The emerging new global order: Japan and India

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Middle powers do not shape the global order. But under the right circumstances, they can affect it. The unfolding strategic face-off between the US and China is pulling Japan and India back into Asian and global politics after decades of absence.اضافة اعلان

After its devastating defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to internalize a view of itself as drawn-in, docile and leaving its protection to the US.

In its peaceful and isolated resignation, Japan became rich beyond anything it had achieved when it was an aggressive empire. The primacy that Japan had sought by the sword, and which ultimately led to humiliation and colossal suffering, came as admiration and emulation from almost the whole of East Asia in the wake of Japan’s development in the second half of the 20th century.

India has had a different experience, although the result was not markedly different. India entered the early 1990s tired and struggling with a fundamental dilemma: it is the world’s largest democracy, yet it has shocking social inequality and a devastating level of poverty. This led to a subtle but unmistakable prioritization of economic development over all external political projects from the previous decades.

Ideas about non-alignment and partnering with liberation movements in Africa and Asia retreated into the shadows. In their place, a new image of India emerged — that of a technological powerhouse on a par with the very best of technology developers the world over. India’s economy, technological prowess and standing advanced miles ahead of its decades-long enemy Pakistan. As was the case with Japan, India found in economic development the power and prestige that politics — at least in the previous half century — had never afforded it.

Yet wealth and prestige came with strings attached. India became entangled in many of the features of US power, most notably US economic and financial markets and industrial value chains.

But then came China, which in Japanese and Indian history has always been the “other” — geographically close, but culturally often a competitor, occasionally an opponent, and in various episodes, a nemesis. Even in philosophy and religion, although China was for both India and Japan the incubator in which foundational ideas were refined and found their most marvelous expressions, it remained a feared dragon, seen as best chained, and if not chained, then best distracted and tired.

It is for this reason that China’s rapid expansion over the past decade from out of its borders and into its immediate neighborhood has imposed a dilemma on both Japan and India. Not only is politics back, demanding that attention be given to what is taking place around these two countries, but geopolitics is also presenting each of them with a serious challenge.

Both Japan and India have considered reaching out for their historical playbooks. Both have fought China repeatedly, including in the past 150 years. But today’s China is vastly different from at any time in the 19th or 20th centuries. Facing off against today’s China is not on the table for either of these two countries.

This is why both Japan and India have aligned themselves with the US as it begins to contain China’s expansion. Both have joined the Quad group of countries, which also includes Australia, since this is a primary US strategic vehicle to encircle China. Both have enhanced their military cooperation with the US. And both are increasingly linking key logistical networks in their economies with US infrastructure.

Their choices have consequences, however.

First, the two countries joining the US camp imposes on China arguably the most difficult test it will face in the medium term. No one — not even the US, as argued in the first article in this series — will really challenge China’s expansion in East Asia. The US will attempt to delay and raise the cost of establishing a Pax Sinica over the region, but ultimately China’s primacy there is a forgone conclusion.

The question then is will China stop? Or will it seek to extend its influence to encompass Japan and India? The importance of this decision is that it will determine whether China will be content with being a mega (regional) power, or whether it will be bent on becoming a superpower with dominion over the whole of Asia and beyond? The former means respecting Japan’s and India’s special positions. The latter means fighting them.

The second implication of Japan and India entering the new great game between the US and China is that they will underscore the economic and technological side of the confrontation. One of the interesting features of the US-China relationship is the many intricate links between the two countries’ economies — which has been a reason why a powerful lobby in the US had argued, predictably in vain, for the unreasonableness of the confrontation.
Of course, Japan and India have many connections to the Chinese economy. But there is neither co-dependency nor inextricable links.

On the contrary, there are major competitive dynamics between each of them and China. Not only will the US leverage on those dynamics, but almost certainly we will see in the coming years an escalation of economic rivalry, if not contestation, between China and Japan and India.

Technology will be the main theatre of this rivalry. The world is on the verge of a transformational change in industry, finance and ways of living. Whilst the US is at the forefront of the research and development of these technologies, followed by China and a select group of European countries, both Japan and India are notable centers of scientific excellence. Their primary contribution to US efforts in its strategic confrontation with China will likely be in such transformative technological changes.

There is also a more subtle, but equally important, contribution that Japan and India can bring to the US-China face-off. Japan and India are democracies in which individual rights and property are respected. The sociopolitical system of each country is unique and reflects each country’s own historical experience. However, the two countries are Asian. As more and more Asians become middle class with assets to care about and increasingly rights to demand, the more the differences between the developmental model of China and the democratic ones of Japan and India will come into focus. Here, the image of prosperous and free Japanese and Indian societies might be a notable sore, and potentially a threat, to an expansionist China seeking respect across the whole of Asia.

Whereas the US can quite safely rely on Japan and India as allies in its confrontation with China, China looks to Russia as a potential partner or at least as a party in a mutually attractive transactional relationship. Russia’s calculus, however, is a complicated one, particularly as it faces a new global order dominated by the US and China.

The writer is an Egyptian author, commentator, TV presenter and documentary producer who specializes in regional politics and political economy affairs.

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