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China and its neighbors
Japan, India, and Asia's "Arc of Freedom"

If you want to understand Japan-India relations—one of Asia’s most important deepening geopolitical relationships—look no further than the small Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh. The region, which has been an integral part of India for decades, is also claimed by China. In the early 1960s the two went to war over this mountainous territory. But after years of quiet Arunachal Pradesh is once again the focus of renewed tensions between New Delhi and Beijing, especially because India has invited Japan to help it develop dams, roads, and other infrastructure in the region. What this shows is that India and Japan have in mind a deeper and broader relationship—aimed squarely at balancing against China.

The budding friendship extends well beyond Arunachal Pradesh, of course, as many recent news items attest. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations this past January. Earlier in that month the Japanese Defense Minister visited India for four days and reaffirmed Tokyo’s intention to “strengthen the Strategic and Global Partnership between Japan and India.” India is also expected to become the first country to import Japanese military aircraft since World War II, and Japanese foreign investment in India now surpasses that of the United States. But in Arunachal Pradesh, the relationship is especially evident—and especially irritating to China as well. “Japan is sailing in where China fears to tread,” reads a report in the Times of India.

India’s Prime Minister-in-waiting, Narendra Modi, recently paid a visit to Arunachal, where he warned that China “will have to leave behind its mind-set of expansion…. [N]o power on earth can snatch away Arunachal Pradesh from India.” Modi, a conservative, business-minded leader, enjoys an unusually close relationship to Abe, who shares some of the same economic and strategic concerns. A Modi win in India’s elections this April and May is likely to yield even deeper ties between the two countries.

Jaswant Singh, one of India’s top strategic thinkers, recently pushed some of these points in an article at Project Syndicate. Singh threw South Korea into what he calls “Asia’s new security trifecta,” and what the Abe government in Japan has called an “arc of freedom and prosperity” across Asia.

This notion involves a bit of wishful thinking; Japan and South Korea are barely on speaking terms at the moment. But in general his argument is encouraging for the United States. What America would love to see emerge in Asia is a network of strong, peaceful, prosperous, and friendly governments working together to build, in Singh’s words, a “structure of peace and a more prosperous future for Asia.”

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  • Anthony

    “India and Japan can honestly say that they are not building relations in hostility against China; but it is right for them to plan for the eventuality of Chinese hostility” (K. Shankar Bajpai). Perceptions are often more consequential than actualities.

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