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Maritime Security Concerns of Japan and Prospects of India-Japan Cooperation

( Talk delivered on August 17,2009, under the auspices of the Indo-Japan Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Chennai)

Since taking over as the Prime Minister in 2004, Dr.Manmohan Singh has visited Japan twice. His first visit was from December 13 to 16,2006, when Mr.Shinzo Abe was the Prime Minister. His second was from October 20 to 22,2008, when Mr. Taro Aso was the Prime Minister. Mr.Aso continues to be the Prime Minister of Japan and is facing election on August 30. Japanese analysts say that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has been in power for 52 of the last 53 years, has been facing difficulty. The centre-left Democratic Party of Japan ( DPJ), led by Mr.Yukio Hatoyama, has been ahead in the public opinion polls and may cause an upset by defeating the LDP.

2.If it does, it is expected that the foreign policy of Japan may not be the same as it has been till now. The DPJ leaders have been talking of a review of Japan’s post-war security relations with the US and advocating improved ties with China and South Korea. The DPJ’s manifesto says that it “will re-examine the role of the US military in the security of the Asia-Pacific region and the significance of the US bases in Japan.” Its leaders have also said that Japan should pursue its own disarmament and non-proliferation policies. That means, its attitude to India’s expectations of a nuclear trade with Japan may be even less favourable than that of the LDP-led Government.

3. “The Hindu” of August 12,2009, carried an assessment on the Japanese election campaign by Simon Tisdall of “The Guardian” of the UK. It said: ” The apparently game-changing DPJ positions have led to talk of a generational shift in Japanese politics, bringing to office leaders, who have no personal memories, guilty or otherwise, of the war and no particular reason to thank the US for the post-war alliance.”

4. To my knowledge, India has not much figured in the pre-electoral debate. If the DPJ comes to power and adopts a policy of greater distance from the US and closer relations with China, what impact it will have on Japan’s relations with India, which are richer in security-related matters and weaker in matters relating to economic co-operation—- quite the opposite of India’s relations with China—- richer in economic co-operation, but weaker in security co-operation?

5. Are we going to see in Japan a repetition of our experience in Australia and the US? Dr.Manmohan Singh has a propensity for putting all India’s eggs in the baskets of sun-set leaders than sun-rise leaders. In Australia, he tied India’s future relations with Australia to Mr.John Howard, despite the fact that he was increasingly unpopular among his people. In the US, he tied India’s future relations with that country to the highly unpopular Republican Administration headed by Mr.George Bush and paid little attention to the Democrats before the last Presidential elections in November,2008.

6. The coming into office in Australia of Mr.Kevin Rudd as the Prime Minister after defeating the unpopular Mr.Howard has seen a down-grading by the new Government of the importance of Australia’s relations with India and an upgrading of its ties with China. In the US, the end of Mr.Bush’s term and the return of the Democrats under President Barack Obama to power have seen a similar upgrading of the importance given to China and a downgrading of the importance earlier accorded by Mr.Bush to India.

7.Similarly, Dr.Manmohan Singh during his visit to Japan in October last tied India’s future relations with Japan to the LDP Government headed by Mr.Aso of uncertain popularity. He signed with him a ” comprehensive framework for the enhancement of security cooperation between the two countries.” This agreement caused considerable excitement and euphoria in India because Japan had previously signed such a comprehensive security co-operation agreement with only two other countries,namely, the US and Australia.Will this framework agreement survive the exit of the LDP from power, if it comes about, and the election of the DPJ to power?

8. We are repeating in Japan the same mistake we earlier committed in Australia and the US. Before the election in Australia, we paid very little attention to studying the likely policy changes if Mr.Rudd came to power. In the US, we paid very little attention to studying the likely policy changes if Mr.Obama came to power. When the two came to power and changed their policy emphasis vis-a-vis China and India, we were taken by surprise. One has the impression we have hardly paid any attention to studying likely policy changes towards India, China and the US if Mr.Hatoyama comes to power at the head of a DPJ-led Government. We will have to wait till post-August 30 to find out how much of the security co-operation framework will survive.

9.The traditional security concerns of successive LDP-led Governments have been five in number, namely:

First, the implications of the rise of China as a modern military power. Second, the implications of any assertive Chinese policy in the South and East China Seas. Third, the implications of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. Four, the emergence of this region as an epicentre of nuclear proliferation. Five, the threat to Japan’s maritime trade and energy supplies from State as well as non-State actors.

