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The significance of Asia’s democratic security diamond

Asia’s security is best laid out in the hands of Democratic countries that follow rule-based order, have respect for the current international order and international law.

Just days after being selected as the new Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe in his first public address stated his future for Japan and the Indo-Pacific region in general. The title of the address “Asian Democratic Security Diamond” was quite apt considering the lingering tension in the region.

This piece focuses on strengthening Japan’s relation with democratic forces in Asia namely India, Australia, United States of America and Japan itself. The principle argument of this is that Asia’s security is best laid out in the hands of Democratic countries that follow rule-based order, have respect for the current international order and international law. After Japan’s recent skirmishes with China over a small set of islands in the East China Sea, Japan has become wary of China’s growing disrespect for international law and order and the current status quo. Japan wants the democratic countries to come together and counter China over such misappropriated claims.

In a carefully planned address Shinzo Abe stated “The ongoing disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea mean that Japan’s top foreign-policy priority must be to expand the country’s strategic horizons. Japan is a mature maritime democracy, and its choice of close partners should reflect that fact. I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the US state of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific. I am prepared to invest, to the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in this security diamond.”

Japan’s struggle against a growing and increasingly assertive China will be at the forefront of a new rivalry between the West and China. Even though Chinese Leaders repeatedly convey that China’s rise will be peaceful and not cause harm to anyone, analysts believe that China is going the way of Germany before World War I and II. Japanese repeatedly point out that China is making the same mistake that Japan made during World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went as far as to compare the recent tension between the two countries to the one existing between Great Britain and Germany prior to World War I at the recently concluded Davos Summit in Switzerland.

Japan is positioning itself to defend its interests in Asia. Japan has been largely dormant since World War II, concentrating mainly on its economy and has been a model US ally in the region. Japan is becoming increasingly fearful that South China Sea is becoming “Lake Beijing” and it will surely harm its economy and its very existence in the future. If implemented, Abe’s policies will inject Japan into the heart of the intensifying Pacific struggle between Beijing and Washington for maritime regional maritime dominance and stir new concerns, especially in China, over a possible reemergence of Japan’s militaristic past.

Japan is increasingly courting countries such as India and Australia with huge interest in the Indo-Pacific region to ward off the China threat. Joint Maritime exercises with these Countries have become a calendar marker each year. The Malabar Exercise between India, United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore have seen strong diplomatic response from China which sees such exercise being directed against it.

Australia issued a strong response in support of Japan when China declared an expanded ADIZ covering the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Even Kevin Rudd, Former Australian Prime Minister and a sinologist suggested that rise of China as a singular naval power in the region will harm the interest of all the countries in the region and said that it will be the policy of successive Australian governments to see to it that Australia, along with The United States and Japan try to strive to prevent such a future.

India on the other hand is watching these developments very closely and approaching the situation very cautiously. Even though India did not issue a official statement condemning China’s ADIZ, many believe that Japan will have the support of India in any future conflict. India too is fearful that China is not expanding only into the Pacific but also its own backyard, the Indian Ocean. There have been cases of skirmishes and stand-offs between the Indian Navy and its Chinese Counterpart in the area. The inductance of INS Arihant and other ships such as Aircraft Carrier and Frigates are a step in the right direction to achieve its Blue Water Naval ambitions and to counter China’s formidable navy.

The United States with its 6 Carrier Groups in the Indo-Pacific region is keeping a check on China’s naval ambitions. Joint Naval exercises with Countries in the periphery of China and at times, at the receiving end of China’s gun-boat diplomacy are being assured of all financial help to perk up their own capabilities to counter China. US has time and again empathised on the role of regional organisations to sort out disputes between the concerned countries. The role of United States is critical and extremely crucial in maintaining order in the region. However many countries are concerned to what extent the United States will go to safeguard the territorial integrity of its allies in the region especially after last year’s Scarborough Shoal, where after US intervention, China backed off but within a month again occupied the islands and with very little response or retaliation by the United States.

Japan’s emphasis on “open and stable seas” and maritime security is the taking point in the policy circles and to what extent the Democratic Security Diamond initiative is able to ward off the China threat remains to be seen. One thing is guaranteed that Shinzo Abe will go down in history  as the one man who stood up against the China threat well before anyone else.

Piyush Singh is a law student with an interest in India-China relations and nuclear law and energy. He completed his internship at the Takshashila Institution.

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