“Constructing the Indo-Pacific” by Malcolm Cook

2018/42, 17 April 2018

The most effective regional frameworks are virtuous cycles. They are built on key state-to-state relations among members and reinforce and strengthen these same relations. The Franco-German relationship is seen as the European Union’s foundation and driving force. The post-war major power partnership between the US and Japan is the foundation for the Asia-Pacific.  Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are frequently referred to as the “core states” of ASEAN.

The emerging Indo-Pacific regional framework may do the most to enhance relations between Japan and India and this enhancement may be the most important support for the broadest development of the Indo-Pacific framework. Among the four members of the Indo-Pacific “Quad”, Japan and India are the most alike strategically and are very complimentary economically. The US state is the only global superpower, has no territorial disputes with China, and is not a major provider of public financing for infrastructure in Asia. Australia is a self-proclaimed middle power, has no territorial disputes with China, and is not a major provider of public financing for infrastructure in Asia.
Japan and India are both major powers that are weaker than China and have active territorial disputes with their largest neighbour. Japan is the most established provider of public financing for infrastructure in Asia, while India is the second largest infrastructure market in Asia after China.

Recent improvements in Japan-India relations indicate that this Indo-Pacific potential is being turned into reality. Japan is providing up to 80% of the financing on concessional terms for India’s first high speed rail project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad that will use Japanese technology. The April 11 agreement signed between Japan’s ShinMaywa and India’s Mahindra Group for the construction of components for ShinMaywa’s US-2 amphibious aircraft and the maintenance and repair of these state-of-the art long-range maritime surveillance aircraft greatly increases the chances that the Indian Navy will become the first overseas buyers of the Japanese aircraft.

This agreement is the first major success for Japan’s move in 2014 to become an exporter of military equipment while the India high speed rail deal is Japan’s first major one since Taiwan. The US-India side of the Indo-Pacific framework may get the most media focus, but the Japan-India one may be its most important.

Dr Malcolm Cook is Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.