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Japan-China Relationship: The QUAD – Part Three; By Subramanyam Sridharan

Updated: Feb 14, 2023


Image Courtesy: Lowy Institute

Article 26/2021


Japan is the progenitor of the QUAD. There is an almost 1500-year-old civilizational history for Japan to be wary of China and seek alliances for containing it. Japan’s effort to conquer China and establish its own security from its massive neighbor started in the mid-Sixteenth century, took a strong turn with the absorption of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the early Seventeenth century, proceeded with the defeat of China in the late nineteenth century, and ended with Japan ruling China in the first half of the Twentieth century preceded by the capture of Manchuria.  The defeat of the massive Chinese military in the Korean peninsula in c. 1895 eventually led to the demise of the 2500-year-old imperial dynastic rule of China and the eventual takeover of China by Imperial Japan during World War II. The ‘enduring enmity between these two nations is the longest in the world’s history and has taken different forms in modern times. The India-Japan proximity, the various forms of closeness between the USA and Japan in terms of security treaty alliance, trade and economics, and diplomacy, and the fast-growing partnership between India and the USA lead them naturally through the QUAD to an alliance against their common security threat, China. This Issue Brief explores these aspects extensively.


Is China a Nation or a State?

China has not only the largest number of land borders for any nation – with 14 countries – but also maritime borders with many nations. But, even after seventy-five years after the last foreign occupant left (Japan in 1945), there are still unresolved boundary disputes with almost all neighbouring countries.


China not only claims the entire South China Sea (SCS is increasingly being referred to as Indo-China Sea, or ICS, in tune with changing circumstances. We will see the reasons for this emerging nomenclature in Part 6.) but it also wants others to obey its unilateral laws and dictums there. Even though the UN’s UNCLOS Arbitration Tribunal has struck down completely in c. 2016 such Chinese claims while arbitrating on the complaint by the Philippines, China has totally ignored the ruling claiming that it is only bilateral treaties that matter and is conducting itself there as it deems fit. It bans the oil and gas exploration activities of the other littoral states of the SCS (or, ICS) even in their own EEZs. It bans fishing activities. It either sinks those trawlers who violate its dictum by deliberately ramming them with its Coast Guard ships or drives them away with its maritime militia. It also claims the Natuna Sea which is over 1200 nautical miles from the nearest Chinese shore.


Apart from India (Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Shaksgam Valley) and SCS disputes, China has a plethora of disputes like its claims over the Russian Far East, over islands belonging to Japan and Korea in the East China Sea, and with Bhutan, Nepal, Laos, Mongolia, and Myanmar. This is the attitude of an Emperor who thinks that whatever he sets his sights on belongs to him. That is the reason why an Empire’s boundaries could never be fixed permanently. This applies to China too. This was the third Imperial philosophy of China, namely that the Chinese Emperor was responsible for everything under the Sun (tianxia), an extension of the other two namely, ‘Middle Kingdom’ (zhongguo), and that the Chinese Emperor was chosen by the Heavens to rule the world (tianzi). Even the First Constituent Assembly that was constituted by President Yuan Shikai who brought to an end the Qing dynasty in 1912, was held in the ‘Temple of the Heaven’ where the Qing Emperors used to pray to the Heavenly God. The Socialist political leader and the ‘Father of Modern China’, Sun Yat-sen too constructed his offices in Nanjing as a replica of the ‘Temple of Heaven’ in faraway Beijing. Even Mao Zedong announced the establishment of the People’s Republic of China from the supposed gates of Heaven, the Tiananmen Gate. These could be mere symbolism, but we cannot underestimate their significance in the Chinese context. That these three Imperial ideas also form the cornerstone of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to whose ideologies are diametrically opposite, shows the depth of the Chinese ‘strategic culture’. In recent times, China has started claiming the north-western states of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan too as belonging to it.


The Westphalia Peace Treaty of c. 1648 between the Holy Roman Empire and other European countries laid the foundations for what we today know as the ‘Nation-State’. A Nation is linked by its common history, culture, and race. On the other hand, a State is defined by its geographical borders and its sovereignty. A Nation-State is a convergence of these two ideas. Unfortunately, some states do not exhibit these twin characteristics. Even if some countries are not Nations, they at least remain as States (notwithstanding minor border issues). Some are neither a Nation nor a State. An example is Pakistan.


Pakistan has serious land border disputes with both India and Afghanistan. Its borders with China are tentative because they belong to India. In c. 1971, it lost one-half of its land area and more than one-half of its population due to the secession of Bangladesh. Therefore, the borders and sovereignty of this country are not fixed yet. As a nation, it has far more serious issues. Since all its national characteristics trace directly from the several millennia-old Indian civilization, Pakistan has been trying assiduously to introduce different characteristics into its population since the time of Jinnah. An example is its various claims that its population migrated from Turkey or West Asia, even as modern-day Pakistan is the place for millennia-old Indus and Harappan civilizations and has such places as Taxila which were famous Hindu and Buddhist centers of learning. It is obvious that the introduction of new ‘national characteristics’ cannot be done easily. This has led to Pakistan’s famous ‘Identity Crisis’. Most countries of the world continue to be States even if they were not completely Nations.


A China which describes its relationship with Pakistan in such romantic terms as, ‘sweeter than the sweetest honey’, ‘deeper than the deepest ocean’, ‘redder than the reddest rose’ has also not become a Nation-State just like its true friend, Pakistan.


Until recently, the state did not have a name for itself. In the Chinese language, zhongguo denoted the ‘Middle Kingdom’ and it connoted the state. There is another term that is also used to denote the nation, huaxia, which means ‘a civilized society’. The closest approximation to a nation-state is the combination of these two terms that China uses to denote itself, zhonghua. Therefore, the Republic of China refers to itself in Chinese language as zhonghua minguo. But since a vast swathe of territories has only been dubiously integrated with China, one cannot consider China as a State. It either refuses to define the boundaries or stakes claims over lands belonging to other States, thus leading to ill-defined borders.


Is China a nation, zhonghua minzu? The last Qing Emperor who abdicated in favour of the emerging Republicanism referred to China as the “lands of the five races—Manchu, Han, Mongol, Hui, and Tibetan—which shall combine to form the great Republic of China’. Since these races have not been assimilated in a Han China, the nation’s contours are incomplete. Until now, China has five Autonomous Regions. Though China has much diversity in terms of races such as Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, Manchurians, Hui Muslims, and Dai people, it has thrust its Chinese language, Han culture, and history on these peoples and has been trying now for decades to make it appear as one nation. China officially recognizes 55 ethnic minorities apart from the Han majority. Mao Zedong’s Long March to save the Communist rebels from the Guomindang Army passed essentially through the minorities regions of Hui, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Mongols, which were only loosely coupled with China, until it reached Yan’an in the north. During the Long March, Mao Zedong promised to safeguard the rights of these minorities when the CCP came to power. But it was observed only in the breach, not in practice.