10. Before Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan in 2006, the Hitachi Research Institute of Japan had prepared a brief paper on Indo-Japanese relations. It brought out that Indo-Japanese relations under different Japanese Prime Ministers have been a history of grandiose ideas and visions, which remained unimplemented due to conceptual obscurity and lack of convergence on issues of common concern. It wrote: ” Grand themes of arcs and crescents, with India and Japan at either end of the curve, have never been far from strategic assessments of Indo-Japanese relations in Asia…. Prime Minister Koizumi unveiled an “arc of advantage and prosperity” to complement his Japan-India Global Partnership. Not to be outdone, Foreign Minister Taro Aso, in a November 2006 speech aimed at laying out an expansive “values oriented” vision of the Abe government’s diplomatic strategy, revealed an “arc of freedom and prosperity” that spanned India and beyond.Yet the reality of Indo-Japanese relations has been rather more mundane and mutual interests rather less congruent – particularly in regard to that large continental entity situated within the geo-political arc of Asia.”

11. Despite the disappointments of the past, the Hitachi paper was not pessimistic about the future. It said: “Indeed as variations of the China threat description have issued forth in Tokyo (be it as a “considerable threat,” “realistic threat” or a “potential threat”), the Indian foreign and defense policy establishment has, in equal measure, eliminated the language of ‘threat’ from its formal vocabulary of China policy. Behind the China factor though, a considerably wider gulf separates the guiding strategic precepts of modern Japanese and Indian foreign policies. Given this divide in foreign policy worldviews, efforts by Indian and Japanese statecraft to factor in their counterpart within its scheme of vital interests has perennially tended to fade away into a conceptual and geographic obscurity.”

12. Of the five security concerns of Japan mentioned above, there is no convergence on China between India and Japan. During his visit to Japan last October, Dr.Manmohan Singh made it clear that India did not regard China as a threat and that the proposed comprehensive security framework was not directed against China. India is not interested in the issue of the denuclearisation of Noth Korea. While it is concerned over the Noth Korean nuclear and missile capabilities because of the long-standing supply relationship of North Korea with Pakistan, it feels that this issue be better handled by the countries of the region and the US through the mechanism of the six-party talks. India shares Japanese concerns over the emergence of this region as an epicentre of nuclear proliferation due to the transfer of nuclear and missile capabilities by North Korea to Pakistan and possibly to Iran. There have recently been unconfirmed reports of North Korean nuclear assistance to even Myanmar. At the same time, India does not support the intrusive Proliferation Security Initiative, which is supported by Japan.

13. This leaves only the threat to maritime trade and energy supplies from non-State actors—mainly terrorists and pirates— as a matter of intense common concern which could be used as a building block of a mutual security relationship between India and Japan. A careful perusal of the framework agreement signed by Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr.Aso on October 22,2008, broadly brings out the envisaged areas of co-operation. Inter alia, they included: Co-operation between Coast Guards. Safety of transport. Fight against terrorism and transnational crimes. Sharing of experiences in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Disaster management. Disarmament and non-proliferation

14. It spelt out the co-operation in the fields of maritime security and counter-terrorism as follows:

“The two Coast Guards will continue to promote cooperation to ensure maritime safety, maritime security and to protect marine environment through joint exercise and meeting between the two Coast Guards according to the Memorandum on Cooperation between the Japan Coast Guard and the Indian Coast Guard.” “In relation to the safety of transport, Shipping Policy Forum will be conducted between Maritime Authorities and private sectors, and consultation will be conducted between Railway Authorities.” “Bilateral consultation will be conducted to promote counter-terrorism cooperation through such means as Joint Working Group on counter terrorism between the relevant government offices including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs.Mechanism of sharing of information will be sought with regard to suspicious transaction on money laundering and terrorist financing between the two Financial Intelligence Units.”

15. It was also agreed by the two Prime Ministers that officials of the two Governments will draw up specific action plans in respect of each agreed area of co-operation and put them up to the two Prime Ministers for approval. The follow-up action for the implementation of this framework agreement was discussed by Mr.S.M.Krishna, India’s Minister For External Affairs, and Mr.Hirofumi Nakasone, his Japanese counterpart, when Mr.Krishna visited Tokyo on July 2 and 3,2009.Reporting on the talks between the two, “The Hindu” of July 4,2009, stated as follows: ” The two Ministers discussed follow-up measures for formulating an action plan. A bilateral dialogue on maritime security, inclusive of anti-piracy co-operation, would start soon.” This indicates that though eight months have passed since Dr.Manmohan Singh and Mr.Aso reached the framework agreement in October last, the drawing-up of action plans for implementation has not yet been either completed or even taken up. Now, the implementation of the comprehensice framework agreement on security co-operation will become the responsibility of the new Japanese Government, which will come to office after the elections of August 30.

