Japan will join a major annual naval training exercise that normally involves only the U.S. and India, in what is being interpreted as a display of a united front against China’s ambitions. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Ties between New Delhi and Tokyo have strengthened as geopolitical tensions in the region have mounted, and Japan was invited in January to join the so-called Malabar exercise, an annual event that has been primarily a bilateral U.S.-Indian operation. […]India and Japan are both embroiled in territorial disputes with China and share worries about Beijing’s military ambitions. Analysts in India say New Delhi’s decision to invite Japan this year signals a more confident and forceful maritime policy. […]Indian officials have also grown concerned about China’s presence in the Indian Ocean, which India sees as within its sphere of influence and which encompasses critical transit routes for shipments of Mideast oil to India as well as to China, Japan and the rest of East Asia. Beijing has bankrolled port construction in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and its navy has been more active in the region.
As the WSJ notes, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pursuing a stronger relationship with Beijing even as he hedges against its rise. But Beijings’s growing power has alarmed India as well as Japan, both of which are far stronger than China’s other regional opponents. As we’ve previously written, Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe see eye to eye on a number of issues, including the build-up of their respective militaries, and have been on friendly terms since before Modi was elected. A closer alliance between Japan and India looked to be in the cards once Modi took office, and the joint naval drills are an early sign of that bond—one that is sure to displease China, and to be a major factor in Asia’s ongoing Game of Thrones.