President Xi Jinping is allowing an unprecedented intrusion of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in all walks of life. Is China becoming a Party-State (paidui,guo), the only one with such a characterization in the world, rather than a nation-state?


Why does China function like this? The reasons for this are the four fundamental approaches by the Chinese Communist Party. They are, the need to firmly integrate the peripheral areas of China namely Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia, and the far-east with the inner Han-core; the need to make the CCP as the only party to rule China forever; the need to recover areas that China believes it lost; and, to recover the lost ancient glory of China and re-establish it as the only pre-eminent power in the world. These four processes have been continuing since 1949. It is clear that even if another type of governance, other than communism, takes over China, the other three approaches would continue.


We will see in the following sections how these are all reflected in the Japan-China relationship.

Ancient Japan-China Relationship

Since Japan is the second nation in the Quad and since it seeded the idea too, it is especially important to understand Japan-China history.


Before we see this, we go back in history to look at Japan’s own historical developments. The Chinese believe that the Japanese are the descendants of a group of Hans who were sent East by the first Emperor of Unified China, who was also known as the Yellow Emperor and who has later been deified in China, Qin Shihuang Di in 220 BCE  in search of a mountain known as ‘Penglai’, that accorded ‘Immortality’, and who later settled down in what is today’s Japan. Though Japan was a tribute-paying country to China early on, like Korea (known as Ghoryeo) and Vietnam (known as Annam), things changed during the Japanese Empress Suiko’s rule in the seventh century CE. Japan began to call itself as ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’ and China as ‘The Land of the Setting Sun’. They denoted themselves as Emperors and direct descendants of the Sun Goddess. These clearly attempted measures to shun the Tributary status and equate themselves with China. Besides, such formulations also revolted against the three Chinese Imperial concepts of zhongguo, tianzi and tianxia and were therefore decried by the Chinese as sacrileges.


Later, the Japanese Emperor Yamato requested his Chinese counterpart the Tang Emperor (Tang Dynasty, 618-907 CE), who succeeded the Sui dynasty (589-618 CE), to address Japan as ‘Nihon’ meaning ‘Origin of the Sun’, rather than the usual Chinese practice of referring it as ‘the bent country’. Like the Chinese who believe in an extraterrestrial Heavenly appointment to rule the world, the Japanese Emperors believe in their supposed extraterrestrial lineage from the Sun Goddess. During the 13th Century Mongolian Rule of China, the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE), China sent naval flotilla twice to Japan to compel them to pay the tributes. On both occasions, Japan emerged victorious. Later, Japan refused to pay any tributes to the Ming Emperors (Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644 CE) also. In c. 1369, the Japanese Prince, replying to the threat from the Ming Emperor that Japan should face the might of the Chinese Army if they failed to pay tributes, said, “My small country also has plans on how to defend itself”.


In the mid-seventeenth Century, by a quirk of fate, the Ming Emperor sought the support of the Japanese Emperor to thwart the attacks by the Manchus (Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911 CE) from the far east as they began to overrun the Ming forces. Japan rejected the request. In c. 1894, the Qing Empire’s Beiyang Northern Fleet, which boasted of modern Krupp-naval gun fitted imported dreadnoughts from the UK and Germany, had tasted a massive defeat in the Yalu River Battle (Yellow Sea) which itself came a day after the Chinese army had been vanquished in the land war in Korea. The Yalu River defeat came about because of Chinese cowardice, corruption, and confusing orders from the Emperor.  It is considered as one of the greatest victories of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Though China held Japan as its vassal for some time, it could not retain the status for long as the rough seas, distance and Japan’s geography did not favour the Chinese the way they favoured Chinese dominance over Vietnam and Korea. These factors helped the Japanese develop a confidence in them that they were no inferior to the Chinese after all.


Japan-China Relationship in the Nineteenth Century

Japan which had been ruled for long by Emperors just like Han China, fell to Samurai warriors in the Seventeenth century which led to the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Samurai Shogun rulers had placed severe restrictions on the entry of foreign ships into Japanese ports, a restriction much severer than what the Ming Emperors had implemented in China. In the 19th century, the US Navy had begun to establish the US hegemony in the Pacific. The US Naval Commander Admiral Mathew Perry in pursuit of that goal, arrived in Japan in c. 1853 and ordered the ports to be opened for American naval units. The Shogun rulers had to accede to that demand. However, they were soon impressed with the capabilities of the American forces and wanted to develop similarly, using the Americans as the model. The US and Japan signed a trade treaty in c. 1858. Many European states followed suit. In the Boshin Civil War of c. 1867, the last of the Shogun ruler, Tokugawa Yoshinobu was removed from power and, the seven-hundred-year rule of the Samurai warriors came to an end (one of their sects was Tokugawa Shogunate), and the old Empire which claims lineage from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami, was re-instated in c. 1869. As is the custom in Japan, the era of the new Emperor was denoted as ‘Meiji’ and the period of the reign of the new Emperor has been denoted as the ‘Meiji Restoration Period’.


The Meiji Emperor built the famous Yasukuni temple to commemorate those who laid down their lives in the Civil War. The Shinto priests have enshrined in the Yasukuni temple the spirits of these dead people, known in Japanese language as kami. This temple enshrines within itself almost two-and-a-half million Japanese who died for the country. The Yasukuni Temple also enshrines, controversially, the kami of the 14 Class-A War Criminals of Japan who were declared so by the International Military Tribunal after finding them to be responsible for large-scale massacre and violation of human rights in World War II. Like all his predecessor Prime Ministers from his LDP, Shinzo Abe used to visit the Yasukuni Temple. Once he even sent a message to an annual event that remembers the 14 Class-A War Criminals of Japan, praising them as the ‘foundation of the nation’. Having suffered at the hands of the Japanese soldiers, the Chinese object strongly whenever a top Japanese leader visits the Yasukuni Temple to pay their respects. This temple is a source of the Japan-China tensions.


The Meiji era laid the foundations for the dramatic developments of Japan. It is as similar to the Chinese growth that we have witnessed in the last thirty years. Japan’s gross domestic product increased threefold in a short span of fifteen years from 1885 to 1899. Japan became a strong economic powerhouse in that short period. The American support for Japan’s phenomenal growth in the late Nineteenth century was similar to how the US and Japan helped China grow in the late Twentieth century. The Japanese, like the Chinese of today, became a manufacturing hub for the world. Another great similarity between Japan and China has been their hostility towards the US. Just like China showing it within forty years of the US help, the Japanese also did the same within the next forty years. The Pearl Harbour Attack in about forty years and the two nuclear bomb attacks by the USA on Japan in 1945 are phenomenal events in Japan-USA history.


