Japan featured prominently in the global news this week for two reasons. The first was the high-profile visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India meet his counter-part Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two powers have shared a long history of engagement and partnership which was strengthened this week with discussions of an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, a pledge to deepen defense ties, and the foundation-laying of India’s first bullet train. The second reason was North Korea’s pledge to destroy Japan following further sanctions on the country by the United Nations which including on textile exports, capping fuel imports and banning the use of North Korean overseas labour.
These two separate events relate significantly to Japan’s national security and is vital to understanding the changing security landscape of the region. The growing relationship between India and Japan indicate an unease from both the powers over the continuous growth of China’s power in the region. Both Japan and India have recently eased tensions with China regarding the South China sea and the Dokhlam standoff, respectively. China has continued to make efforts to increase its power through its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. China has also increased its military spending to 145 billion dollars in 2015, up 11% from 2014, and is the second largest military spender after the United States.
The highly-publicized visit seeks to show a strong partnership. For Japan and India, this visit continues from Abe’s previous statement in 2015, calling the two democracies “natural partners”. India also holds a valuable trump card in its possession of nuclear weapons which Japan does not have. The visit was (as expected) met with ire by China who suggested that Japan was misleading India.
While the US and Japan have been strong allies for the past 70 years, the unpredictably posed by a novice president with no real strategic plan for the region has caused Japan to worry. China is of further interest to Japan as they appear to be the only ally to the North Koreans, further limiting the options of negotiations with North Korea and therefore having to deeply rely on South Korea and the United States.
Facing a potential nuclear attack from another unpredictable dictator, in the short run and the growing power of China in the long-run, Japan is making a smart move by continuing to build on its relationship with India. With a high degree of volatility in the region and a high degree of unpredictability, this is smart move for both India and Japan and we can expect to see a deepening of this strategic partnership in the future.