India and Japan recently pledged cooperative efforts to deepen national security interests, as a means to counterbalance China’s increasing influence in the Asian region.
“A strong India-Japan partnership is not only in the national interest of the two countries but is also important for peace and security in the region,” India’s Defense Minister Parrikar stated, reiterating that he would like to see a strong partnership with Japan in defense equipment and technology.
While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is involved in one controversy after another within India, there is no doubt that abroad he has been winning hearts and minds wherever he goes outside of his country. Among the first of his official visits was a five day trip to Japan where he was personally welcomed by Abe. With both parties claiming that bilateral ties held great potential, any observer could tell that the foundation for a stronger relationship was being laid down from the outset.
But what is it about this particular set of ties between India and Japan that makes it so special? Similar political and economic goals? Threats from other neighbors? A need to find understanding partners?
When two economic giants come to the negotiating table, the mindset makes a huge difference. India and Japan represent the second and third largest military spenders in the region. With the only overt gestures being friendly, and either side acquiescing benefits to the others, the emphasis on collaboration was strong from the onset. Already sharing a history of having supported each other from before both world wars, the historical foundation between India and Japan had already been set. It only needed two like-minded leaders—such as Modi and Abe who have shared interests and fears–to incentivize the process towards negotiation cooperation.
In negotiation theory, there is a concept called ‘likeness theory’ that forms the crux of any relationship where both negotiating parties can find elements outside of the negotiation that help them bond. This, in turn, based on related negotiation behavioral studies makes it easier to find a solution and collaborate, repivoting the negotiation process towards a positive-sum game, not a zero-sum game.
Here in this case, both Abe and Modi appear to have similar goals (or likenesses) for their respective nations. Both are fiscally conservative, both are known for favouring an internal economic strengthening, have nationalist tendencies, support strengthening ties with neighbors and both are trying to raise their nations to a standpoint where the world recognizes both India and Japan as true global powers, not just economic powers. With this kind of shared likenesses between Japan and India, it becomes easier for the two Asian giants to negotiate towards cooperation rather than betrayal (non-cooperation) in a iterated prisoners dilemma-type scenario.
Both Modi and Abe have come to power at times when their people are hungering for economic and political change. With Modi looking to drastically improve India’s infrastructure, Japan is looking for markets to invest in, making this a “win-win” relationship based on “shared and complementary interests” that have a greater chance of principled rather than positional bargaining between the two Asian giants.
Another common factor for both countries is their mutual neighbor, China. There is no subtle undertone for India here, as there is while negotiating with China, no horatory promises to cooperate while simultaneously coping with intrusions into sovereign territory or aggressive overtures in the international arena (something Modi hinted at in his speech in Kyoto). Similarly for Japan, with relations with China taking a nose dive due to diplomatic riffs and economic disagreements, finding other equally strong partners within the Asian region is imperative.
Such ever-changing negotiation climate is also simultaneously a clear signal to America that intra-Asian cooperation may not be solely U.S.-centric at all times. With both India and Japan being strong strategic partners for America in the Asian subcontinent, it seems that both India and Japan are taking steps not behind but in concert with the United States under U.S. President Barack Obama.
From India’s purview, Modi’s is initiating an “Act East” policy – a throwback of sorts and perhaps an improvement on the nation’s earlier “Look East” Policy. We know Modi also took no time in meeting Chinese Premier Xi Jinping in a recent multilateral diplomatic meeting and is set to visit Xi in May later this year. On the other hand, Modi has also already spoken to president Park Geun-Hye of South Korea on the phone. Further, his regular references to the rapid economic growth South Korea has experienced since the 1950-53 Korean War (the nation’s “Miracle on the Han” economic experience) speaks volumes about Modi’s admiration and perhaps economic benchmark for the country relating to India, with a population of over 1.2 billion people.
Based on the actions of both India and Japan, it is apparent that both Modi and Abe have the shared common interests and fears that may incentivize strategic cooperation vis-à-vis China. But how the forging of such closer India-Japan ties affects the U.S. and Europe is still to be determined.