In the middle of the Nineteenth Century, there were great geopolitical changes happening in that region. After China had imposed a ban on importing opium, the British had gone to war with the Qing Empire and had defeated them twice (1839-42 and 1856-60). The French and the Russian Tsar Empire had also joined hands with the British. The island of Hong Kong was ceded to the British by the Chinese. In the East, the Chinese were forced to cede with certain coastal territories to the Tsar. The Russians built a spanking new port named ‘Vladivostok’ there. We will see later how this increased proximity of the Russian Tsar Empire caused insecurity to the Japanese and how that caused even greater problems and sealed the fate for the Chinese. In c. 1860, Britain and France let loose a reign of terror in Beijing where they destroyed the Summer Palace (Yuánmíng Yuán) of the Chinese Emperor. All these geopolitical changes happening around it caused immense insecurity for Japan.


In the midst of all these, Japan felt that the only way that it could reduce its sense of insecurity would be by occupying the Korean Peninsula. This has been thought among the strategic community of Japan for a long time. As far back as c. 1592, Japan had attacked Korea in order to capture China. The Japanese Shogun King (daimyo) had planned to attack China by first capturing the Korean peninsula and using it as a staging ground. In a war that happened in fits and jerks until 1598, the end result was a stalemate. Korea was at that time still a tributary of China. Japan was therefore waiting with strategic patience for a chance to subjugating Korea. The 1885 revolt in Korea came as a God-sent gift to the Japanese to intervene there. The Japanese forces sent in 1895 defeated the Chinese. The Imperial Japanese Navy which had achieved a remarkable victory against the Beiyang Fleet of China only a few months earlier at Yalu River, once again comprehensively defeated the Chinese Navy at Weihaiwei in February 1895.


The Chinese feared that with the Shandong peninsula in the south and the Liaodong Peninsula in the northern Liaoning province now firmly in the grip of the Japanese, they could mount a pincer attack on Beijing. This led to the Shimonoseki Peace Treaty in c. 1895. According to the Shimonoseki Treaty, China agreed to release Korea from its dominance and accord it full freedom, agreed to cede permanently Formosa (Taiwan) and Liaodong Peninsula (in Manchuria) including the Dalian Port to Japan, allow several Chinese ports as an entrepot for the Japanese traders, and announced Japan as its Most Favoured Nation.  Even from this agreement, the Ryukyu Islands belong to Japan, but China claims otherwise saying, as usual, that the Shimonoseki Treaty was forced upon it unequally. The victory of 1895 raised the prestige of Japan significantly.


In between, the French Navy had destroyed the Nanyang Southern Fleet of the Chinese in a mere half-a-day to take over Vietnam from under Chinese control. The defeat in the hands of the tiny Japan triggered several revolutionary changes in Imperial China. For example, the tortuous and difficult examination system that had been in vogue for hundreds of years to select the bureaucrats and officials of the Empire was given up. Two revolutionary thinkers Kang Youwei and Liao Qichao laid the foundation for these changes. The Japanese Meiji Emperor implemented the Constitution and the Parliament in Japan thereby becoming the first Asian state to accept democracy. These influenced many thinkers in China also and both Kang Youwei and Liao Qichao were such products. But these ‘Hundred Day Reforms’ quickly ended in disaster, the Emperor Guangxu was imprisoned and his mother the Dowager Empress Yahanara Cixi seized power. It can be said that it was the 1895 defeat at the hands of the Japanese that led to the demise of the Qing Empire and the end of the 3000-year-old dynastic Imperial rule in China.


Let us return to 1895. But, within six days, the Russian Tsar Emperor took over Manchuria from Japan with the help of the Western Powers France and Germany. This angered the Japanese and laid the foundation for a chain of disastrous events later on. Japan had long desired Korea to be a buffer between itself and China. The Russian Empire which entered Manchuria in c. 1900 was not agreeable to such an idea. The Tsar Empire which was in the process of expanding its empire both in the south and the east was unresponsive to the frequent Japanese requests to peacefully delineate their respective spheres of influence.  Like their expansion in southern Asia which was known as the ‘Great Game’, the Tsars were expanding in the east too. This is where the British who were anxiously watching the Russian expansion in the south came to Japan’s rescue. Japan could now capture Korea in c. 1910. In the meantime, Spain conceded the control of the Philippines to the USA after it had been defeated in c. 1898 by the US Navy in the Caribbean Sea. The dominance of the US in Western Pacific became a threat to both Imperial China and Imperial Japan.


Japan-China Relationship Until the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century

The takeover of Manchuria by Russia with coercive help extended by European powers not only angered the Japanese but made them feel more insecure. The boundary dispute between Japan and Russia over the Kuril Islands has continued to this day. Russia has remained a security threat for the Japanese until today. The Japanese executed a meticulously planned attack in c. 1904 on Port Arthur (today’s Dalian) in Manchuria and defeated the mighty Russian army too. Though the Trans-Siberian Railway had been built and though the Russian fleet was sent all the way from the Baltic to Japan, the Tsar Empire was routed thoroughly in this war by the Japanese Army and the Navy. Japan began to be viewed as an incredibly powerful country after this. The Japanese had a major grouse with the Western countries which had earlier helped the Tsar Empire to wrest Manchuria from Japanese hands. It was a major reason for Japan carrying out an audacious attack on Pearl Harbour which then led to the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan by the USA. The Pearl Harbour attack was based on the Japanese lessons from the earlier wars with China, Korea, and Russia, namely, attack when least expected, attack first, and attack massively.


In the meantime, during the first decade of the twentieth century, the Han began to despise the Qing dynastic rulers. Firstly, they were aliens, secondly the belief that the massive defeat they experienced at Japanese hands was because of the Qing rulers, and thirdly their belief that it was the incompetence of the Qing rulers that led to Korea, Ryukyu, and Annam (the earlier name for modern-day Vietnam) be grabbed by Japan and France respectively. The secretive organization that revolutionaries like Sun Yat-sen created, propagated the idea that the alien ‘Tatar Manchu barbarians must be driven away, and China restored to the Chinese’ (quchu dalu, haifu zhonghua). The reference to dalu (pronounced halu) is derogatory to the Manchus. Liang Qichao created a new awakening among the Chinese with his articles from the USA and Japan where he had exiled himself. He spoke of how there was no name for their country (China was a name given by foreigners while internally it was known by the names of the dynasties that ruled, for example, Da Qing Guo, the Great Qing Empire), and how the dual construct of country-family (guo,jia) must be changed to country-people (guo,min) in order to regain the lost glory of the nation etc. These thoughts strengthened the case for republicanism in China. The Han Chinese were convinced that it was the Japanese who were responsible for the loss of the Chinese glory notwithstanding the incompetence of the alien rulers.


