The Asian security alliance merry-go-round

Relations between India and Japan have come a long way since Japan withdrew its ambassador in protest against India’s 1998 nuclear tests. In 2003 India overtook China to become the largest recepient of Japan’s soft loans. Last month, Japan’s ambassador to India Yasukuni Enoki suggested that India, China and Japan can form an ‘Asian Axis’ – a curious choice of words – that can effectively take the form of an Asian security alliance. While some countries have expressed reservations over what such an alliance could mean for smaller Asian countries, the idea seems to have received some favourable attention in China.

While appropriately handling relations with the United States, whether China, Japan and India can avoid the “all-lose” situation of being on the alert and taking precautions against and even getting into conflicts with one another with regard to maritime traffic security, and whether they can join hands to deal with non-traditional security threats such as terrorism and pirates rampancy involve a major strategic choice.

Among China, Japan and India there shouldn’t be the kind of thinking of “pulling another over to one’s side so as to contain the other” or joining hands with a superpower in regions outside Asia to contain or even encircle one of the three countries. China, Japan and India each lay great emphasis on the importance of relations with the United States In the meantime they should attach great importance to the mutual relations with one another rather than letting oneself become a pawn of a superpower outside Asia in containing one of the countries within the region. This is of particular importance in the case of Japan-US military alliance that shouldn’t have the intent of targeting China [People’s Daily]

The United States has also mooted an Asian NATO in partnership with India and its other allies, but the prospects of this received a setback when it declared Pakistan a major non-NATO ally. If continued American patronage of Musharraf works against India’s interests in Kashmir, India will not easily be convinced into entering any strategic alliance with the United States at all.

The broad strategic landscape in Asia is still in a state of flux. India has a greater convergence of interests with the United States and to a lesser extent with Japan. But it will be unwise for India to reject a closer strategic relationship with neighbouring China as bilateral trade surges and border disputes recede into the background. At least in the near future, India’s growing economy will increasingly engage with China as competitive partner rather than fear it as a threatening rival.

Meanwhile Pakistan is going all out to enter the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) and has successfully lobbied such minnows as Laos and Cambodia to support its candidature. Jamali has managed to extract some promises of support from Thailand, but most Asean nations have yet get comfortable with the idea that Pakistan will not use ARF as yet another forum to raise the Kashmir issue.