each other’s moral support would count much. Though India has not openly lent its support to the Democratic Security Diamond, the formulations on common security concerns in the India-Japan joint statement are enough pointers.

Dialogue process

Accordingly the two countries are engaged in intense dialogue on political,  security and economic issues on the format of Ministerial-level annual dialogues and exchanges, particularly the Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue and the Ministerial Level Economic Dialogue, besides the unique “2 plus 2” dialogue of the foreign and defence secretaries, the Foreign Secretary level Dialogue, the Foreign Office Consultations, the Defence Policy Dialogue, the Trilateral Dialogue between India, Japan and the United States, as well as other key interactions on various areas including cyber, counter-terrorism and economic partnership.

The two countries have also launched the bilateral Maritime Affairs Dialogue, the first meeting of which was held on 29 January 2013 in Delhi.

To give content to the defence and security dialogue the two countries have now given an institutional shape to it and a decision to hold annual bilateral naval exercises is already in place since 2012.

However, the kind of strategic boldness shown by India in 2007 has been diluted and India presently wants to proceed on a bilateral basis with all the partners.

Six years ago, India, US, Japan, Australia and Singapore held a multilateral naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, which drew world attention and ire from the Chinese. Later not only India, other participants also developed cold feet and the idea of a quadrilateral alliance proposed by Australia was dropped.

Now this proposal has been rehashed by the Japanese Prime Minister in the name of a Democratic Security Diamond and it is yet to be seen if India openly comes out in support of this in view of ongoing high level engagement with China.

However, the Joint Statement has welcomed the expanding defence relations between the two countries based on the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation between India and Japan, signed in October, 2008, under which the first bilateral exercise between the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force was held in June 2012 off the coast of Japan and decided to conduct such exercises on a regular basis with increased frequency.

To show its resolve that India will exercise the right of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the Indian Navy despatched four of its frontline warships to the maritime area, through which they will pay port calls to Malaysia, Vietnam and Philippines, all of whom are engaged in a bitter wrangle with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

By signing the Security Cooperation agreement with India in 2008 Japan has already put India on par with US and Australia as Japan’s top three security partners.

Under the umbrella of this agreement India and Japan will consider it as their duty to ensure peace, security and prosperity in Asia. The Manmohan-Abe talks have further reinforced this commitment.