Japan’s leading foreign affairs journal interviews Brahma Chellaney

Japan-India Links Critical for Asia-Pacific Peace and Stability

Brahma Chellaney and Horimoto Takenori

© Gaiko Forum, Fall 2007, Volume 7, Number 2

A top Indian strategic thinker sees the Japan-India relationship as one of the key factors that will determine Asia’s future dynamics, even as China continues its rise to international prominence. With an eye on how the United States, Russia, and other countries fit into the picture, we asked him about India’s view on Japan and Asia in terms of its thinking on establishing long-term mechanisms for strategic cooperation.

Horimoto Takenori: First of all, could you tell us what kind of policies India is developing in the areas of foreign affairs and security, particularly in regard to the situation in the region at this time?

Brahma Chellaney: The situation around India at the moment is posing increasing challenges to its security. The area to the west, between India and Israel, is volatile and constitutes a contiguous arc of extremism and fundamentalism. Then to India’s east we have Bangladesh and Myanmar, both undergoing domestic tumult, and to the north the Central Asian states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are internally troubled. Also to the north we have Tibet, where resistance to Chinese rule has continued and where China is actually doing a lot of development that is strategic in orientation and therefore affects India’s security. So in general, India’s neighborhood has become far more difficult and threatening to Indian security than in the past.

In response, India has to have, first of all, a clear strategy to deal with this deteriorating external environment. Second, it needs to have more vigorous engagement with various actors in its neighborhood. India’s foreign policy has to be dynamic and focused on engagement not just with the governments in power in those countries but also with various important elements of civil society in those states, so that India can work with as many key actors as possible. And the third element in this approach is that India has to exercise its “soft power.” These three points are crucial to developing a long-term response.

Horimoto: How would you evaluate Indian foreign policy so far in terms of those three points?

Chellaney: Indian foreign policy has been good on points two and three — engagement with civil society in the neighborhood and projecting soft power. India is currently providing $700 million to Afghanistan for reconstruction, and it provides a lot of other development aid to countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and now even Myanmar. But foreign policy in terms of the first point I mentioned—devising a long-term strategy—is wanting. India still tends to be quite reactive and ad hoc in its responses.

Equal Footing with the United States

Horimoto: I see. Next, I’d like to ask you about the issue of nuclear power, which ties in with the large strides India is taking toward closer relations with the United States. We see that the efforts to finalize and put into force the U.S.-India deal on civil nuclear cooperation have gotten bogged down.

Chellaney: No strategic issue has proven more divisive in India in modern times than this nuclear deal with the United States. The problem is that the two countries entered into this agreement with different expectations of what it will deliver. India hopes the deal will bring about the removal of all sanctions it faces on the import of advanced technologies. Since 1974, when India conducted its first nuclear test, the United States has strictly regulated the flow of advanced technology to India through export controls. The irony is that communist China now has greater access to U.S. high technology than democratic India. So India’s aim is the removal of not only civil nuclear sanctions but also other technology sanctions, including export controls on space technology and on high technology in general. India would like the deal to open the way to such export controls being gradually relaxed and eventually lifted altogether.

America’s aim, on the other hand, is to rope in India as its new strategy ally in Asia. After having penalized New Delhi for its 1974 nuclear test through stringent technology controls, Washington is now ready to promote India’s “normalization” as a nuclear power through this deal, but at a price: India is to bind its interests to America’s. The future of the Indo-U.S. relationship hinges on the resolution of a key issue: will India be a Japan to the U.S. (in other words, an ally), or will it be a strategic partner? An ally has to follow the alliance leader, while in a partnership there is at least the semblance of equality. India would prefer to stay a strategic partner of the U.S. and not get into a Japan-style security dependency on Washington.

Horimoto: Specifically, there are three points on which the nuclear deal has proven controversial in India: no nuclear testing, the issue of reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, and permanent international inspections (safeguards). Regarding the first of these, you said in a recent article in the American press, in the Wall Street Journal, that this amounts to an attempt to bring India into the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) via the back door.

