“In a world dominated by major superpower like the US and emerging ones like China and Japan, it appears that the developing states come into bilateral or multilateral relationships with preeminent powers with the sole purpose of acquiring greater security. But the general purpose of multilateralism and the rule of law for the US has been to provide indemnity to the weak,” said Dr. Brian Lee Crowley, the Managing Director of Macdonald-Laurier Institute while delivering a talk on May 16 at Observer Research Foundation. The presentation was moderated by Mr. Abhijeet Singh, Head of the Maritime Policy Initiative at ORF.
Dr. Crowley’s talk was about the potential for an India-Japan partnership in maritime Asia, increasingly under threat from China. As a high growth economy and a population behemoth, India, he noted, must collaborate with Japan, the world’s third largest economy, a technology, finance and business process powerhouse and a country whose economic energy has already been the powerful hand behind the rise of any Southeast Asian states.
For Dr. Crowley, China is increasingly yesterday’s story, with an economy fast losing steam (notwithstanding the One Belt One Road Project), and an ageing population. From Canada’s vantage point, he noted, India looked like it was gathering positive momentum every day — especially in the able leadership of its dynamic Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With an insatiable appetite for investment and increasing self-confidence, India had all reason to enter into a partnership with Japan that seemed fully willing to deploy its business, diplomatic and political weight behind India.
Talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Dr. Crowley said that if America was going to abandon the trade deal, Tokyo and Delhi should be ready to pick up the baton. Washington, he noted, was remiss in not considering the strategic considerations of the TPP. The trade deal was the economic foundation of a burgeoning alliance among Pacific Rim countries seeking to create a unified counterweight to China’s growing regional power. The point was not to oppose China’s rise, but to create an institutional architecture to magnify the power of democratic countries under the rule of law and give them the collective bargaining power to ensure that China could not just bully its way to regional dominance. China, Dr. Crowley remarked, clearly loves to deal one-on-one with other countries, because it is always the 800 lb gorilla at the table.
That is also why bilateral trade deals around the region, Dr. Crowley noted, are no substitute for the TPP. Countries like Canada need a new grand strategic vision of what a well-managed Pacific region looks like that can stand toe-to-toe with China. By far the best centre of gravity for such a deal is the Japan-India axis.
According to Dr. Crowley, the Japanese have been thinking about a long term partnership with India before Donald Trump’s rise to power. As far back as 2012, Mr. Abe was touting the idea of a Democratic Security Diamond “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.”
Dr. Crowley brought out that the inspiration behind the TPP was to create an institutional structure to stand toe-to-toe with China. It was meant to be a structure of like-minded Indo-Pacific countries, seeking to counter the negative impact of China’s rising power in Asia (military, security and diplomatic). The tension in the South China Sea, however, made clear that an institutional architecture of collective security in the region was missing. Beijing’s unilateral claim on South China Sea and establishments of artificial islands with military capability according to the Nine-Dash Line led to protests by Chinese neighbours, who also claim some part of the sea. Yet, nothing that the ASEAN community has been able to do has helped change China’s behaviour.
Dr. Crowley put forward the question of who or what can fill that leadership vacuum and help Indo-Pacific manage China’s rise calmly, yet firmly in the interest of multilateralism in the rule of law. Under the circumstances, he said, the only solution for countries in the Indo-Pacific is to situate their relationship with Beijing under multilateral arrangements.
An interesting aspect of the debate is China’s relationship with Pakistan. Against the backdrop of its border disputes with India, Dr. Crowley noted China’s close relationship with Pakistan, and efforts by Beijing to use Islamabad to undermine India. On development, he noted that India’s record was superior to China. New Delhi had shown consistent economic growth, a stable economy, balanced population and political stability for deep economic reforms. Of course, the country has a long way to go, but these initiatives taken, by the Narendra Modi Government, seemed encouraging.
Japan too, Dr. Crowley observed, has its own strengths. A technologically advanced nation, Japan has the third largest economy in the world and Tokyo is one of the three financial capitals. It is also deploying impressive business, diplomatic and political weight behind India, deepening the bilateral ties between them. PM Modi’s visit to Tokyo in 2016 in which he called out China’s aggressive behaviour in Asia, was an indication of concerns in New Delhi over Beijing’s rising assertiveness.
Finally, Dr. Crowley brought out the need for India to have a close relationship with the US, which remains the most powerful state in the Indo-Pacific. The strengthening of two strong democratic nations, India and the US, as also the establishment of a network of ties with other countries with similar aspirations can help counterbalance the power of China in Asia.
This report was prepared by Wini Fred Gurung, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.