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Asia’s New Tripartite Entente

NEW DELHI – The launch of trilateral strategic consultations among the United States, India, and Japan, and their decision to hold joint naval exercises this year, signals efforts to form an entente among the Asia-Pacific region’s three leading democracies. These efforts – in the world’s most economically dynamic region, where the specter of a power imbalance looms large – also have been underscored by the Obama administration’s new strategic guidance for the Pentagon. The new strategy calls for “rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific” and support of India as a “regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region.”

At a time when Asia is in transition and troubled by growing security challenges, the US, India, and Japan are seeking to build a broader strategic understanding to advance their shared interests. Their effort calls to mind the pre-World War I Franco-British-Russian “Triple Entente” to meet the threat posed by the rapid rise of an increasingly assertive Germany.

This time, the impetus has been provided by China’s increasingly muscular foreign policy. But unlike the anti-German entente a century ago, the aim is not to contain China. Rather, US policy is to use economic interdependence and China’s full integration into international institutions to dissuade its leaders from aggressively seeking Asian hegemony.

Indeed, the intention of the three democratic powers is to create an entente cordiale without transforming it into a formal military alliance, which they recognize would be counterproductive. Yet this entente could serve as an important strategic instrument to deter China’s rising power from sliding into arrogance. The three partners also seek to contribute to the construction of a stable, liberal, rules-based regional order.