Asia\'s Democratic Arc
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Asia’s democratic arc HEMANT KRISHAN SINGH & SANJAY PULIPAKA
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will resonate across Asia. