Changing dynamics in Asia reverberates across the globe
India and Japan have the ability to play a larger role in global affairs and also alter the landscape in Asia
The current century, it is said, belongs to Asia and what happens here will impact the world. In recent times, Asian nations have begun spreading their wings, changing global dynamics, and challenging the power of the West.
Even within Asia there is a realignment of nations countering China which has sought to dominate the region, considering it as its backyard. Asia is also a volatile region where conflicts are permanently simmering. The three most powerful nations in the region, China, Japan, and India are moving to create their own space.
The signing of the peace accord, negotiated by China, between arch rivals, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, changed the dynamics of West Asia. With this, the isolation of Iran is likely to end. While the US welcomed the move, claiming it was aware of ongoing discussions, Israel was surprised.
Yoel Guzansky, an expert on the Persian Gulf at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank, stated, “It is a blow to Israel’s notion and efforts in recent years to try to form an anti-Iran bloc in the region. A diplomatic win for Iran is very bad news for Israel.” China, which was considered a fringe player in West Asia, has now established itself as the guarantor of peace.
Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow was strengthening the Eurasian anti-West alliance. Both Beijing and Moscow have been in western crosshairs, albeit for different reasons. Their joining hands will draw in other nations, under pressure from the West, into the grouping. The Kremlin will remain a close, but junior partner, to Beijing in challenging the West. There is no doubt that both Iran and China are providing Moscow with military support against the West, led by the US, backing Ukraine.
The future will be Russia banking on Chinese support to stave off western pressures. The visit also enhanced trade ties thereby ending the economic isolation of Russia. The visit gave a boost to Putin’s global image and set aside the picture of him being sidelined. For India, despite all conciliatory statements from Moscow, it is evident that Russia will toe the Chinese line or remain neutral in an Indo-China conflict, implying Delhi cannot bank on Moscow and must reconsider its alignments, which it is doing.
Japan has been moving steadily to counter China. Japanese PM Fumio Kishida held almost a back-to-back summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on March 16 and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on March 18 in Tokyo and then rushed to India for an annual meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 20-21 before making a surprise visit to Kiev on March 21 evening.
Each of these meetings was not without any global significance; rather they aimed at checkmating China. The Japan-South Korea summit, the first in over a decade, was designed to jointly counter growing threats from China and North Korea.
Japan and South Korea agreed to resume diplomatic visits, security dialogue and normalize intelligence sharing. North Korea displayed its displeasure by launching a ballistic missile on the first day of the summit. The visit was a setback to China which always exploited their rivalry hoping to draw in South Korea. For the US it was a win-win. Both nations are US allies and their collaboration would benefit the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
The Japan-Germany summit saw a commitment from both sides to reduce excessive dependencies in critical areas such as raw materials, mainly from China. It implied decoupling from China, which would benefit India. Beijing stated that the summit was a ‘form of cooperation to cope with the China threat,’ and warned it would be met with obstacles.
Kishida’s visit to India was another milestone. During the visit, Kishida unveiled his new Indo-Pacific strategy, which included, “maintaining peace, dealing with new global issues in cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries, achieving global connectivity through various platforms, and ensuring the safety of the open seas and skies.” Tokyo considers India as an important player in the region. Japan pledged USD 75 Billion by 2030 for the Asian region intending to challenge growing Chinese influence.
Increased India-Japan cooperation will counter China’s growing assertiveness. Kishida invited PM Modi for the forthcoming G 7 summit in Tokyo in May. India heading G 20 and Japan G 7 provide both nations with an opportunity to create a global impact. Writing for the Indian Express, Kishida stated, “In order to respond effectively to various challenges that the international community is currently facing, cooperation between the G-7 and the G-20 has greater significance. Challenges include food security, climate and energy, fair and transparent development finance.” There is no doubt that closer Indo-Japanese military cooperation will irk China.
China believes that India and Japan are collaborating against it. The Global Times said, "Certain countries have been vocal about promoting “freedom and openness” in what they called “Indo-Pacific,” but they are in fact putting up a small circle featuring bloc confrontation.’ It added, “some of the topics they talked about concern China, such as transferring Japan's industrial chains to India and bilateral military cooperation.” India and Japan are both part of the QUAD, which does not have a military element but is considered an anti-China alliance.
While Xi Jinping was in Moscow, Kishida visited Kiev, offering solidarity with Zelenskyy as the Russia-Ukraine war continued. Japan has imposed sanctions on Russia. During the visit Kishida announced USD 30 Million in non-lethal military assistance while rejecting Russian aggression as attempting to change the status quo. The joint statement released at the end of the visit mentioned South and East China sea as also the Taiwan straits drawing a negative response from China.
The Global Times mentioned in an editorial that Japan was “sensationalizing the so-called geopolitical and military threats from China, thereby playing up tensions and instability in the region.” It accused Japan of “tying the future of Ukraine to the situation in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and even the Taiwan Straits.” Kishida was the last member of the G7 to visit Ukraine. Kishida’s visit, coinciding with Xi’s visit to Moscow, reduced the visibility of the Russia-China summit.
India is growing rapidly. Its economy and military power makes it a destination for global leaders. Its strategic location implies that without Indian support, containing China is not possible. India and Japan have the ability to play a larger role in global affairs and also alter the landscape in Asia.
Asia also has multiple disputes which could be ignited at any instant. All involve Chinese claims in the South and East China Seas, Taiwan, and India. Every dispute in the region involves China. In addition, defence spending in Asia is on the rise, again due to actions of a belligerent China. Hence all alliances, development of capabilities and alignments in Asia are aimed at reducing or containing this threat.
Though these are early days, evidently Asian alliances are changing, enhancing unity to counter China. Simultaneously, their involvement in resolving disputes and heading global bodies are increasing their global presence. Despite the Ukraine war, the world's attention cannot shift away from Asia so long as Chinese assertiveness continues.
*** The writer is a security and strategic affairs commentator; views expressed are his own