US-Japan-India Trilateral Ministerial Dialogue – Analysis


By Dr. Subhash Kapila

Geopolitically, in the context of a threatening Asian security environment, the Second US-Japan-India Trilateral Ministerial Dialogue of the Foreign Ministers of the three nations was held in New York on September 18 2017 on the side-lines of the UNGA Session acquires added significance.

Sticking to diplomatic niceties and avoiding overt references to the Chan Threat to Indo Pacific stability, the communiques issued by the three nations on conclusion of the Second Trilateral Dialogue when analysed leaves no doubt that each point of emphasis in the strategic convergences highlighted on the discussions in the Trilateral Dialogue alluded to China without any ambiguity.

For sake of analysis and to highlight India’s policy formulations on Asian security which coincide strategically with those of the United States and Japan, the contents of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs note covering the Trilateral Dialogue posted on its web-site is taken as the bench-mark for analysis in this Paper.

The Indian Foreign Ministry in its Communique emphasised that all three nations laid great emphasis on the following foreign policy formulations, when summarised as follows: (1) Freedom of navigation and overflights needed to be ensured in the Indo Pacific Region (2) Respect for international laws, and (3) Peaceful resolution of disputes. India also emphasised and the others concurred that on Connectivity Issues, these should be based on international laws and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.

On nuclear and missile challenges to regional security posed by North Korea, India was quite forthcoming in (1) Deploring North Korea’s recent actions (2) North Korea’s proliferation linkages must be explored, and that (3) Those involved be held accountable. India’s unequivocal support would have gladdened the US and Japanese foreign policy makers by standing with them on a security challenge which is live for both the United States and Japan.

India’s additional call for investigating North Korea’s linkages in building-up its nuclear weapons and ICBM arsenal on accountability of those involved alludes directly to the China-Pakistan linkages and their WMD assistance to North Korea.

Similarly, the main points of emphasis stated above regarding freedom of navigation and overflights and respect for international laws and sovereignty are undoubtedly has China in the crosshairs. After all, what China has brazenly done in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea is a gross violation of such norms and challenge to international rules-based order. Here China’s open defiance of The Hague Tribunals award against China on the South China Sea disputes needs to be recalled.

The United States and Japan sharing India’s concerns on China’s Connectivity Initiatives challenge which affect India’s national security interests with particular reference to China’s CPEC traversing Indian territory under illegal occupation of Pakistan, namely the Northern reaches of CPEC, should be a welcome step of support. The CPEC does violate India’s sovereignty and China emerges as a Pakistan-accomplice in putting down India strategically.

Interestingly, in Japan, the coverage of the Trilateral Dialogue besides covering the above aspects further highlights two notable aspects in the maritime security domain and these were (1) Develop strategically important ports and infrastructure in the Indo Pacific Region, and (2) Boost Trilateral Maritime Security and maritime security cooperation.

On the above, one already finds movement in this direction in terms of Japan being formally accepted as the third participant in the Annual Malabar Naval Exercises hithertofore being held bilaterally between the United States and India. One could now expect greater increased Trilateral Naval Cooperation in terms of the Indian Ocean. Joint India-Japan Connectivity Initiatives linking Indo Pacific with Africa as a counter to China’s OBOR are already visible.

This analysis would be incomplete without a comparative review of the First Inaugural Trilateral Dialogue held in New York on September 29 2015. The Communique then listed on India’s Foreign Ministry website list all the major points that are listed in the Second Trilateral Dialogue 2017, but there were two additional points that were highlighted. These two points emphasised in 2015 were as follows: (1) Centrality of ASEAN in multilateral political and security architecture of the region, and (2) Importance of East Asia Summit as a premiers-level forum for discussion of key political and security issues.

The above omissions may be inadvertent this year but I am led to believe that reservations on ASEAN –centrality in regional political and security architecture may be arising from ASEAN having been open to division by China on the South China Sea issue and not unitedly confronting China on territorial dispute foisted by China on some ASEAN countries.

China’s reactions on the Trilateral Dialogue as articulated by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson was on expected lines, especially on points critical of China, though only alluded. In keeping with China’s current policy trends, China has been trying to drive a wedge between India and Japan by referring to India positively and negatively on Japan. In other terms China is alluding that India stands to lose greatly if it continues to reinforce its strategic partnership with Japan.

The Trilateral Dialogues between the United States, Japan and India commenced during US President Bush Jr tenure though at the bureaucrats’ level. However, the initiative lost much of its steam in later years and until 2015. This presumably arose from the ‘hedging strategies’ of both the United States and India in the last decade or so.

The revival of the US-Japan-India Trilateral Dialogue in 2015 and that too reinforced by its elevation to Foreign Ministers-level has coincided with the emergence of two strong and assertive leaders in Japan and India in the persona of PM Abe and PM Modi. It also coincides with the gradual fading away of both United States and India’s ‘China Hedging Strategies.”

Concluding, it needs to be strongly emphasised that geopolitical imperatives foisted by China’s not so peaceful military rise and its aggressive nationalism under current Chinese President Xi Jinping destabilising the Indo Pacific Region places a current higher call on the United States, Japan and India to strengthen their Strategic Partnerships to a level which dissuades China from actively endangering regional and global security directly or through its proxy nuclear states creations like North Korea and Pakistan.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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