China-India-Japan Power Struggle in Asia

Dragon, Tiger and Samurai


Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade

by Bill Emmott

Allen Lane

Price: Rs. 795


Book review by Brahma Chellaney

Pioneer, June 22, 2008


A fundamental reordering of power in Asia is challenging the equations between the continent’s three major powers that hold the key to Asian stability. As they maneuver for strategic advantage, China, India and Japan are transforming relations between themselves in a way that portends closer strategic engagement between New Delhi and Tokyo to help parry Beijing’s moves to dominate Asia. The present actions of the three players offer a peep into the future power relations in Asia.


            A year-and-a-half after this reviewer published Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan, a HarperCollins publication that was a runaway bestseller, Bill Emmott has done a book on the same Sino-Indian-Japanese theme. Emmott, a former editor of The Economist, is a specialist on Japan, having served as a correspondent there and published six books on that country. Not surprisingly, the sections on Japan in his latest book are the most interesting. Emmott doesn’t display the same depth of understanding when analyzing India and China.


            He is, however, right about the emergence of the new Asia that is today the world’s main creditor and economic locomotive. “Today’s Asia has been shaped by economics, and it is an Asia of increasing prosperity, of interdependence and of global financial influence,” he writes. “This is the first time since the Mongol empire established by Genghis Khan in the 13th century that Asia has become truly connected together across 6,000 kilometers that separate Japan in the east from India in the west, or even as far as Iran”.


            Asia does not end at Iran’s western borders but extends all the way to Turkey, 97 per cent of which is in the Asian hemisphere. The largest and most populous continent by far, Asia also includes 72 per cent of the Russian Federation. It encompasses very different and distinct areas — from the sub-arctic, mineral-rich Siberian plains to the subtropical Indonesian archipelago; and from oil-rich desert lands to fertile river valleys.


Asia is a highly diverse continent. It has countries with the highest and lowest population densities in the world — Singapore and Mongolia, respectively. It has some of the wealthiest states in the world, like Japan and Singapore, and also some of the poorest, such as North Korea, Burma and Afghanistan. It has tiny Brunei, Bhutan and the Maldives and demographic titans like China, India and Indonesia.


Asia is bouncing back after a relatively short period of decline in history that had been partly precipitated by European colonial interventions over two centuries. Asia’s share of the world’s economy totalled 60 per cent in 1820, at the advent of the industrial revolution, according to an Asian Development Bank study. It then went into sharp decline over the next 125 years.


Today, it already accounts for 40 per cent of global production — a figure that could, according to some projections, rise to 60 per cent by 2050, when three of the world’s four largest economies (China, India, the U.S. and Japan) would be Asian.


This suggests that Asia is merely seeking to regain the preeminence it had for most of 2,000 years before the industrial revolution allowed the West to vault ahead. As British historian Angus Madison has brought out, China and India were the world’s largest economies for centuries up to 1820. According to Kishore Mahbubani’s new book, The New Asian Hemisphere, “The past two centuries of Western domination of world history are the exception, not the rule, during 2,000 years of global history”.

            It is against this background that one should view the power struggle between China and Japan, and China and India. Modern Japan, as Emmott notes, is the product of the 1868 Meiji Restoration, which set in motion its rapid rise. Japan first defeated China in 1895 and then Russia in 1905, “the first time an Asian country had defeated one of the Western imperialist powers”, in Emmott’s words. Japan was also Asia’s first economic success story.

Such is the international hype about China’s rise that it is often forgotten that Japan remains the world’s second largest economic powerhouse, with an economy that is still larger than China’s, with only a tenth of the population. Tokyo may not share Beijing’s obsession with measures of national power, but Japan’s military, except in the nuclear sphere, is the most sophisticated in Asia.

A strong Japan, a strong China and a strong India need to find ways to reconcile their interests in Asia so that they can peacefully coexist and prosper. Never before in history have all three of these powers been strong at the same time. China’s emergence as a global player, however, is dividing, not uniting, Asia.

More anecdotal than forward-looking, Emmott, unfortunately, shies away from the power issues. In fact, the question the book carries in its subtitle, How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade, is left largely unanswered.


When Emmott does dare to make a prediction, such as the Dalai Lama’s death prompting China to “use brutal methods to suppress an uprising by Buddhist monks in Tibet”, recent events prove him wrong. It did not need the Dalai Lama’s demise for a Tibetan uprising to break out or for China to employ naked repression against monk-led protestors. The Dalai Lama indeed has emerged as China’s enemy No. 1, reflected in the epithets Beijing has hurled at him in recent weeks, including “a wolf with a human face and heart of a beast” and “a serial liar”.


Emmott has little to say about how China is driving Japan and India closer. Tokyo, as if to make up for decades of neglect, is beginning to enthusiastically discover India as an investment destination and a potential strategic partner. Reversing a long-standing pattern, it now provides more development loans to India than to China.


Every action has a reaction. China’s officially scripted anti-Japanese mob protests of 2005 — a testament to the manner nationalism has begun to shape an increasingly assertive Chinese foreign policy — set in motion a Japanese reaction that will take long to concretize. But its signs so far suggest that Japan will not allow China to call the shots in East Asia. China, for its part, is fiercely opposing its two Asian peers, Japan and India, from joining it in the United Nations Security Council as permanent members. In the emerging Asia, the two major non-Western democracies, Japan and India, are set to become close partners.


In that light, a key challenge for Tokyo and New Delhi is to manage their increasingly intricate relationship with an ascendant China determined to emerge as Asia’s dominant power. Yet it makes sense for Japan and India to play down the competitive dynamics of their relationship with Beijing and put the accent on cooperation. An emphasis on cooperation also suits China because it is in accord with its larger strategy to advertise its “peaceful rise”.


Emmott believes, in his optimistic scenario, “China, India and Japan, encouraged by the Americans and Europeans, would work together to build pan-Asian institutions within which to manage their disputes and differences”. But his nine recommendations — half of them addressed to what he calls “the poor old United States of America, the world’s chief bearer of burdens and payer of prices” — provide little clue to how this scenario will be realized.

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