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Beijing: Suspicions on Japan-India Security Declaration targeting China

There has so far been no comment at official levels from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the Japan-India Declaration on Security Cooperation, signed at Tokyo on 22 October 2008. Also, in general, the Party and State-controlled media in China have refrained from doing so; the only exception has been a report broadcast by the China Radio International (CRI, Chinese language) in its ‘World News’ programme on 30 October 2008, which was reproduced on the same day in the website (Chinese) of the China International Institute of Strategic Studies. Needless to say that coming from a State agency in China, the views expressed merit a close scrutiny of all powers involved, especially Japan and India.

Captioned “ Japan and India forge military alliance, to attack China both from front and rear”, the report said that the Declaration has provided a systemic and legal guarantee to maintaining and deepening the relation of military cooperation between the two sides. Noting that the signing of the Declaration is of ‘greatest significance’ for both the nations, it pointed out that the Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and his Indian counterpart Singh, did their best on the occasion to adopt a ‘low key’ approach, but despite the same, ‘the mouth of foreign circles’ could not be sealed; these circles paid attention to possible ‘motives’, centering round the question – whether or not the Declaration is directed against a ‘third country’.

The CRI analysis listed three main themes concerning the Declaration: –

  1. Likely new stage in bilateral military cooperation,

  2. Role of China factor and

  3. Implied ‘Quadrilateral Alliance’ notion.

On the first theme, it highlighted the fact that Japan, which already has an alliance with the US, has chosen India as the second country after Australia, for signing a security accord. Quoting “comments”, the report stated that the Declaration would mean operationalisation of mechanisms concerning Japan’s military exchanges with India and in specific, the two sides may start “2 plus 2” talks on lines of a similar framework under which Japan is conducting foreign and defence ministers level discussions with the US and Australia. It added that the Declaration would also guarantee holding of frequent and large-scale joint military exercises between Japan and India.

On the second theme of China factor, the report quoted “Japanese analysts” as saying that Taro Aso, as foreign minister, had promoted the concept of ‘Arc of Freedom and Prosperity’ aimed at ‘restricting’ China, but he is yet to touch upon the same after becoming prime minister; however, he is ‘silently’ working for a similar concept ‘behind the back’ of speeding up of security cooperation with India. The CRI analysis also noted “comments” which acknowledged the assurances of Taro Aso that the Declaration does not target any third country including China as well as the ‘the soft-pedalling’ by Dr Singh on the China factor through his ruling out of any competition between New Delhi and Beijing as ‘the world has given both of them greatest space for their development requirements’. Such “comments” however broadly considered that the ‘intentions’ of Japan and India to target China, have come out ‘absolutely clear’ in the Declaration; in support of such a line, they cited what the ‘Indian Express’ had to say – both sides have expressed in the Declaration that they would jointly deal with ‘new security challenges and threats’, a term which is vague; but in reality, it is a ‘veiled allusion’ to targeting China’s rise.

In support of the third theme of ‘implied Quadrilateral Alliance notion’ in the Declaration, the analysis noted the opinions in this regard of Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The Japanese paper, recalling Taro Aso’s past penchant for alliance of Japan-US-Australia-India democracies to balance the increasing global impact from China’s continuous rise, observed that Tokyo, by roping India into the four-power grouping, aims to make the grouping as nucleus of its ‘value-based diplomacy’. Japan visualises the grouping as a precursor to a ‘four power military alliance’. Nihon Keizai Shimbun at the same time felt the necessity to mention about the increasing concerns in Australia, the US and India over the negative impact that could come if China is angered. Canberra seeks to benefit from its ‘balanced diplomacy’, Washington wants to avoid setback in its relation with Beijing keeping in mind its ‘global strategic interests’ and New Delhi fears that joining the alliance may cause damage to its non-alignment policy. The result as such has been a cautious attitude of the three powers on the question and there is naturally no final word on the ‘Quadrilateral Alliance’ initiative. The Japanese newspaper, nevertheless, felt that after Aso came to power again, Japan’s cooperation with India is getting widened – from active economic aid to signing security declaration now. In its view, this would mean that Tokyo has still not abandoned its efforts to form the alliance; but nothing can be said at this moment about how Japan is going to meet China’s retaliation when it happens.

The outside world so far remains unaware of the outcome of official level discussions, if any, between China and India on the Declaration, when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was in Beijing to attend the ASEM meeting. This further underscores the importance of what has been said now by Beijing for public consumption. Undoubtedly, China, through its authoritative organs appears to be giving an indirect message to Tokyo and New Delhi that their Security Declaration is ‘anti-China’. It is true that the CRI itself has not made any direct comment, but the title given to its report and the way in which the supporting media dispatches were selected, prove Beijing’s intentions, which have obvious implications for future ties of both India and Japan with the PRC. A point of interest is that the Chinese media chose to break their silence on the subject and convey the signal only well after the departure of the Indian leader for home; this can be explained in terms of Chinese diplomatic compulsions for not embarrassing the head of a government, while his visit is in progress.

A key question needs sharper focus – whether or not the CRI suspicions have a bearing on the latest policy trends in China on Japan-India ties. Coming from a major government outfit, taking an affirmative answer may not be wrong. So, the two nations can expect more such media outbursts, some even direct, questioning the alleged ‘anti-China’ motives of Tokyo and New Delhi. At official levels on the other hand, the Chinese may not rock the boat in overall interests and continue to give a measured response to the deepening India-Japan strategic ties. Examples exist in this regard like the criticism of the People’s Daily in China of the Indo-US civil nuclear accord and the PRC’s official denial of any attempt to block the consensus in India’s favour in the Vienna meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, both occurring almost simultaneously. One should not get misled by such differences in the media and official approaches to key international issues, which are only apparent, not real. After all, like in any other country, the national security and foreign policy establishments in China have priorities of their own, which often get translated into their statements and actions. On this account, the former generally finds authoritative think tanks and media handy, while the latter, as it should be, considers diplomacy as its main tool. It is however not to say that the two do not overlap or even clash on occasions. China’s publication of a hard-hitting anti-US article contributed by its former Vice-Premier Qian Qichen just before the start of Bush-II regime and its unexplained withdrawal later could be related to policy clashes. What is crucial is the in-built ability of the Chinese system to integrate the two priorities at some point. The Party Central Committee’s Leading Group on Foreign Affairs may be performing this role. Beijing’s evaluation of Japan-India ties in the aftermath of signing of Security Declaration, both at media and official levels, needs to be seen in this perspective.

(The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India. Email: dsrajan@gmail.com)

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