In 1912, republicanism took central stage in China. Early in the First World War, Japan allied with the British and the French, captured the German territories in China’s North-east such as Tianjin, Kiautschou Bay (Shandong Province) and gave China 21 demands and China was forced to accede to them as it had been considerably weakened by the last days of the Qing Empire, the wars and occupation thrust on it by Western nations, and the failed attempt by General Yuan Shikai for a novel ‘Constitutional Monarchy’ arrangement of rule. These Japanese demands gave it several concessions in China just as the Western nations had got earlier. This led to bitterness in China against the Japanese, something that has endured to this day. Some young Communists in China felt that the time was ripe for a Communist revolution in a country whose people have been disenchanted with both imperialism and the nascent republicanism. They started the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in c. 1921 with the help of the worldwide Comintern movement which was controlled by the Soviet Union. Though they initially worked with the Guomindong of Chiang Kai-shek, under the compulsion of the Comintern, soon there was an ideological split between the two in c. 1929. Chiang Kai-shek, who was waiting for an opportunity, started eliminating the Communists.


In the meantime, in c. 1934, the Japanese Emperor ordered that Japan had to be consulted by China before taking any political decision. As the Communist rebels under Mao Zedong were in a civil war against a government led by the Kuomintang, it became easier for the Japanese to occupy large swathes of China in c. 1937 (the Second Sino-Japan War), adding to Manchuria which it had already captured in c. 1931. Japan had completely captured the rest of Manchuria in 1931, in addition to what it had captured earlier in c. 1895 and 1904 such as Liaodong, Shenyang, and the old Manchu capital of Mukden. It had also cleverly appointed the then six-year old Qing Emperor, Puyi, who abdicated the throne in c. 1911 to be the new king of Manchuria. In December 1937, the Japanese forces had massacred 300,000 Chinese in Nanjing. These events forced the Communists and the Kuomintang to come to a temporary truce and form a common front against the Japanese. The Americans sanctioned Japan and indirectly helped the Chinese.


In c. 1938, the Japanese Imperial Army In the great war that ensued, the combined Chinese forces were routed by the Japanese but somehow, they held on gamely without a complete defeat. The USA helped the Chinese militarily through India’s North-East in the period between 1940 and 1945. The whole of East Asia as well as South East Asia were well within the grasp of the Japanese. Racially, neither the Japanese nor the Chinese considered the other as their equal and this attitude persists until today. The Chinese forces, particularly the Mao-led Communist forces, could not gain any significant victories against the Japanese. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed with nuclear weapons, the Japanese surrendered to the Americans and quit China voluntarily.


It is also believed that the secretive Japanese takeover of the Ryukyu Kingdom in c. 1609 was with the intention of defeating the Chinese Empire at a future date and replacing it as the regional hegemon. It can also be said that in a way, the extinguishing of the Ryukyu Kingdom paved the way for the 1912 sunset of the Chinese Imperial Dynasty. The Sino-Japanese relationship is thus overshadowed by a 2000-year old civilizational toxicity.


After 1979  . . .

After the intervention by the US in c. 1972, the leaders of both Japan and China began to meet each other frequently. China gave up its demands of war reparations from Japan. The two countries brought to an end the bitterness caused by the events of the Second World War through signing the ‘Peace and Friendship Treaty in c. 1978. A year later, the two countries also signed the ‘Japan-China Cultural Exchange Agreement’. The Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang who visited Japan in c. 1982 hoped that their relationship would be based on the three cardinal principles of ‘Peace and Friendship, Equality and Mutual Benefit, and long-term stability in relationship’. In order to reset the relationship that had been hit by the events of the Tiananmen Square of 1989, the G-7 nations thought it fit to send only the Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu to China. The Japanese Emperor Akihito who visited China in c. 1992 along with Empress Michiko said, “In the long history of relations between our two countries, there was an unfortunate period in which my country inflicted great sufferings on the people of China. I feel deep sorrow over this.” The Japanese forces had either killed or injured over 20 million Chinese during that period. Though the statement by the Emperor fell short of a formal apology, the Chinese did not take it amiss at that time as China needed help from the economic giant, Japan. It is noteworthy that in 2000 years before, no Japanese Emperor had ever visited China. But China said much later that the regret was not enough. This is a serious issue that causes deep divisions between both countries even today.


No Chinese President returned Emperor Akihito’s courtesy for the next six years for a return visit to Tokyo. However, when Jiang Zemin decided to go in c. 1998, China insisted on Japan issuing a regret for its war atrocities in writing before the visit is undertaken. As Japan flatly refused, Jiang Zemin refused to sign the joint communique at the end of his visit to Japan. The Japanese learned the lesson that China was not to be given any concession at all.


The Chinese President Jiang Zemin who came to power in 1993 after the Tiananmen Square massacre, decided to introduce ‘nationalism’ in a big way in school curricula. The idea of ‘A Century of Humiliation’ and the need to settle scores became popular in China as a result. Therefore, the school textbooks carried significant sections about the history of the Japanese occupation of China and their atrocities. This caused a serious consternation in Japan where an equally nationalist leader Junichiro Koizumi was the Prime Minister (c. 2001 – 2006) and led to tensions in the relationship.


By c. 1993, Japan became the largest trading partner of China. Since c. 1979, China has received USD 32 Billion in Japan’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to develop its infrastructure. In the 1990s, Japan invested over USD 10 Billion in China. The Chinese Premier Li Peng who visited Japan in c. 1997 urged that the relationship between the two countries must be based on the ‘Five Principles of Panchsheel’. The Chinese calculus in this was to wean Japan away from involving itself with Taiwan. Following the Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s Japan visit next year, the Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji undertook an elaborate six-day visit to Japan in c. 2000.


In spite of all these positive developments, there were a number of friction points between the two countries over the Senkaku Islands, the burgeoning US-Japan Security relationship, trade issues, and Japan’s refusal to issue a formal apology for its atrocities in China. In the meanwhile, exploiting the vastly improved relationship with the US, China conducted several nuclear weapon tests in its Lop Nor facility in Xinjiang. This created uneasiness in a Japan that was against nuclear weapons and their testing. Since the CCP had decided to introduce a huge dose of ‘nationalism’ into Chinese curricula after the 1989 events and since the atrocities by the Imperial Japanese Army were the main theme of this nationalism, the Japanese also began to reinforce their sense of nationalism in Japan.


