By Dr Subhash Kapila
Japan’s increasing strategic profile in 2018 now transcends the rapid buildup of its military muscle to forging strategic relationships especially in the maritime domain with France and Britain to offset China’s worrisome military adventurism in the South China Sea and East China Sea which in both cases endangers Japanese security.
Japan and France in end January 2018 signed agreements for joint Air Force and Navy exercises besides increasing cooperation in developing defence technologies.
More significantly, France agreed to join freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea and asserted that France stoutly maintains and would uphold the principles of free and unimpeded maritime navigation through international waters like the South China Sea and East China Sea.
France has made these assertions based on its belief that France has major stakes in Indo Pacific security having territorial dependencies both in the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
Also signed in end January 2018 was a Defence Logistics Agreement between the Armed Forces of France and Japan.
Japan while attempting to cultivate friendly relations with China is at the same time embarking on forging defence cooperation agreements with countries like France and Britain to balance China’s aggressive designs in Indo Pacific.
France and Britain may not have large naval presence in the Far East but the very intent on the part of all the above three named countries to increase their naval cooperation is a big enough political and military signal to China that it is not going to have a free run in the Western Pacific against Japan
China would be very much disconcerted with Japan/s naval outreaches to France and Britain when it is kept in mind that both France and Britain are Permanent Members of the UN Security Council with veto powers.
Japan’s naval outreach to France and Japan must contextually be viewed with Japan’s naval partnerships with the United States and India. All these three nations are engaged in holding joint naval exercises both in the Western Pacific and also in the Indian Ocean.
Japan and Britain share a long history of naval cooperation going back a century old. Japan and Britain had signed a Naval Treaty from 1902 to 1923 for enhanced naval cooperation. The Imperial Japanese Navy had modelled itself on the pattern of the Royal British Navy and the latter was responsible in the capacity building of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
So in 2018 Britain and Japan reviving their old historical naval relations should be a welcome step for all those committed to Indo Pacific security. The only difference being that in the 21st Century the Japan-Britain naval cooperation has been revived to countervail the new China Threat endangering Japan’s security and also that of the larger Indo Pacific.
Japan, Britain and the United States also established a Naval Trilateral in 2016 enmeshing the naval and maritime convergences of all these three nations.
Japan has thus been proactive in superimposing various templates of naval cooperation with like-minded countries that now are collectively conscious of the China Threat.
The China Threat perception in Asian capitals now transcends the Asian strategic space and extends to West European capitals. It is something which China in its military arrogance of new-found power cannot ignore.
China cannot afford to ignore the coalescing of naval powers from Asia to Europe rattled by China’s defiance of international Laws of the Seas and The Hague Tribunal Award declaring China’s claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea.
The United States with the highest stakes in Indo Pacific security and the security of the Western Pacific must proactively work towards enmeshing and solidifying Asian Navies coalescing against the China Threat with similar initiatives of West European countries like France and Britain joining hands with Japan.
In conclusion, it needs to be stressed that the China Threat in coming decades is going to emerge predominantly as a ‘Naval Threat” both in the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. To pre-empt the Chinese Navy assuming monstrous proportions of posing a menace in both these Oceans, Indo Pacific Navies in particular must join Japan’s hands in forging a coalition of Navies to offset that eventuality.