Transcript of the Keynote address by Prof Kanti Bajpai at the International conference on “India and Japan Growing Partnership and Opportunities for Co-operation” organized by CPPR – Centre for Strategies Studies in collaboration with the Consulate-General of Japan in Chennai on February 26-27, 2019.

We meet here to discuss the possibility of India and Japan as partners in the shadow of three global changes. The first is the astonishing rise of China which may be the most salient development for India and Japan. The second is the reaction against globalization in the West and particularly the United States. It has produced Donald Trump as President and a new approach in US foreign policy. That approach has been marked over the past year by an economic conflict between America and China and a go-it-alone strategy. The third development is related, and it is Trump’s impatience with the US’s traditional allies in Europe and Asia, including in some measure, Japan. India, which was trying to forge a closer relationship with the US has also felt the sting of Trump’s foreign policy. It is in this strategic environment that we gather to assess India-Japan cooperation

I will not chart China’s rise or US foreign policy under Trump. There is enough written on those subjects to fill several rooms. I want instead to focus on India-Japan relations, which is the theme of this conference. Clearly, the coming together of these two countries is driven by several factors including the economic interests of both. But beyond the economic drivers are the strategic drivers of their cooperation: here, China’s rise and the US’s erratic behaviour and possible retrenchment from Asian alliances are key. I will not attempt to show that these are the drivers of India-Japan strategic convergence; I simply assert them, as they seem too obvious to need justifying.

I will instead attempt an analysis of the strategic choices for India and Japan in the context of China’s rise and the US’s erratic behaviour. I will begin by sketching in some highlights of India-Japan relations since the early 20 th century, to make the point that they have never been dedicated enemies or close friends. I will then go on to assess the strategic choices before India and Japan in dealing with a rising China at a time when the US, the reigning superpower, seems erratic and unreliable. Essentially, the choices for India and Japan are to bandwagon, hide, hedge, or balance. My analysis of these options suggests that bandwagoning, hiding, and hedging are not politically and strategically viable. Among India and Japan’s balancing options – internal, external, and soft balancing – soft balancing is the most viable for the foreseeable future. Complicating China’s strategic calculations, which is the essence of soft balancing, is a sensible course; outright confrontation is not. This is strategic common sense, but sometimes the case for common sense needs to be explicitly made.

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Prof Kanti Bajpa is Wilmar Professor of Asian Studies and Director, Centre on Asia and Globalisation (CAG), Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Views expressed are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research

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