Flinching on Japan in Malabar

Some of us were hoping against hope that Prime Minister would gird up his courage and formally invite Japan to participate in the annual Malabar naval exercise involving the Indian and the US Navies to be conducted later this year, and to join in its planning. It was not to be, he buckled under pressure from MEA, which has always been extraordinarily careful not give offence to China, even as the Zhongnanhai (the Chinese policy complex) has never cared about India’s concerns and interests when announcing a slate of military aid and development assistance projects, in the Northern Areas — Gilgit, Hunza, and Baltistan, part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir occupied by Pakistan since 1947 and hence very much a territory India has claimed, but as I repeatedly said, never made a fuss about.

This is a repeat occurrence because the Congress party coalition govt had similarly invited Japanese naval planners some years back to partake of the Malabar Exercise planning, thought better of it, and at the last possible moment rescinded the entire planning exercise, after the US and Japanese naval officers were already in town! That such lily-livered decision would ensue from Narendra Modi as well, is something of a shock.

But by now it is clear Modi heeds bureaucratic advice even when it goes against the national interest. On this occasion, rather than exercise his own judgement and sense of realpolitik, and over-rule the MEA and make a big show of welcoming Japan into the grouping of Malabar naval powers, a day before flying off to Xian, which would have sent a powerful message to Xi that this is not anymore the India of Manmohan Singh. Instead, Modi has once again proved that he simply doesn’t have the gumption to stand up to Beijing. He will undoubtedly receive a warmer embrace from Xi and a noisier welcome.

The MEA’s action of calling in the Chinese ambassador yesterday to protest Chinese Karakoram Highway project passing through the Northern Areas, was obviously an afterthought to still the expected criticism of the decision to keep Japan out of Malabar. Japanese Admirals who, uncharacteristically, have often publicly voiced their frustration with India in various forums during their visits to New Delhi, will now have an extra reason to feel let down. The Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, who has invested much political capital in courting India will begin to worry about this investment turning bad. Modi may well permit the Japanese navy officers to join in the tripartite Malabar planning scheduled for sometime in July. But by then, India and Modi will have missed the stage and the occasion to make a strong statement. Besides, such restraint will confirm India’s standing to ASEAN states, and even Australia, as a country that cannot be relied on when the going gets tough.

As stated in the preceding blog, weak geostrategics and the strategic vision deficiency of the country is a deadly combination. It will keep India tethered to smallness of endeavor and aspiration, and provide proof of India as a fairly inconsequential power.

The odds-on bet is that Modi will return, as his predecessors did after their sessions of kowtow in Beijing, with nothing much to show for his forbearance and supposed tactfulness in not upsetting China, except some small favours that the Chinese Emperor has always bestowed on weak states that accept China’s supremacy.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, Northeast Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Flinching on Japan in Malabar

  1. Atul says:

    With all due respect, the criticism against Japanese non-invitation seems misplaced. It has nothing to do with China but actually, everything to do with Japanese behaviour in last few months.

    First, if you see the trend in Indo-Japanese bilateral strategic relations, things are not going the right way. Even after the public bonhomie between Modi and Shizo Abe, the strategic side of relationship didn’t prosper. On the nuclear agreement, Fumio Kishida and his nonsensical attitude has irritated Indian MEA beyond expectations. Not only he wants a written commitment for no more tests but also wants a paper trail of all nuclear equipment provided to India, especially, reactor pressure vessel and heavy forgings with a RIGHT TO RETURN. Because of his and Japan Steel’s intransigence, neither French nor American nuclear reactors could be installed in India because they are dependent on Japanese components. Despite heaps of Indian assurances, Japanese intransigence and proclivity to take India for granted has not worked. So much so that Modi decided to buy Rafale fighter aircraft from France to get the heavy forging technology for nuclear reactors from French Areva.

    Second, Japan publicly snubbed India this year when it was invited to participate in P-75I submarine tender. It rather chose to opt for Australian submarine tender, even though Defence Minister Parrikar made a personal visit to Japan and it is assumed that he gave verbal assurance of the order. Although, the Japanese AIP technology is essentially Swedish and engines are iterative versions of French engines, Japan thinks his submarines are such classified technologies that if given to India, it will share them with Russia. In addition, even on the issue of US-2 amphibious aircraft’s local production, all offers of local production have turned to zilch. Japanese leg dragging in terms of technology transfer is becoming a regular irritant. Bottom line is, India-Japan commercial relations are prospering and will grow in impressive manner in future. However, strategic relations between both will stagnate if Japanese maintain their snobbish attitude and keep taking India for granted. The non-invitation in Malabar is a small reaction.

    • All potential N-suppliers have insisted — as per NSG export/sale guidelines — that there be a trace for all materials exported to India and specific accounting of use. Hence, insistence by Japan — a member of NSG, is par for the course. The no testing commitment was, likewise, a predicate for the civilian N-cooperation deal with the US. On the Soryu sub tech for the 75i project — those who know have said to me that Tokyo told GOI )perhaps, Parrikar) that India could buy submarines whole, not specific technologies, which template does not fit in with the maximal indigenous role/content envisaged for the project. On US-2, the Shinmeiwa Corp has shortlisted Indian pvt sector companies as possible partners, and which Cos. are now undergoing official scrutiny.

  2. Centuries of invasion, mostly by central and west Asian barbarians, have polluted our culture and DNA. Combine this with many decades of Nehruvian socialism, sickularism, and foreign policy. Should, then, a rationally thinking individual still wonder why India is a dhimmi state?

    The Indian Foreign Service should more aptly be renamed as the Indian Dhimmi Service. After all, dhimmitude is what they preach and practise. Witness their feeble remonstrations to Pakistan, grovelling before China, obsequiousness before the Ummah, and hypocritical posturing against the West.


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