The Twin Crises – 2010 and 2012

The Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ, of a coastal nation extends 200 nautical miles into the sea from its shoreline. However, in many parts of the East China Sea, the distance is less than 400 n. mi. between China and Japan. Therefore, they have agreed on a median line as their maritime boundary for the EEZ. When China started its oil drilling operations in its Chunxiao area of the East China Sea, a mere 5 K.M. from the median, Japan objected claiming that it was sucking out oil and gas from its territory of the seabed. Predictably, when China rejected this, Japan sent its seismic survey ship to the area for verification. However, the PLAN sent its warships including a submarine to that area to harass the Japanese survey ship. In c. 2005, the PLAN also stationed more permanently two destroyer ships in that area. By c. 2006, as the nationalism sentiment gave way to development, the two nations decided to jointly explore for oil and gas in the East China Sea. Though China had been suggesting this approach since 1980, Japan had been rejecting that on the ground that the issue of Senkaku must be settled before this idea could be considered. However, Japan agreed to this joint effort in c. 2006 quite suddenly and surprisingly. Perhaps, the continuous coercion of China might have prompted this Japanese decision. In c. 2008, the two nations agreed to jointly explore a 2700 Sq. Km. area for oil and gas.


But, the Great Sichuan Earthquake of 2008 and the unsettled political situation in Japan where Japanese Prime Ministers could not hold on to power for more than a few months each, delayed further progress. However, the project was struck badly by the September 2010 seizure of a Japanese fishing trawler within the territorial waters of Senkaku which totally derailed the Japan-China relationship. Under its ‘Instantaneous Punishment’ regime, China immediately dispatched several 1000-tonne maritime militia vessels and a large Coast Guard ship to Senkakus for permanent positioning near the Senkakus within the Japanese EEZ. An exasperated Japan released the Chinese fishing trawler and its Captain. Within two months of this incident, the PLAN stationed two of its warships in the Japanese EEZ for several hours even as the Japan-China-South Korea apex talks were going on with the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attending it, causing much embarrassment to Japan. The c. 2010 incident shows how much civilizational animosity can cause a downturn in relationship very quickly. This coercion by China however strengthened the Japan-USA security relationship.


Very soon, another incident caused a similar setback in their relationship, again involving the Senkaku islands. In 1895, after the Ryukyu islands had formally come under the Japanese rule with the defeat of the Chinese forces and the signing of the Shimonoseki Agreement, Japan had integrated the three islets with the Okinawa Prefecture and had licensed a Japanese entrepreneur to run a fish processing facility there. During the Second World War, these islets came under US occupation. In c. 1972, the US returned them to a private Japanese individual Hiroyuki Kurihara. The Japanese Government, under increasing pressure from nationalist Japanese because of the overwhelming anti-Japanese actions and protests in China orchestrated by the Government and the CCP, suddenly ‘nationalized’ the three Senkaku islands on September 11, 2012, by purchasing them from their then current owner, Hiroyuki Kurihara, at a price of USD 26 million.


This made China boil with rage. Within a week, that is by September 18, 2012, the Chinese sent a naval flotilla of 11 warships near Senkaku. The fact that it was on the same day eighty one years ago (i.e. September 18, 1931) that Japan had captured Manchuria from China raised their anger greatly. Though the date was coincidental, China deliberately linked these two events. The CCP organized protests against the Japanese in many Chinese cities across the country. There was a change of guard going on in China at that time with Vice President Xi Jinping taking over from President Hu Jintao who was retiring at the end of his tenure. It was no wonder that China thought that Japan was exploiting this opportunity. Having attacked India in 1962 opportunistically while the eyes of the rest of the world were on a developing situation between the two superpowers of the USA and the USSR, it was no wonder that China thought that Japan had adopted a similar tactic.


The important thing to note in this is that it was only in April, 1971 that Taiwan claimed Senkaku for the first time, soon followed by PRC in December that same year, again for the first time. In fact, during the 1970s up to the 1990s, Deng Xiao Pin had advised his Japanese counterparts that the Senkaku issue should be postponed to future and wiser generations. Clearly, Deng was ‘biding for his time’. It was the same tactic that the Chinese adopted in the 1980s with India over the Indo-Chinese border issues. Anyhow, as a result of the events of 2012, China set up its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) that included the Senkaku Islets in the East China Sea in c. 2013. A worried Japan turned to the USA which promptly announced that the Senkaku islands also came under its protective security umbrella for Japan. Incidents like these are denoted as ‘escalation ladder’. It took a year for the tensions to subside. Even Taiwan organized similar protests against the Japanese action in Senkaku. Recently (April 2021), the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources has announced its intention to survey the Senkaku islands using satellites and remote-sensing techniques, an announcement that has caused great anger in Japan.


In c. 2009, China overtook Japan as the second-largest economy in the world after the USA on the basis of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). Japan was relegated to the third position after having maintained the second place for 62 long years. As we saw in Part-2 about China’s hegemonic approach of ‘Instant Punishment’, the Japanese Government was put to inconvenience in c. 2010 by the Chinese by banning the export of the ‘Rare Earths’. It was only in c. 2015 that the WTO ruled against China and in favour of Japan in this issue.


Japan’s Perceptions of Security Threats from China

Like Shinzo Abe who recently stepped down from Prime Ministership, Koizumi who was the Prime Minister in those days also belonged to the nationalistic Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Being extreme right-wing politicians, both of them were deeply concerned about the security of Japan. Koizumi had made it a habit to visit the Yasukuni temple. The Allied Nations had imposed, at the end of the Second World War, a severe restriction on Japan regarding the defence forces that could be maintained by it which limited it to having only self-defence forces. It had been incorporated as the Ninth Schedule in the Japanese Constitution. This had resulted in a weakened defence forces much to the dislike of the Japanese nationalists. A China that was rapidly expanding and modernizing its armed forces, therefore, caused much insecurity to the Japanese. Shinzo Abe who came after Koizumi as the Prime Minister has altered the Ninth Schedule to some extent after great efforts. It was decided by the treaty signed between the US and Japan in 1951 that Japan would remain a ‘pacifist’ state forever and that its security would be guaranteed by the former.


The September 9, 2001, terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia strengthened the USA-Japan relationship considerably. The then Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi sent the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces (JMSDF) to the Persian Gulf to support the American troops. It was the first time that a Japanese military contingent had travelled abroad after the Second World War. It laid the foundation for the loosening of the restrictions in the 9th Schedule of the Japanese Constitution, something that did not go down well with the Chinese. In c. 2015, the Constitution was further altered to allow Japanese Self Defence Forces to take part in international engagements under the UN Command. As a result, Japan and US defence ministers could discuss on March 16, 2021, ways and means by which Japan could help the US forces if China aggressed Taiwan and the American forces got involved.


In c. 2003, the Japanese detected a Chinese naval hydrographic ship near the Okinawa prefecture. It later turned out that it was involved in charting out a safe passage for the PLAN submarines. Due to Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), these hydrographic vessels can send Uncrewed Under-water Vehicles (UUVs) in order to gather bathymetry data for use by attack submarines later. As a result of this, a HAN-class nuclear attack submarine (SSN) of the PLAN crossed the Miyako Straits, fully submerged, later that same year, without prior notice to Japan in violation of the Japan-China understanding that every time a PLAN asset crossed that waterway a prior intimation would be given to Japan. This angered the Japanese considerably and they decided to strengthen their defense forces substantially as a result.


