Political Scientist: Japan and India will deepen ties because of China Rise

The China factor has steadied the two nations’ strategic partnership, despite their differences of opinion on some world affairs matters.

In Japan, on January 12-26, the Indian Air Force and the Japan Self-Defense Forces performed military exercises “Veer Guardian 2023”. The Ministry of Defense of India has stated that military aerial combat exercises will contribute to exchanging aerial combat experience and strengthen potential cooperation in the defense sphere. The Japan Self-Defense Forces are aimed at significantly expanding the cooperation of the security zone and at further conducting bilateral and multilateral exercises.

The involvement of various troops in military exercises is a significant event for the defense forces of India and Japan and the balance in the Indo-Pacific region. This is not the first time when cooperation between the two countries’ military forces happens. In the south of India, in September 2022, the Dharma Guardian exercises were held. The Navies conducted their 6th JIMEX 22 Bengal naval exercises. In November, the countries united to conduct multilateral exercises “Malabar”, where Australia and the United States also took part. India and China have also launched bilateral political consultations and discussions on security issues.

If the military development of India in recent decades has been stable and has been increasing, then the Japanese activation in this direction is a new phenomenon in world politics. The reason for this shift is apparent, and its name is China. In 2013, when Xi Jinping became president of China, the Japanese national security strategy called Beijing a “strategic partner”. And since the end of 2022, in the updated national security strategy, China has been called “an unprecedented and greatest strategic challenge to peace and security in Japan.” China’s gradual but stubborn expansionism under Xi has made Japan’s pacifist position untenable. According to the document, Tokyo will double defense spending over the coming years. These costs, equal to about $320 billion, will finance the largest military buildup of Japan since the Second World War. And it will be the third largest military budget in the world — after the United States and China.

In my opinion, Japan’s active militarization is an event of fundamental importance for the international system and the balance of power. For decades, Japan’s international influence has been based on permanent high economic growth, Japanese corporations’ success, and high technologies export potential. By the way, the country had a defense spending ceiling of about 1% of GDP and no offensive potential. In addition, Tokyo intended to amend article 9 of the Japanese pacifist constitution, which prohibits having an army in the classical sense. According to it, Japan refuses “the threat or use of armed force,” but later, given the protests, these intentions were frozen.

By the way, Japan is not the only power in the Asian region that once occupied and actively strengthened its defense potential. Australia also followed this way. And their motivation is the same – the growth of China. Cooperation takes place within the framework of QUAD. By the way, The dialogue was initiated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. The main superpower of the world, the USA, supports these processes. 

The intensification of the military policy of India and Japan is not the beginning of the process of militarization of Asia. It would be more correct to consider these processes as a response to the disturbed classical balance of power in the region. Unprecedented and longest in history (40 years) China’s growth has led to a shift in regional powers’ economic and military potential. Delhi and Tokyo began to feel their lag behind the growing superpower. From the point of view of IR theory, the actions of India and Japan to strengthen cooperation, which will soon be called a military alliance, are logical and proper steps. Moreover, China’s tightening expansionist policy of spreading its soft power and economic influence, as well as large-scale military reforms and militarization, are forcing the region’s countries to cooperate and arm themselves more actively.

Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.