Asia’s Natural-Born Allies

NEW DELHI – At a time when China’s economic, diplomatic, and military rise casts the shadow of a power disequilibrium over Asia, the just-concluded visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to India cemented a fast-growing relationship between two natural allies. Now the task for Japan and India is to add concrete strategic content to their ties.

Asia’s emerging balance of power will be determined principally by events in East Asia and the Indian Ocean. Japan and India thus have an important role to play in preserving stability and helping to safeguard vital sea-lanes in the wider Indo-Pacific region – a region defined not only by the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but also by its significance for world trade and energy supplies.

Asia’s booming economies are coastal, so maritime democracies like Japan and India must work together to help build a stable, liberal, rules-based order in Asia. As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the East Asia Summit (EAS) meeting in Bali last month, Asia’s continued rise is not automatically assured, and is “dependent on the evolution of a cooperative architecture.”

Japan and India – as energy-poor countries heavily reliant on oil imports from the Persian Gulf – are seriously concerned by mercantilist efforts to assert control over energy supplies and the transport routes for them. So the maintenance of a peaceful and lawful maritime domain, including unimpeded freedom of navigation, is critical to their security and economic well-being. That is why they have agreed to start holding joint naval and air exercises from 2012 – just one sign of a shift from emphasizing shared values to seeking to protect shared interests.