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US-Japan Alliance at a Crossroads
09 November 2011

Even as anxiety in Tokyo and Washington grows, the Asia-Pacific security situation is rapidly changing as a result of the rise of China. This has had its impact on the decades-old US-Japan alliance that has been adapting to the "structural shifts" in its efforts to remain in tune with the changing time. This was observed during a discussion organised by ORF on "US-Japan Alliance: Implications of the Rise of China and India" on 7 November, 2011.

Initiating the discussion, Dr. Sheila A. Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, noted that China’s rise has raised concerns in Tokyo and Washington about their competitiveness. A well known Japan expert, Dr. Smith said that Japan’s "strategic discomfort" has been growing in the recent years in the context of the changes unfolding in East Asia, particularly, the rise of China. Dr. Smith noted that the US-Japan alliance is today adjusting to the changing situation by exploring new opportunities for expansion and accommodation.

How to deal with the emerging scenario today dominates policy discussions in Tokyo and Washington, Dr. Smith added. On the other hand, there is a growing wariness in Tokyo of Washington getting closer to Beijing that may compromise Japan’s interests. The US wants India to play a more active role in the Asia-Pacific multilateralism, Dr. Smith observed.

In his opening remarks, Prof. K.V. Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, pointed out that the US-Japan alliance is a product of the Cold War period and that the two countries have been making necessary changes to adjust to the changing situation. He was of the view that there was no immediate threat to the US-Japan alliance from "within", but the dangers could come from "without" as the East region security environment undergoes dramatic changes.

The US strategy in the recent years has two important dimensions - working closely with its traditional allies and building new partnership with emerging key regional powers, he added. Prof. Kesavan also pointed out that there was a need to further strengthen the trilateral dialogue between New Delhi, Tokyo and Washington.

Former Indian Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Hemant Krishan Singh, observed that it is in India’s interest to see a strong Japan in the context of China’s rise. Amb. Singh also noted that India’s role in East Asia is good for the region as it could play a "positive balancer". He further noted that there is a growing demand for India to play a bigger role in the East Asian region and that India today has the capacity, but New Delhi has to demonstrate its will to do it.

The notion that India-Japan relations are still in the nascent stage is wrong as the two countries have been quietly but deeply engaging in the past few years, Mr. Singh noted. He also observed that India is part of the solution and not part of the problem in so far as the Non-Proliferation Treaty is concerned.

Indian strategist, Prof. C. Raja Mohan of the Centre for Policy Research has pointed out that New Delhi has been slowly adapting to the changes in international politics and has shown the willingness to play a more active role in the evolving strategic environment in East Asia. He, however, asked how far Washington and Tokyo want to go in taking the trilateral relationship between the three countries forward.

Prof. Raja Mohan pointed out that despite the dramatic changes in India-Japan relations in the last five years, the deepening of their ties would be slow-paced partly because of the bureaucratic culture in both the countries. Prof. Mohan observed that it is in the US interest to see a strong Japan-India partnership.

(This report is prepared by K. Yhome, a Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)