The India-Japan summit on September 14 manifested an apparent weakness and impotence to resist China’s increasing political and economic footprint in Asia. The summit held on Thursday between two vocal opponents of China’s assertive policies in the region failed to mark any significant progress on taming the Asian superpower.
The summit held by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe marked their fourth meeting between under the banner of the India-Japan annual bilateral summit. It came as Modi and Abe faced political challenges in their respective countries.
Abe’s approval rating has declined dramatically over the past few months, slipping to an all-time low in July following a series of scandals associated with the prime minister himself and his government’s unpopular laws. As the Japanese people remain doubtful about the durability of Abe’s administration and its economic reforms, their nation’s economy has been struggling with sluggish growth, according to Reuters.
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Modi’s country remains locked in a tense border row with China on the Sino-India border. He is due to face elections in 2019, and his nation’s economy has slipped into a period of “dense fog,” as Credit Suisse described it earlier this week.
The economic and political challenges faced by Japan and India have thwarted their joint bid to tame China and prevent it from continuing to grow its influence and military presence in Asia. New Delhi and Tokyo believe the Asian superpower’s growing influence is “destabilizing” Asia.
India-Japan alliance is “no real threat to China”
Thus, the twelfth India-Japan annual bilateral summit was held in Gandhinagar against the backdrop of China’s growing military presence and influence in Asia, its historical claims in the South China Sea dispute and its ongoing border stand-off with India. Many analysts expected the summit to bring significant progress in the India-Japan joint efforts to oppose China in the region and tame the Chinese expansion in the Indian Ocean. However, Modi and Abe resorted to political caution during the meeting, and it was interpreted in China as weakness and impotence in opposing China in the region.
After the summit, the Chinese state-run Global Times slammed the India-Japan “intimacy” and said it poses “no real threat to China.”
China warns Japan against meddling in Sino-Indian border disputes
Less than 24 hours after Abe and Modi issued their joint statement following the India-Japan summit, China reacted to what it perceived as Indo-Japanese plans to meddle in the Sino-Indian boundary disputes. At a news briefing on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying warned all third parties about getting involved in China’s border disputes with India. She specifically referred to the Arunachal Pradesh sector, large parts of which are claimed by the Asian superpower,
In their joint statement following the talks, Modi and Abe announced that they are setting up the Act East Forum and that they will invest in infrastructure projects in the northeastern states. Although the India-Japan statement did not mention the Arunachal Pradesh region, Mrs. Hua warned third parties not to meddle in the border dispute in the “eastern section.”
Are India and Japan’s AAGC a threat to CPEC?
Earlier this year, Abe and Modi announced plans to develop a connectivity project dubbed the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) or “India’s New Silk Road,” which many analysts perceive as a cheaper copy of China and Pakistan’s ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The CPEC project is not only a game-changer that promotes connectivity for the entire region but also an opportunity for Beijing to seize control of trade routes in the Indian Ocean, encircling India in the process.
Both feeling an imminent threat from the joint initiative by China and Pakistan, India and Japan have stepped up their defense and strategic partnerships to oppose CPEC. Many analysts slammed the India-Japan plans to develop the AAGC and argued that it was “too late” for New Delhi and Tokyo to execute their grand mission to prevent Chinese expansion in the Indian Ocean.
This was a sentiment voiced by Panos Mourdoukoutas, a contributor to Forbes, in his article “India And Japan Cannot Stop China.” In the article, he argued that the two allied nations “lack the resources” to compete with China and Pakistan’s ambitious initiative. India’s per capita GDP is only about one-third of China’s per capita GDP. Japan, even with its per capita GDP five times higher than China’s, has suffered from sluggish economic growth in recent years and remains heavily swamped in debt.
The importance of the Indian Ocean, a major waterway for trade between Africa and the Middle East on one side and Asia on the other, has grown rapidly with China’s ascension in the region. Beijing, which remains Japan’s main trade competitor, has stepped up its efforts to challenge U.S. dominance in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea in recent years. In fact, China remains Africa’s top economic partner, with their bilateral trade standing at $188 billion in 2015. That’s more than triple the amount of bilateral trade between India and Africa.
India-Japan strategy could “complement” China’s
Moscow-based political analyst Andrew Korybko spoke to ValueWalk in a personal capacity on Friday. He said the “Indo-Japanese strategy — as it presently exists in theory — doesn’t necessarily compete with China’s per se, and could actually complement it if New Delhi and Tokyo had the political will to do so.”
However, Mr. Korybko notes that India and Japan are “regrettably more inclined to explore ways to use this to their ‘zero-sum’ advantage in swaying the host governments away from China than to pioneer ways to turn this to their collective win-win benefit.”
Mr. Korybko argues that neither India nor Japan “can afford to invest the sums of money into” the AAGC to match China’s vast investment in the New Silk Road, another part of Beijing’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. The Moscow-based analyst added that the AAGC, also known as the “Freedom Corridor,” “aims to utilize a mixture of hard and soft infrastructure to counterbalance growing Chinese influence in the Global South nations.”
“Moreover, China has already capitalized on current and future market demand by clinching multiple deals for various OBOR connectivity projects across the Eastern Hemisphere, so there are scant opportunities as it is for India-Japan to compete on this front,” Mr. Korybko said.
The analyst also draws a parallel between China’s OBOR and India’s AAGC.
“Aside from a few big-ticket highly publicized items like the North-South Transport Corridor, India’s future Japanese-built bullet train, and perhaps the Japanese-led East-West rail corridor in mainland ASEAN, the ‘Freedom Corridor’ will rely much more on less costly soft infrastructure investment such as that in education, job training, and institutional capacity building to carve out a value-added niche to differentiate itself from China’s hard infrastructure-focused investments on the New Silk Road,” Mr. Korybko said.