India’s Look East policy does not look far enough
Japan falls through the cracks. It is not really a part of the West, and lies too far East to be meaningfully engaged as part of the now cliched ‘Look East’ policy.
Japanese multinationals have been in India long before the reforms of the 1990s. India is the largest recipient of Japan’s overseas development assistance. Both see a long term strategic threat from China. Both have suffered at the hands of the China-North Korea-Pakistan nuclear proliferation ring. Both are liberal democracies. Apart from Japan’s moral stance over India’s nuclear weapons and perhaps its agricultural subsidies, they have very little to quarrel about. Yet, diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries are nowhere near what they should be given how closely their interests appear to converge.
In a recent article in the Financial Express, Mukul Asher calls for greater engagement between India and Japan. Japan under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi looks more ready than it ever was to challenge conventional Japanese wisdom. With China attacking the bottom-end of its economy and South Korea already eating into its top-end, Japan needs more than just big markets. It needs to align with economies with complementary strengths that can help it compete globally — India is well placed to become that partner.
Geopolitically, the need for closer engagement is even more obvious. Apart from the United States (thanks to its Pacific Fleet) there is no other country that has the capability to project power in the Indian Ocean region and challenge China, save India. Japan’s security relationship with the United States is old and strong, but it makes very good sense diversify. India on the other hand needs a strong partner in the north Asian region that can effectively help counter-balance China’s ‘encircling’ of India.
An India-Japan alliance can form the backbone of a strong security and economic arrangement in Asia, provided India and Japan don’t continue to fall through each other’s cracks.