Chellaney: Well, the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in December 2006, already has an explicit ban on India testing, and says that if India were to conduct a nuclear test, then all cooperation would cease. But to incorporate that into the bilateral agreement would have been from India’s standpoint, almost a de jure acceptance of the CTBT. In the agreed text of the bilateral agreement, while there is no explicit reference to nuclear testing, a test prohibition against India has been unequivocally built into its provisions through the incorporation of the U.S. right to demand the return of all supplied materials and items if Washington held New Delhi to be in violation of the accord’s terms.

Of India’s 22 commercial nuclear power reactors, 14 are going to be made subject to permanent international inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in return for which they are supposed to get permanent fuel supply from overseas. In reality, however, there is no enforceable link between perpetual international inspections and perpetual fuel supply, because the U.S. has an open-ended right in the bilateral agreement to suspend supplies forthwith while issuing a one-year termination notice by citing any reason it wishes.

The next issue is reprocessing. As a country poor in uranium but rich in thorium deposits, India is working to eventually establish a thorium-based fuel cycle as the mainstay of its nuclear power policy, and the second and third phases of its development program depend on reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. This reprocessing will take place under IAEA safeguards, so India is not seeking exemption from international monitoring, but it does want the operational right upfront to carry out reprocessing. In part, India does not want to repeat its past mistake. In the 1960s, when America built India’s first nuclear power plant at Tarapur under the peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement of 1963, America said that India can reprocess after joint determination with America that the reprocessing facility is adequately safeguarded, but to date no such joint determination has been carried out. Yet, in the latest agreement, the U.S. has granted India only a theoretical to reprocess, with the actual right to be negotiated later.

The nuclear deal the U.S. signed with China is so liberal that the agreement states in one of its provisions that “bilateral safeguards are not required.” To placate Congress over the absence of IAEA or U.S. inspections, the Clinton administration worked out a loose arrangement with Beijing for nominal on-site safeguards. In India’s case, the U.S. is to have its own end-use inspections, in addition to IAEA inspections.

Horimoto: So why did the Indian government accept such terms?

Chellaney: It shows how naive Indian negotiators have been. This deal has been a real foreign policy success for the Bush administration’s second term, but in India it has become the cause of a lot of misgivings, triggering a political crisis.

Horimoto: Under the agreement, India’s uranium imports will increase. Some experts are saying that if India uses that imported uranium for electric power stations, this would enable it to divert its own uranium resources to nuclear weapons.

Chellaney: India will still have eight existing nuclear power plants that will not be subject to IAEA inspections, plus new ones that are still under construction. India’s natural uranium will have to be used for these other reactors, not for nuclear weapons. For weapons, furthermore, India uses plutonium, not uranium. There are only two facilities in India for plutonium production, the Dhruva reactor and the CIRUS reactor, and CIRUS is going to be closed down by 2010 as part of this U.S.-India accord. So, in three years’ time India will lose one-third of its plutonium production capability, and therefore one-third of its ability to make more nuclear weapons.

Horimoto: Japan is being asked by both the United States and India to accept and accommodate this 123 Agreement, but so far it has avoided giving a definite answer. This is basically because, although the Japanese government wants to be accommodating for the sake of good relations with both countries, as the only nation to have suffered atomic attack it must also heed the predominantly anti-nuclear sentiment of the Japanese people.

Chellaney: This nuclear deal still has several stages to cross. After the bilateral agreement between India and the United States, New Delhi has to negotiate a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, after which will come the deliberations by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) for granting India an exemption from its export controls. If the deal does get that far, Japan will have to make up its mind because it won’t be able to still sit on the fence and hedge its bets.

Horimoto: At the moment the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, are expressing concerns about the plan.

Chellaney: Also resisting it are Ireland, Italy . . .

Horimoto: And China also. But what do you think China’s true attitude toward this Indian nuclear deal is?

Chellaney: I think China will come on board, eventually. The United States has been keeping China in the loop on this nuclear deal with India, and U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns has said that in the final decision China will come on board. China has no reason to oppose an agreement that puts some fetters on India’s nuclear weapons program. China, however, may prefer that instead of an India-specific exemption, the NSG makes a criteria-based exemption that Beijing can use to work out similar cooperation with Pakistan.

Balancing vis-à-vis China

Horimoto: Former Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times James Mann has published a new book titled The China Fantasy (Viking, 2007), in which he says that China’s economic development will not necessarily bring democratization, that China might retain its communist regime for long, and that this could become a major problem for the United States.

