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Japan and India: An Ever Closer Union

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be ratcheting up tensions with China, but when it comes to India he couldn’t be friendlier. If it’s up to Abe, the vital confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, through which two-thirds of the world’s oil is shipped, will bind India and Japan in an Indo-Pacific arc of freedom.

Abe, whose grandfather was the first Japanese PM ever to visit India in the 1950s, strongly reached out to India during his last stint in power in 2007, personally addressing the Indian Parliament (and bringing along 200 top Japanese businessmen). Back then he spoke of a “broader Asia,” and of coupling the Pacific and the Indian Oceans as “seas of freedom and prosperity.” Underwriting this freedom would be a “quadrilateral” alliance of Japan, the United States, India, and Australia. In a book he wrote, Abe even said that it would “not be a surprise if in another decade, Japan-India relations overtake Japan-U.S. and Japan-China ties. ”

Abe has not changed his mind about India: In a recent op-ed, he again talked about a “security diamond” involving Australia, India, and Hawaii to safeguard the Indo-Pacific maritime commons. With Abe’s re-election, and China continuing to push its neighbors away, the Japan-India relationship is set to become ever closer. Meanwhile, Japan has also been reaching out to Taiwan, the newly open Burma, and Southeast Asia.

We’re likely to see more naval cooperation between India and Japan, on both sides of the Straits of Malacca, continuing the tradition of last year’s combined naval exercises. Trade and investment will continue to grow, spurred on by a 2011 free trade agreement—especially important now that Japan’s trade relationship with China is under pressure. The Japanese, who send most of their economic aid to India, are even helping India to build a $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. There are still some lingering doubts in Japan about India’s business climate, and its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, according to Jeffrey Hornung at the Diplomat. But Abe’s victory may help overcome these obstacles.

Shinzo Abe and the LDP are serious about developing strong ties with India and other states in the region. At the same time, Abe is less bellicose in practice toward China than one might expect from his campaign rhetoric. He’s a pragmatist, but also a regionalist. We’ll keep a close watch on how the Japanese-Indian relationship develops, because understanding it is one of the best ways to understand the Asian (or perhaps, Indo-Pacific) Game of Thrones.

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