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DIPLOMACY Facing an uncertain geopolitical climate,
Japan and India will benefit from working closely to play a greater leadership role
in the region as they share converging strategic and security interests. Given the possibility that the United States
may disengage from the Asia-Pacific, both Tokyo and New Delhi are concerned about Beijing�s
increasing assertiveness and will seek to increase their collective capabilities to
counterbalance China�s otherwise unhindered dominance. Competitive behavior vis-a-vis China is likely
to continue in arenas such as the South China Sea, Official Development Assistance (ODA),
and infrastructure projects. Although neither Japan nor India is party
to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, they are both committed to upholding
freedom of navigation and a rules-based regime, and have vital commercial and strategic stakes
that keep their interest alive in the troubled waters. Japan has been increasing its strategic engagement
in the contested region by providing capacity building assistance to ASEAN member states,
notably Vietnam and the Philippines. Japan is also planning to send its largest
warship, the Izumo helicopter carrier, on a three-month tour through the South China
Sea, before it joins the Malabar joint naval exercises with India and the United States
in the Indian Ocean in July. This signals that Tokyo has the political
will and capacity to play a larger maritime role. Meanwhile, the success of India�s �Act
East� policy hinges on connectivity and trade with ASEAN and the far-eastern Pacific. As such, India is seeking to expand its role
to ensure a stable regional maritime order. India has become increasingly engaged with
states like Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, asserting the Permanent Court of Arbitration
judgment in support of Manila�s claims. Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto
Yasay Jr. said Manila was �grateful� for India�s support. Indian naval ships have increased their presence
in the South China Sea, cooperating with Vietnam on hydrocarbon exploration despite Beijing�s
warnings and training Vietnamese submariners in India. Talks are also underway for New Delhi to impart
submarine training to Indonesia. Economic Means to a Strategic End However, to arouse less suspicion and backlash
from China, Japan and India can choose to focus on socio-economic engagement of the
region, and take a lead on non-traditional security issues. Japan has given the region development aid
since the 1950s. In 2015, the Japanese government replaced
its ODA Charter with the Development Cooperation Charter, which clearly links Japan�s aid
with its strategic goals. Rather than just providing assistance, Japan
seeks to use its aid to promote development partnerships, such as with India. Japan and India have been and will continue
to use infrastructure and connectivity projects to promote their shared interests. Japan is actively engaged in funding connectivity
projects in the strategic Northeastern region of India, which links India to Southeast Asia. Japan has pledged Rs. 67.1 billion ($1 billion)
to improve roads in India�s Northeast, targeting National Highways 40 and 55, which provide
links to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Additionally, Japan and India can leverage
their technological prowess. They can provide research and capacity-building
leadership to drive sectors such as clean technology, renewable energy, cyber security,
and space technology, to support the region�s societal and commercial development. Space technology applications can reap socio-economic
benefits for the region, including disaster warning and management, environmental monitoring,
and communications and navigation. Japan and India can explore joint development
of their space programs, play a bigger role in regional space activities, and engage other
nations interested in space development. In November 2017, India will host the 24th
Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum. This is an opportunity for India and Japan
to present a strong bilateral cooperative framework, which may lead the way for increased
regional cooperation. The Domestic Variable Japan and India�s ability to pursue wider
regional engagement for the long term is dependent on the stability and longevity of the ruling
administrations. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi�s Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) has scored a major victory in the recent state elections. This has improved his chances at winning a
second term in the 2019 general election. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe�s second
term since December 2012 has lasted longer than the previous six administrations (including
his first one-year term) and he has enjoyed relatively high approval ratings. However, in recent weeks, Abe�s popularity
has dropped as he faces scandals on two fronts: over his and his wife�s alleged connections
to a controversial land sale to a right-wing school, on top of the Defense Ministry�s
suspected cover-up of the Japanese peacekeeping troops� activities in South Sudan. Nevertheless, Abe�s public approval ratings,
hovering around 50 percent, are still strong. His Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has also
revised a party rule that would allow him to serve up to three consecutive terms instead
of two. If LDP continues to win elections, Abe may
become Japan�s longest-serving prime minister, staying on until 2021. While the expansion of Japan�s security
role has been pursued by Abe, the Japanese public is still wary of a more active security
policy. In these circumstances, it will be pragmatic
for him to focus on non-security tools to achieve Japan�s strategic goals. ASEAN�s Response ASEAN will welcome greater engagement by Japan
and India in the region since both countries have always acknowledged the notion of ASEAN
centrality and have stakes in reaffirming the status quo � that is, the ASEAN role
in the U.S.-led regional order. As long as Japan and India continue to articulate
their support for ASEAN and recognize that it is crucial for peace and stability in the
region, ASEAN member states stand to benefit from increased engagement by a stronger Japan-India
partnership. More importantly, ASEAN member states do not
wish to be embroiled in a big power rivalry, or be forced to choose sides. Overall, Japan and India must adopt a discrete
counterbalance to avoid alarming China and destabilizing the region. If they focus on economic diplomacy and cooperation
on non-traditional security issues, there might be possibilities to extend an opportunity
to China for more cooperation and engagement, which will ultimately enable ASEAN to maintain
its erstwhile role in the regional security architecture. This will help to assure China and the region
that it is not a zero-sum game.

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