Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sino-Japanese billiards: Indic Perspectives

The High Court in Osaka ruled on Friday that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's frequent visits to the Yasakuni Shinto shrine honoring that country's 2.5 million World War II dead was unconstitutional. It upheld the separation of state and religion in Japan. The case might now be referred to Japan's Supreme Court. The Chinese had earlier vociferously protested these visits arguing that they reflected Japan's reluctance to come to terms with its war time record in China. Koizumi, in turn, had insisted that these visits were personal in nature. The debates, however, mask something considerably deeper.

Much like the island nation of Britain, Japan has had an ambiguous relationship with the East Asian mainland. While profoundly influenced by Sinic traditions, it remains distinct. In 1894, Meiji Japan defeated Ching dynasty China and annexed Taiwan. In 1931, it colonized Manchuria, and in 1937 it occupied Shanghai and Nanjing. China has repeatedly accused Japan of war time atrocities, including the widespread use of chemical and biological weapons on its civilian population. Japan's defeat at the hands of the Americans in 1945 indirectly facilitated the Communist take over in mainland China four years later. Japan and China restored full diplomatic relations only in 1972.

And yet the two economies have grown to increasingly complement each other. Japan's GDP in 2003 was US$ 4.2 trillion while China's was US$ 1.4 trillion. China is now Japan's largest trading partner. China and Japan are the world's second and third largest consumers of oil.

This explains the competitive diplomatic maneuvers in the Russian far east and in Iran. There are unresolved legal disputes over the maritime border in the East China and South China Seas. Japan claims an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from its shore while China claims one up to the edge of its continental shelf. UN arbitration is expected in 2009.

Japan has expressed concern of the, allegedly under reported, increases in Chinese defence expenditure, estimated at US$ 28 billion by the World Bank in 2003. Japan itself spent US$43 billion on its defence in 2003, a considerable amount of which went to subsidize US forces on its territory. Japan contributed to US led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to backstopping US naval operations in the Arabian Sea. It bankrolled the peace process in the strategic region of Aceh in Indonesia, close to the straits of Malacca.

India's Ministry of External Affairs is increasingly cognizant of the impact of Sino-Japanese competition on its own foreign policy options. One might perhaps conceptualize recent coordinated efforts on the part of India and Japan to secure permanent membership in the UN Security Council, post-tsunami relief in Indonesia and the Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System in such a context.


Leela Navaratnam said...

This is an interesting read. However, I am not convinced that the Indian policy maker is as strategic in her vision as you imply at the tail end of your piece. Indian foreign policy is reactive, not proactive. India is a soft state.

doubtinggaurav said...

As Lantos said, our foreign minister is brilliant, but dense


PS Jaffna keep up the good work :-)

Primary Red said...

Ms. Navaratnam:

A warm welcome to this forum.

As for your baseless characterization of India as a reactive soft state, all we can say is that you simply do not understand Indian character.

Indians are a patient lot who build their strength over the long run and when we move, more often than not, we succeed on our terms.

For example, when this blogger was studying engineering in the 80s, few thought India would emerge the technology power that it has. We built our strength and, when the right moment came, we took our opportunities. Call that an action of a reactive, soft people and one'd now be laughed out of the room.

Strategic thinking is about a long-term intent, a systematic plan to acquire the appropriate elements of national strength, and a burning hunger to get to one's objective. If you don't think Indians have all of this, you haven't been looking.

Our neighbors are fond of looking down at us -- perhaps to mask their own insecurities. Take Sri Lanka for example. For a long time, we've heard how terrific the education and social systems are there versus in India. OK. Then why is it that the tech boom happened in soft Bangalore and not in the socially advanced Colombo? Last we checked, all the education and social standards there haven't prevented a barbaric civil war. Same in Nepal and nearly the same in Bangladesh. Of Pakistan, the less said the better. And while everyone is busy running down India because it is not China or it is not as strong as America or a hundred other things, we are keeping our heads down and working hard to get there.

So, be careful and judge us not too harshly. Indians have long memories and no one -- whether Indian or foreign -- taking idle potshots at our character now will ever be forgotten. This much you can take to the bank.

Best regards.

doubtinggaurav said...


Excuse me for saying that you are judging lady too harshly.

Even I think that India is a soft state.However it doesn't mean Indians as a people are weak or inferior in character or sprit, the simple matter of fact is that we have been enchanted by the siren song of socialism since independence.
It has become character of our masses to become complacent and hyper optimistic (as you rightly pointed out in earlier post).
On the other hand our so called intellectual classes indulge in self flagellation and abomination of our culture.
We are sorely lacking in long term vision or planning (unless you call NAM or panchsheel long term vision), we can take a cue from China in that respect.
Tech boom, in my humple opinion is a vindication of enterprising nature of Indian people and not the "Indian State".
Lastly I was disappointed with your reference to sri lanka, in my opinion,If we want to be champion, we better compete with champions, which is US, China , Japan and Europe


doubtinggaurav said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leela Navaratnam said...

Pakistan occupies part of Kashmir, claimed by India. China annexed Aksai Chin from India. It claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. India is confronted with the problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, much like the United States faces the Mexicanization of its south west. The LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. Has South Bloc resolved any of these issues? Condoleeza Rice is sharper than Natwar Singh. I rest my case.

Jaffna said...


I think that you have under-estimated the prowess of the Indian diplomat. While I agree that the issues pertaining to Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and illegal immigration have not been addressed, there are a number of success stories to contest your claim.

India tested a nuclear device in 1974 and in 1998. It avoided, for the most part, international censure in both instances. Iran and North Korea, which never tested a nuclear weapon, have instead faced international opprobrium. I attribute this to the success of quiet Indian diplomacy. India is silently positioning itself for a strategic role in Central Asia in the long term. It has entered into economic and military agreements with the five Central Asian republics. One example that comes to mind is the Trilateral Agreement between India, Turkmenistan and Iran in 1999. It is not in Iran's interest to jettison this compact despite last week's vote at the IAEA. Israel and India share an unstated strategic equation that involves the transfer of technology and intelligence.

India is a member of the Antartic Treaty Parties Consultative Group. India, moreover, has subtly but surely, influenced the politics of Burma and Sri Lanka. Its navy helped in the relief operations in Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. This was not purely a humanitarian operation.

In short, Indian foreign policy is far sighted despite the evident gaps under the current administration.

doubtinggaurav said...


In my opinion Indian diplomacy suffers from schizophrenia.
Our leaders vacillate between pragmatism and romantic idealism.

Fortunately we had had some good diplomats (JN Dixit being one such person).

I don't think it's a good idea to compare India with N Korea and Iran for obvious reasons


Jaffna said...


J.N. Dixit was one. Nirupam Sen (posted in Colombo and then New York), Shivshankar Menon (posted in Tel Aviv, Beijing and then Islamabad), Gopal Krishna Gandhi (posted in Oslo) and the son of K.Subrahmanyam (I forget his name but he was simply brilliant) are other examples of the fine art of Indian diplomacy. They make India proud.

India and Thailand just concluded joint naval exercises, but that posting tomorrow.

Good night :-)


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