Chellaney: China is a real wild card in Asia. I think it’s very important to ensure that China rises in a way that is not destabilizing for Asia or the wider world. If China becomes more high-handed or assertive, then obviously this would create disequilibrium throughout the world. China is politically autocratic but economically open, and even though that is a contradiction, China has been able to manage the contradiction rather well. If it continues to do that, then it will reap the benefits from both ends, which means that by the middle of this century, China will emerge as a truly great power. Under the Hu Jintao government, we see that growing economic prosperity has not created more political openness. On the contrary, the state has become more sophisticated in repressing dissent, as seen from the new curbs on media and scholars, Internet censorship, and so on. So I am concerned about what kind of China we will see 25 years from now. If it continues on the present path, then I think in Asia we will have a power imbalance, and globally we will have an international system in which China will try to change the rules to its advantage, creating a lot of fluidity.

Horimoto: How should India try to cope with that situation?

Chellaney: India needs to bear in mind that China is using classical balance-of-power strategies against it, and India, too, has to take strategic steps to balance China’s rise so that its power does not become high-handed. The only way that balance can be maintained is if India cooperates in building a constellation of democracies in the Asia-Pacific region—a group that would include countries like Japan, India, Australia, the United States, Russia . . .

Horimoto: Russia also?

Chellaney: I think so, because if you leave out Russia you will not get a true counterbalance to China. The most effective approach on China would be a three-way partnership among India, Russia and Japan, although for that there needs to be an improvement in the Japan-Russia relationship. Russia has the same kinds of concerns about China that India and Japan have. And if you look at it geographically, with Japan to the east, Russia to the north, and India in the south, a Japan-Russia-India three-way partnership would effectively contain China from all sides. So, in addition to the quadrilateral partnership involving Australia, Japan, the United States, and India, we need to work on this very innovative and strategic triangle involving Russia, Japan and India. And we need to strengthen the Japan-India bilateral relationship as an important pillar of power equilibrium in Asia. Japan-India strategic collaboration is pivotal to the future makeup of Asia.

Horimoto: A kind of composite approach. But doesn’t that contradict what you said in your book Asian Juggernaut (HarperCollins, 2006), where you stressed the need mainly for cooperation between Japan, India, and China? And also, how do you think China will react to such a multipronged approach?

Chellaney: As my book points out, China is already developing various levers to contain India and Japan. India hasn’t done anything in relation to China, but China is already building the Irrawaddy Corridor down to the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar; they’re building the Trans-Karakoram Corridor down to Gwadar in Pakistan; they’re building an east-west corridor in Tibet, right along India’s northern borders; and then they’re also trying to enter the Indian Ocean region. So, basically, they’re trying to squeeze India from all sides.

To deal with China’s rise, we also need a system of institutionalized cooperation among Japan, India, and China. On issues of trade, international finance, monetary policy, and so on, Japan, China, and India are virtually on the same side and can cooperate productively. Without good relations between Japan and China and also between India and China, we will not be able to understand what China is up to.

India’s Focus on the Seas

Horimoto: You mentioned the Indian Ocean. Sea-lane security is becoming an important issue in Asia, not only for defense but for economic development as well.

Chellaney: In Asia today, the issues of energy and security are inseparable. In fact, Asia faces the specter of a twenty-first-century, energy-focused version of the Great Game, the nineteenth-century rivalry between the British Indian Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia. Mercantilist efforts to assert control over oil and natural gas supplies and transport routes certainly risk fueling tension and discord. That is why sea-lane security has become more important than ever.

With Japan, China, and India dependent on energy imports by sea, multinational cooperation on the security of sea-lanes has become essential to avert strategic friction in Asia. Asia needs to build a shared interest in viable energy policies, secure sea-lanes, and a stable energy environment. However, such a shared interest can be developed only on the basis of expanded political and security cooperation, as well as increased transparency in military expenditures.

Furthermore, to forestall the passions aroused by maritime boundary disputes, Asia needs an agreed code of conduct on naval and energy exploration activities. For example, the answer to the long-running battle between Japan and China over disputed oil and gas fields in the East China Sea cannot be unilateral drilling or production by either side.