16. One has no reason to apprehend that the framework agreement provisions relating to co-operation against maritime terrorism and piracy and to ensure the safety of transport may be diluted as a result of a new Government assuming office after the elections. There is a broad political consensus in Japan on the importance of Indo-Japanese co-operation to strengthen maritime security. Not only the Japanese political class, but also the Japanese business class and shipping circles see value in Indo-Japanese co-operation in this field because over 90 per cent of Japan’s imports of oil and gas and a considerable percentage of its external trade pass through the Gulf of Aden and adjoining seas and the Strait of Malacca. Any disruption of the supplies passing through this area could seriously damage the Japanese economy.

17. There are limitations to Indo-Japanese maritime co-operation for maritime security in the Malacca Strait area because of the lingering memories in the region of the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. While the countries of the region have no hesitation in accepting Japanese assistance in the form of equipment, capacity-building etc, there are still reservations over Japanese ships playing an active tole in patrolling whereas there are no such reservations with regard to Indian ships.

18. There are no constraining factors in the seas to the West of India, where there is considerable scope for joint initiatives for maritime security by the Navies/Coast Guards of the two countries. Japan has been increasingly concerned over the uncontrolled activities of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and nearby seas. A number of Japan-related ships have been attacked in this area since the beginning of 2008 and some of them hijacked and released only on alleged payment of ransom. It is estimated that about 2000 Japan-related ships pass through this area every year. By Japan-related ships, one means Japanese-owned ships flying the Japanese or foreign flags.

19. The attacks on Japan-related ships by the Somali pirates are a matter of concern to India too because many of these ships employ Indian crew. Thus, India is concerned over the attacks on Indian ships as well as on Japanese and other foreign ships employing Indian crew. Moreover, if there is a terrorist attack on maritime trade and energy supplies by Al Qaeda and organisations affiliated to it, it is most likely to originate from this area where their sanctuaries and training camps are located.

20. The increasing concerns of India and Japan over the threats to maritime security in this region are reflected in the two countries deputing anti-piracy patrols to this area—– India since last year and Japan since the beginning of this year. Many other countries from the West as well as Asia, incuding China, affected by the activities of the Somali pirates have similarly deputed anti-piracy patrols into this area. No effort has been made so far to co-ordinate effectively the patrolling by ships of different countries. This could be a matter for initiative by the authorities of Japan and India initially at the bilateral level, subsequently bringing in others.

21. The ideas for maritime security co-operation between India and Japan envisaged so far are largely of a tactical nature such as exchange of information, mutual assistance in capacity building, co-ordinated patrolling, holding of seminars etc. There is very little co-operation of a strategic nature because Japanese laws relating to overseas assistance did not permit such co-operation. Commenting on this, the Hitachi report of 2006 referred to above said: “Important ground was broken by the Japanese government in two recently-issued policy documents. The 2003 revision of the ODA (Overseas Development Assistance ) Charter calls for the disbursal of aid from, among other angles, a strategic perspective too. The JDA’s Defense Guidelines issued in December 2004, meantime, for the first time refer to sea lanes of communication in the context of “international peace cooperation activities.”Together, the two afford a unique opportunity to route ODA towards India’s ports, maritime infrastructure and shipyards, much of which is geared towards dual commercial and military servicing. With India committed to an ambitious ocean security program, and with Indo-U.S. naval cooperation making rapid strides forward, strategically-oriented ODA channeled towards functional areas such as marine transport, oceanographic surveys, sea bed exploration, ship-lift capabilities, etc. would lend additional focus to what is already the single, largest ODA country disbursal.”

22. Will the new Japanese Government coming to office after August 30 implement this recommendation? If it doesn’t, the Indo-Japanese maritime security co-operation wil remain largely tactical.

23. Presuming that a DPJ-led Government comes to power, it is likely to undertake a major review of Japan’s policies not only towards the US, but also China. Is it not time for India to undertake a similar review of its policy towards the association of China with some of the maritime security initiatives between India and Japan. Despite India’s assertions to the contrary, China continues to view India’s maritime security co-operation with the US on the one side and with Japan on the other as partly meant to contain the growing strength of the Chinese Navy. A question often posed by Chinese interlocutors is: If this co-operation is only against non-State actors and not against China, why exclude China from it? Has the time come to remove Chinese concerns by starting an India-Japan-China trialogue on maritime security—-initially at the non-governmental level and subsequently expanding it to the Governmental level?

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.E-mail: )

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