In order to further strengthen its defensive posture, Japan announced in c. 2004 that Taiwan, which was hardly 60 nautical miles from Senkaku, constituted a part of its ‘security zone’, an announcement which annoyed China further. An Independent Taiwan ensures a guarantee of sea transport for Japan’s trade and energy imports. If Taiwan were to be seized by China, the important Taiwan Strait would come under Chinese control which would endanger freedom of navigation for crucial Japanese sea lanes of communication. Then again in c. 2012, nine years after the submarine incident, China tested the waters again by sending a PLAN flotilla through the Osumi Strait. The same China which behaves like this in the East China Sea, demands that the naval assets of any other country that transits the SCS  / ICS must get permission from PLAN before undertaking such journeys. In c. 2011, the PLAN contacted the Indian Navy’s amphibious-assault ship INS Airavat when it was within Vietnamese waters demanding to know why it was there. A similar event took place the next year when an Indian Navy flotilla was on its way from the Philippines to South Korea. This time, a PLAN vessel trailed the Indian Navy’s flotilla for twelve hours.


Since every PLAN asset would have to use one of Japan’s four international straits, namely, Tsushima, Miyako, or Osumi or Tsugaru to cross from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean, the JMSDF keeps these straits under their strict watch. In addition, the JMSDF also keenly watches over the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines for the same reason. Japan alone hosts twenty-three bases for various American forces. From the most important Kadena Airbase, powerful surveillance and reconnaissance assets of the USAF constantly keep a watch over Chinese naval assets. These cause an immense headache to the free movement of the PLAN assets. Though the US Navy is the focus for China and its actions of testing the Japanese straits may be to access the Pacific Ocean to challenge the US, such Chinese actions also pose a challenge to Japan because of their history.


As soon as he assumed power in c. 2013, the Chinese President Xi Jinping had told the American President Barack Obama that the Pacific was large enough to accommodate both the American and the Chinese navies, thereby not only equating the two but also challenging the hegemony of the USA in the Pacific.


Japan-China Military Affairs

The twelve nautical miles of a sea abutting the shores of a country belong to that country and are its Territorial Waters. The next 12 nautical miles of the sea abutting the Territorial Waters are the Contiguous Zone (CZ). Even though a country cannot claim the CZ as its territory, some of its laws are still applicable there. Since the time Xi Jinping assumed power, the Chinese Coast Guard and air assets have been intruding daily into the CZ of Japan surrounding the Senkaku Islands. The Chinese Coast Guard which used to intrude about ten times a year up until c. 2012, now does so about 720 times a year. This works out to twice a day. In the first three months alone of c. 2021, the PLAAF had intruded 638 times into the CZ., which works out to seven times a day. Starting April 2020, the PLAN set a dubious record of sorts by intruding into Japanese waters around Senkaku for a hundred days at a stretch. This makes the Japanese Defence Forces scramble their fighters and naval assets frequently every day.


The Chinese tactic is to tire the Japanese out, cause unbearable expenses to defend the island and eventually make them leave the place without fighting. Though the legendary North Vietnamese commander Ho Chi Minh led his troops brilliantly tactically, his strategic goal was to break the will of the people of the USA to continue with the involvement of the war in a faraway place and make the American troops withdraw unilaterally. That was how it happened in the end. China also follows this strategy in all its conflicts. It is the Chinese ‘Chanakya’, Sun Tzu’s dictum to defeat the enemy without bloodshed. Another objective is a possibility to claim the islands over the fact that they have been under the ‘administrative control’ of the Chinese for a decade.


By c. 2009, China had edged past Japan as the second-largest economy in the world on the basis of Purchasing Power Parity or PPP. In order to strengthen its sparse MSDF, especially after the twin crises of c. 2010 and c. 2012, the Japanese began building ‘Izumo’, a helicopter-bearing destroyer ship. China protested to Japan against this ship, citing it to be meant exclusively against it. But China has already been producing in large numbers various types of missiles, nuclear submarines with long-range and nuclear-tipped missiles already and was in the process of building several aircraft carriers too. Later, Japan began building another ship of the same class, Kaga. Though Kaga has been constructed as a helicopter-carrying ship, it will start carrying the most modern Vertical-Takeoff-Landing (VTOL) F-35B fighters from c. 2024. We will discuss them more in Part-5.


One of China’s major strategic goals is to capture the Senkaku islands. It is the Chinese PLAN’s belief that if it did so, it can strengthen its A2/AD (Anti Access/Area Denial) against the US forces in the Western Pacific, thereby diminishing the American influence. It is China’s firm belief that if it could do so, it would make it easier for China to capture Taiwan and easily challenge the US hegemony as well.


Mindful of the Chinese ambitions, the new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s first military initiative was to increase the range and destructive power of the existing 200-Km range ground-launched anti-ship missiles. Japan has already been designing and testing, like China, hypersonic anti-ship glide vehicles which can travel at a minimum of five times the speed of sound. These weapon systems which are expected to be available by c. 2026 will carry warheads that can penetrate and destroy high-value aircraft carriers. Japan is also planning to install in its new warships the latest Aegis radar systems. We will discuss them in Part-5. Japan has also announced its intentions to induct cruise missiles that are capable of hitting North Korea and China into its arsenal. Japan seems to be following the same A2/AD strategies in East China Sea that China is implementing in the SCS / ICS. We will discuss more about A2/AD in Part-5. In the East China Sea, China continues to harass the Japanese fishing boats as well as drilling ships for oil and gas exploration.


In the midst of all these developments, China announced in c. 2013, as we have seen earlier,  an ‘Air Defense Identification Zone’ (ADIZ) in the East China Sea and demanded that all flights transiting that space identify themselves to the Chinese. This Zone started from the southern end of Japan, included the Senkaku Island of the Japanese Ryukyu Chain of islands, and extended up to Taiwan. This is almost coincidental with the eastern end of what China had unilaterally declared as its ‘First Island Chain’ for its security purposes. (We will discuss this more elaborately in Part-5.) This zone also overlapped with similar zones of other nations, including Japan. This almost led to a clash between the two air forces in c. 2014. It immediately reminded one of the grave incident in c. 2001 when a Chinese fighter plane bumped a US Navy intelligence gathering plane just outside the Chinese airspace at Hainan. That even a small spark can lead to a conflagration in such tense situations is something that China is not bothered about. It has created such an eyeball-to-eyeball situation along India’s Ladakh frontier now.