Horimoto: India has been strengthening its navy and expanding the navy’s field of activity beyond the Indian Ocean to the Strait of Malacca, and recently even to the Pacific, through its joint naval exercises with the United States, Japan, and Russia.

Chellaney: It should not be forgotten that India is a peninsular country with a long coastline and a vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that measures more than 2 million square kilometers. The fact that 95 percent of India’s external trade moves by sea makes India especially vulnerable to maritime contingencies. Particularly important is the Persian Gulf region, the source of 85 percent of India’s oil and gas imports.

Strategically, this makes the security of sea-lanes vital to India’s economic and security interests, and India’s published maritime doctrine emphasizes the centrality of the Indian Ocean to national security. The Indian Navy, furthermore, has to protect not only sea-lanes but also the country’s large energy infrastructure of onshore and offshore oil and gas wells, liquefied natural gas terminals, refineries, pipeline grids, and oil exploration work within its EEZ. India neglected to modernize its navy for more than 15 years, but in the last few years it has been sharply increasing its naval spending.

The greater Indian emphasis on the seas also springs from China’s incremental efforts to create a network of forward listening posts, naval access agreements, and Chinese-built harbors along the Indian Ocean rim—a network stretching from Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Chinese interest in the Indian Ocean rim now extends even as far as the Seychelles.

As I mentioned before, Beijing has been fashioning two vertical strategic corridors, one to the west and another to east of India. The former is the Trans-Karakoram Corridor stretching from western China all the way down to Gwadar at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s oil passes. The newly opened, Chinese-built deepwater port at Gwadar represents China’s first strategic foothold in the Arabian Sea.

The latter is the Irrawaddy Corridor from Yunnan province to the Bay of Bengal, which involves road, river, and rail links through Myanmar, including to the Chinese-built harbors at Kyaukypu and Thilawa. Then there is China’s agreement with Sri Lanka to build a port in the Hambantota District, China’s provision of aid to the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong, and its interest in a strategic anchor in the Maldives. All this underscores an emerging Chinese challenge to India’s traditional dominance in the Indian Ocean region.

One component of China’s plan is to make the Gwadar port-cum-naval base a major hub for transporting Persian Gulf and African oil by pipeline to the Chinese heartland via the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This plan to pipe the oil in would not only cut freight costs and supply time but also lower China’s reliance on U.S.-policed shipping lanes through the Malacca and Taiwan Straits.

Besides augmenting its naval capabilities, India is building up its strategic partnerships—in the form of trade accords, military exercises, energy cooperation, and strategic dialogue—with key littoral states in the Indian Ocean region as well as with outside players like the United States, Japan, and Australia. Such cooperation is principally aimed at safeguarding the various “gates” to the Indian Ocean, and so its primary focus is on states adjacent to such chokepoints as the Strait of Hormuz (Iran), the Strait of Malacca (Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia), the Bab el Mandeb (Djibouti and Eritrea), the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) and the Mozambique Channel (Mozambique). India’s defense ties with Iran, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand—all countries lying along those key sea lanes—reflect India’s new emphasis on strengthening its position in the Indian Ocean.

India’s efforts to play an expanded naval role in its extended neighborhood have been illustrated in recent years by two events. The first was India’s provision of naval escorts to commercial ships passing through the vulnerable, piracy-wracked Strait of Malacca in 2003. The second was the dispatch of the Indian Navy for relief efforts and aid diplomacy after the tsunami that struck southern Asia on 26 December 2004. This was the largest humanitarian relief operation the Indian Navy has ever conducted outside India’s territorial waters.

For India, the maritime arc stretching from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Malacca to the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan constitutes the “new Silk Road.” Building maritime security in this arc demands cooperation and strategic partnership among countries sharing common interests and values. One of several such initiatives currently being developed is the India-Japan-U.S.-Australia quadrilateral initiative. It is significant that Tokyo pushed for India’s inclusion into this group, turning the existing Japan-U.S.-Australia trilateral security arrangements into a quadrilateral tie-up. Even before becoming Japan’s prime minister, Abe Shinzo wrote in his book Utsukushii kuni e [Towards a Beautiful Country] (Bungei Shunju, 2006)* that it was of “crucial importance to Japan’s national interest that it further strengthen ties with India, and that it would not be a surprise if in another 10 years Japan-India relations overtook Japan-U.S. and Japan-China relations.”

