Outreach: The visit of US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to India, South Korea and Japan has demonstrated the priority the Biden administration accords to Asia
With India being a key member of the Quad, having a steadfast relationship with Japan and a growing one with the US, it needs to catalyse US-Japan ties by invoking complementarities. On the economic front, India needs to expand ties with both the US and Japan. These partners need to be more cognisant of India’s domestic requirements and respond in a better manner to support strategic investments.
AS the world watched the US-China diplomatic dust-off in Alaska, India took solace in the attention evoked by the Quad virtual summit and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit last month. The summit was indeed successful beyond expectations, particularly as it moved from being a security dialogue to a framework. The Japan-US partnership, which has seen smooth continuity, is a cornerstone of the Indo-Pacific policies and the Quad. It is perhaps the model on which the Quad could work further.
The visits of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea and the latter’s trip to India and Afghanistan have demonstrated the priority the Biden administration accords to Asia. This is particularly welcome since the Trump Administration was seen as missing from diplomatic parleys in Asia.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was among the first leaders whom US President Joe Biden spoke to after taking charge. The mid-March meeting between the foreign and defence ministers of Japan and the US in Tokyo, amid the pandemic, gave positive signs for the development of this relationship and the partnerships built around them. For the first time in seven years, the US secretaries of Defence and State travelled to Tokyo, whereas almost every year the Japanese ministers had been travelling to Washington DC.
Another significant aspect was that the US Secretaries of State and Defence made their first foreign visits since assuming office to Japan, and that too during the season of the Sakura cherry blossoms. Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi had his first interaction with his US counterpart, though Foreign Minister Motegi had met Secretary Blinken at the Quad FMs’ meeting in Tokyo in February.
This 2+2 dialogue is officially called the Security Consultative Committee and has been held for several years as the US and Japan discussed the dynamic international order. Japan always sent its ministers and from the US side the interlocutors were the US Ambassador to Japan and the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command. The US upgraded its participation in the 1990s by deputing the Secretaries of State and Defence, making this an important 2+2 meeting.
Initially, the dialogue focused on Russia. Subsequently, the Japanese threat perception from North Korea was the main point discussed. Now, the focus has clearly turned to China and the Japanese were pleased that the US shared their point of view and are willing to openly discuss the challenge from China to the regional and international order. The US-Japan alliance is being strengthened as the kerbstone of peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and seems ready to counter the ‘malign influences and provocation in Asia and elsewhere of the People’s Republic of China’.
Significantly, for Japan the US reaffirmed that the Senkaku islands, where China challenges Japanese control, are within the ambit of Article V of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. American commitment to resist unilateral efforts to alter the situation in the East China Sea or challenge Japan’s administration of these islands would attract the invocation of the treaty. Joint military exercises in the vicinity of the Senkaku in the East China Sea were conducted by Japanese MSDF and the US navy just as the 2+2 talks concluded. The Japanese have been reticent in challenging growing Chinese coastguard incursions but the pace of joint exercises is picking up and these are likely to be held frequently.
The meeting was preceded by the US State Department publishing a document ‘Reaffirming the Unbreakable US-Japan Alliance’ on March 14. The document said that the US and Japan would work together on common challenges like the pandemic, climate change, democracy and human rights, free trade and countering Chinese influence. The document emphasises the common values between American and Japanese people and the mutual help rendered in times of crisis, besides the public-private partnership.
With bilateral trade of $300 billion, the US-Japan relationship is one of the strongest globally and Japanese companies generate nearly a million jobs in the US, as Japan is a major source of FDI for the US, having invested $644 billion in 2019 across most states of the US. The Japan-US Strategic Energy partnership, the science and technology engagement, the digital economy, national security-based investment screening, artificial intelligence, space and biosciences are other areas where Japan and the US hope to work together. Cooperation on 5G networks, innovative businesses and open radio access network technologies seek diversified, secure and cost-effective development.
With India being a key member of the Quad, having a steadfast relationship with Japan and a growing one with the US, it needs to catalyse the US-Japan ties by invoking complementarities. Some aspects of security are mirrored and there are some common challenges. On the economic front, India needs to expand ties with both the US and Japan. These partners need to be more cognisant of India’s domestic requirements and respond in a better manner to support strategic investments as in the vaccine initiative of the Quad.
Expansion on technology and academic issues, space, biosciences and more non-governmental activity among students, academic exchanges and the like could benefit the partnerships. The role of civil society organisations could be encouraged. These would provide soft power to the relationship.