Since coming to power in c. 2013, Xi Jinping has set a bitter tone in China’s relationship with Japan. The 7-7 Day (which commemorates the start of the Second Sino-Japan War on July 7, 1937, between the Kuomintang and Japanese forces near the Marco Polo Bridge just outside Beijing) which had hitherto been celebrated on a low-key, was given a new life by Xi Jinping in c. 2014 where he denounced Japan and said, “[The Chinese people] will unswervingly protect, with blood and life, the history and the facts”. Xi also built a memorial hall for the Korean Independence movement figure who assassinated the first Prime Minister of Japan, Ito Hirobumi in c. 1909. These actions were meant to instigate a permanent bitterness against the Japanese among the Chinese masses.


With the Chinese help, North Korea has been and is engaged in the business of designing, testing, and exporting, especially to Pakistan and Iran, various types of missiles. The China-North Korea-Pakistan axis is very toxic. Its root is obviously Red China. North Korea’s missile designs, its transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicles, specialty steel like the maraging steel required for construction of missiles, and the various parts of the missiles have all come from China. In the 1990s, Pakistan obtained the designs of the North Korean missile Rodong and built its own Hatf-5 (also known as Ghauri-1). In return, Pakistan gave to China and North Korea the technology of Uranium Enrichment through centrifuges, a technology it had stolen from Holland’s URENCo through its notorious scientist A.Q.Khan. In c. 2017, North Korea designed ICBMs and tested them in the Sea of Japan. The Re-entry Vehicle (RV) atop this missile, which carries the nuclear warheads, was the same as the one used in Pakistan’s Ababeel missile and which has been designed to carry Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV). This in turn, had been given to Pakistan by China in c. 2015-2016. Pakistan had transferred this technology to North Korea.


A rattled US President Donald Trump called the Chinese President Xi Jinping over the phone telling him bluntly that if China failed to control North Korea, the US would be constrained to initiate its own independent actions. It is also notable that North Korea had already demonstrated its prowess in nuclear fusion technology needed to make Hydrogen bombs in c. 2017 with help from the Chinese. It is obvious that China is threatening the US, Japan and South Korea through its cat’s paw, North Korea. It is estimated that North Korea has sixty nuclear weapons in its possession today. It has not only got the missiles to hit Japan and South Korea but also the far-away USA. This is also a major factor in the fractious relationship between Japan and China as well as the USA and China.


China’s aggression in the South China Sea (or the Indo-China Sea), its reclamation of rocks and islets into full fledged military facilities including naval and air bases pose a direct challenge and threat to a Japan which needs freedom of navigation for importing oil and gas from West Asia.  Japan’s insecurity is understandable as it depends entirely on the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) for its energy security, its lifeline. According to the Fifth Clause of the ‘Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security’ signed between the USA and Japan, the USA must come to Japan’s rescue if the latter’s security is threatened. But, many Japanese have now started thinking that they could not bank upon the US assurances or treaty obligations anymore. It is noteworthy that Australia also holds a similar view about the declining status of the US in the region.


The unresolved dispute over the Senkaku islands, the lack of a resolution on what China perceives as historical wrongs and sufferings inflicted on them (like the Nanjing massacres or the issue of ‘comfort women’), the widening US-Japan security relationship which the Chinese believe is directed against them, the Japan-China economic issues, the threat posed to Japan by North Korea ostensibly at the instigation of China,  the aggression and dominance in the South China Sea (or, Indo-China Sea), the enmity shown towards countries friendly to the USA which it wants to displace in the world order, and above all the imperial memories of China of dominating Japan with which it approached today’s issues are the major reasons for the enormous distrust and insecurity between Japan and China. The distance, the buffer state of the Korean Peninsula and the rough seas had been major security features for Japan against Imperial China, but these have been now overcome by technology and politics leading to a feeling of insecurity among the Japanese.


Japan – Australia Relationship

The two most important allies of the USA in Asia, Australia and Japan, signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two in c. 2003 over security matters. The two Prime Ministers also released a joint statement in c. 2007 on cooperation in security matters. The statement clearly identified their joint approach towards improving their strategic partnership. In the 2008 meeting of the Foreign and Defence Ministers of both countries under the 2+2 format, it was decided to expand their partnership to Comprehensive Strategic levels. Later, this was raised to the level of a ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ in c. 2014. The Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga who visited Australia in 2020, signed an agreement of cross services between the military forces of the two nations as well as enhanced and increased frequencies of joint exercises. Though these two nations had been engaged with each other in joint military exercises bilaterally as well as with the USA in tripartite exercises, it was in 2020 that the Australian Navy joined the Malabar Exercise for the first time after c. 2007.


The two nations are also paying attention to their economic and trade interests. For example, Japan has decided to import large volumes of Hydrogen from Australia for its renewable energy needs. Since Japan’s geography prevents it from exploiting the renewable sources of solar and wind energies, it is trying to make itself a significant hydrogen-based economy.


India – Japan Relationship

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who visited India in c. 2007 was extended the rare privilege of addressing the joint Parliament session of India. In that address, he elaborated his ‘broad view’ on how the four big powers of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, namely the USA, India, Japan, and Australia who have already converged on the basis of Democracy, Liberty and Human Rights, must take it to the next level by having a vision for a ‘Greater Asia’. Abe had already explained in his book, ‘Towards a Beautiful Nation’, the reasons as to why it was imperative for Japan to deepen its relationship with India for its own benefits. He had predicted that within a decade the India-Japan relationship would become more important than the Japan-USA relationship. Even fifteen years back, he had emphasized that these four nations must soon commence a strategic dialogue among themselves.


The Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko who came to India on a state visit in c. 2011 said that both countries had decided to develop ‘interoperability’ between their two Navies. India was the only country, after the USA, with which Japan had such an arrangement. In June 2012, both the navies started their ‘Japan-India Maritime Exercise’ (JIMEX), an annual feature ever since, which takes place off their two coasts alternatively. These naval exercises have expanded into other areas involving the Armies and the Air Forces of both nations. Apart from this, Japan is a regular participant in the annual India-US Malabar Exercise as well. In c. 2020, Japan also altered its ‘Secrets Law’ in its Constitution to enable sharing of intelligence with India.  In September 2020, the military relationship between the two nations went a notch higher when they signed the ‘Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement’ (ACSA) which enables the armed forces of each nation to use the other’s facilities.




How did this close relationship develop?

The India-Japan relationship is more than a thousand years old. The Buddhist religion linked the two nations. And yet, some recent events are also very important to recall. In the UN-mandated tribunal formed to investigate the war crimes of the Imperial Japanese armed forces, there was also an Indian Jurist, Radhabinod Pal. In the end, he was the only one amongst the other Tribunal members who exonerated the Japanese Generals of war crimes. This received wide and welcome attention among the Japanese. After his death, he has been enshrined in the Yasukuni Temple, the one and only non-Japanese to be so honored.


Even though the India-Japan relationship had always been strong and even though India was the largest benefactor of the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) of the Japanese Government for a long, the 1998 Pokhran nuclear weapon tests created fissures in the relationship. It was no surprise that the only country in the world to have been subjected to nuclear attacks twice and which had as a result lost several tens of thousands of citizens, did not take to these tests kindly. But even that phase of downturn in relationships did not last very long.