Next Three Years Crucial for Japan-India Relations

Horimoto: To what extent can Japan and India cooperate in the area of sea-lane security?

Chellaney: Given the fact that, of all the major powers in the world, India and Japan are the most vulnerable to any disruption of oil supplies from the Persian Gulf region, they need to build close strategic cooperation centered on maritime security. India and Japan are already developing joint exercises between the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Indian Navy, as well as military exchanges and high-level defense dialogue, and it is no surprise that they are exploring various kinds of cooperation in this area. India-Japan strategic cooperation can only contribute to strategic stability in Asia.

At the same time, India and Japan have to build adequate military capabilities to help maintain a stable power equilibrium in Asia. This is why, among other things, India has purchased the 40,000-ton Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. If India does not guard the various gates to the Indian Ocean by strengthening both its own naval power and its strategic partnerships with key players like Japan, it could find itself facing the Chinese navy in its backyard before long.

Such cooperation doesn’t mean that India and Japan intend to jointly counter China. A stable, mutually beneficial relationship with China remains critical to the national interests of both our countries. But China’s growing power puts Delhi and Tokyo at a disadvantage when they deal with Beijing strictly at the bilateral level. So, broader security arrangements or initiatives are attractive for India and Japan to ensure that the rising Chinese power will not slide into arrogance.

Horimoto: The United States is also keen to remain an active player in Asia.

Chellaney: Trying to exclude the United States would only raise other problems, so we need to have initiatives that involve it as well. But we must remember that the United States is pursuing its own interests in Asia, which are to retain its geopolitical preeminence in the Asia-Pacific region, to ensure that no Asian power overtly challenges its interests in the region, and to maintain a balance of power in light of the fact that Asia is becoming increasingly important to the American economy and security. But I think that the U.S. role in Asia is going to decline over the next 50 years because of the rise of China and India and also because of the political rise of Japan, which in my view is the most under-noticed development in the world.

Horimoto: Finally, I’d like to ask you about Japan-India relations. Their economic relationship will no doubt continue to expand, but what kind of developments might they aim for in their political relations?

Chellaney: India and Japan are Asia’s largest and most-developed democracies, and the ties between them constitute the most important relationship in Asia today because it will shape the future strategic landscape of the region. Normally, the best diplomatic relationships are built on the bedrock of security ties. Japan and India have recently been stepping up their military exchanges and visits, and I don’t think there’s been any time since after World War II when the Japanese prime minister and foreign minister have publicly placed India on as high a priority as we see now. I think the next three years are going to be an important opportunity for the two countries to lay the foundation for long-term strategic cooperation. In an Asia characterized by a qualitative reordering of power, the direction of the India-Japan relationship is set towards closer engagement.


*Forthcoming in October in English under the title Towards a Beautiful Country: My Vision for Japan (Vision, 2007)


プロフィール [bio]

Brahma Chellaney

Professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, a private think tank based in New Delhi. A specialist in international security and arms control issues, Chellaney has been an adviser to the Indian government for many years, and is currently a member of the Policy Advisory Group headed by the Indian foreign minister. He is active as a columnist for leading Indian and overseas newspapers and as a television commentator. His recent works include Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan (HarperCollins, 2006).

Horimoto Takenori

Professor, Shobi University. A graduate of the Chuo University faculty of law, Horimoto received his master’s degree in political science from the University of Delhi. He took up his current position after serving as director general of the Research and Legislative Reference Bureau, National Diet Library. A specialist in international relations in South Asia and U.S. policy on Asia, he is the author of Indo gendai seijishi [A Political History of Modern India], Tosui Shobo, 1997, and Indo: Gurobaruka suru kyozo [India: The Elephant Globalizes], Iwanami Shoten, 2007, among other works. He also translated Stephen P. Cohen’s India: Emerging Power (Brookings Institution Press, 2001) for its Japanese-language publication as Amerika wa naze Indo ni chumoku suru no ka? [Why the United States is Watching India], Akashi Shoten, 2003.


Translated by Dean Robson from “Indo kara mita Nihon, Ajia,” originally published in the Japanese edition of Gaiko Forum September 2007 issue on the theme “ASEAN Turns Forty.” Some parts have been updated with the interviewee’s consent.

© Gaiko Forum

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s