The Japanese government cut off political contacts with India the very next day after the Pokhran tests. It stopped the OD Assistance and all transfers of technology immediately. It also passed a resolution in the G-8 Nations meeting condemning the Indian tests in the strongest possible terms. But, within two years, the State visit of the Japanese Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro to India thawed the relationship. His announcement that India and Japan were ‘global partners’ ended the chillness of the previous two years. After the December 13, 2001, Pakistani terrorists’ attack on the Indian Parliament sponsored by Pakistan-based terror groups, Japan immediately sent its opposition leader in the Diet to pay respects at the Indian Parliament. This strengthened the relationships further.


During the Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh’s 2008 visit to Japan, the two nations agreed to a ‘security framework’. Maritime defence and counterterrorism occupied prime positions in it and as a result of this, the Indian and Japanese navies started to jointly conduct patrols in the Gulf of Aden against the pirates. By c. 2010, the two nations had constituted the 2+2 format of consultations between the two Governments by which the Defence and Finance Secretaries of their respective governments held annual discussions on matters of mutual interest. Japan had such an arrangement with only the USA earlier. By c. 2019, it was elevated to the level of the Cabinet Ministers.


Since c. 2011, India, the USA, and Japan have set up a trilateral arrangement of talks along similar lines among their defence and foreign secretaries. Since c. 2015, these talks have been elevated to the Ministerial level. After the unfortunate Fukushima nuclear disaster following the tsunami in c. 2011, Japan stopped its OD assistance to the rest of the world but continued to fund India nevertheless., thus proving the strength of the relationship. It is inconceivable to think of a Japanese Prime Minister miss the first day of the Diet, but in c. 2014, Shinzo Abe did that in order to participate in India’s Republic Day celebrations as a special guest of Honour.


An unexpected event laid the foundation for the close relationship between the two Navies of India and Japan. In the 1990s, the pirates off the Aden and Somalian coasts used to hijack frequently commercial vessels for ransom. The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard vessels used to patrol the high Arabian Sea to provide a safe passage to vessels. In one such incident in c. 1999, they captured a hijacked Japanese ship ‘Allondra Rainbow’ and which had been renamed as ‘Mega Rama’, and took into custody the Somali pirates. This pleased the Japanese immensely and became a landmark event in the relationship between the two Navies. The two Coast Guards signed an agreement for joint exercises codenamed Sahyog-Kaijin which has become an annual feature ever since.


The successful anti-piracy operations, and other humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery (HA&DR) operations during the war and natural calamities such as the tsunami led to a strengthening of the navy-to-navy relationship and led to a deep engagement between the two nations in c. 2013. During this meeting, Japan shared with India its detailed perception of its maritime dispute with China over the Senkaku island. In c. 2016, Japan, which had strongly opposed India’s 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests, signed a Nuclear Deal with it. This was also an exception by Japan to India because it was the first time that Japan entered into a nuclear agreement with a country that had not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). The same year the Japanese Army, for the first time, took part in a military exercise in India, the 18-nation joint ‘Field Training Exercise-16’ (FTX-16).


Other Areas of Cooperation between India and Japan

In c. 2019, Japan also agreed to be a prime partner with India in the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), which was announced by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Fourteenth East Asia Summit. The two major goals of this Initiative are to preserve the riches of the seas and oceans and exploit them in a sustainable way, themes anathema to the reckless over-exploiting approach of the Chinese.


The Indian and Japanese collaborative effort has led to the approval by the Sri Lankan government of the ‘Construction of the Deep-sea Eastern Container Terminal’ at the Colombo Port project to them. This will reduce the undue significance that China has been gaining in Sri Lanka. This is a strategic project for the two nations and is being built next to the controversial ‘International Container Terminal’ being built by China. Though this project was delayed due to opposition from labour unions, President Rajapakse gave the project the green signal in January 2021, ‘taking into consideration the geopolitical concerns’. But, within a few weeks, Sri Lanka said that it would build the ‘East Container Terminal’ itself and offered the ‘West Container Terminal instead to the India-Japan bidders. But India did not agree to it and there is still confusion as of March 2021. The important and interesting point to note is that out of all trans-shipments that these terminals handle, almost 70% of them take place from and to Indian ports.


The docking of a PLAN SSN submarine at the Colombo Port in November, 2014 raised security concerns in India. Under the guise of anti-piracy operations, China has been regularly deploying its submarines in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) since c. 2013 though it is a fact that submarines cannot stop piracy.


The two nations of India and Japan are also involved in the ‘Asia-Africa Growth Corridor’ (AAGC), a more sustainable developmental alternative to the inroads that the Belt and Road Initiative is making in poor African countries.


Japan’s proximity with India is predicated on twin assessments that China poses an existential danger to it with its strong and audacious growth of both economy and military power as well as the increasing decline in American power and the security it offers. In the previous decade (2010-2019), the defence expenditure of the USA had fallen by 15% while that of China had shot up by 85%. Japan had a mere 2% increase. These have caused a concern for Japan. Japan has a necessity to reduce the threats that China’s massive growth poses to its strategic space. Japan would have also noted that friendly India’s defence expenditure during the same period rose by 37%. The over-dependence on China for its economic growth and the dependence on the more-inward-looking USA for its security needs have made the Japanese wary of their future. Almost 20% of Japanese exports go to China alone and 24% of Japanese imports happen from China. In April 2020, the Japanese government allotted USD 2.2 Billion to help facilitate the shifting of ‘supply chain’ from China to other countries.


Japan is under compulsion to reduce the crises caused to Japan’s strategic space by the growth of China. The Japan Business Federation, Keidanren, had in a report as far back as c. 2013 had predicted that by c. 2050, Japan would be one-sixth of China’s economy due to its deflationary tendency and its population would reduce by 30%. There are two important reasons for this, both related to its demographics: one, its ageing population and two, its shrinking population. Japan, therefore, has an imperative need to have deep relationships with friendly countries lest it is subsumed by China. While India does not have such issues, it nevertheless has a need to establish a closer relationship with Japan in order to reduce the ever-increasing strategic gap between itself and China. The Chinese focus on the Pacific and the increasing attention it pays to the Indian Ocean have led to its ‘Two Oceans Theory’, which also plays an important part in the India-US-Japan trilateral relationship. It can be seen that India and Japan complement each other in many respects.


Therefore, the polished and multifaceted relationships between India and Japan entwine both of them. The membership in the Quad further strengthens the relationship.


Mr. Subramanyam Sridharan is a Computer Scientist by profession and a member, C3S. His areas of interests include strategic and security studies, analysis of Indian Foreign Policy and has expertise in China, Pakistan and Afghanistan

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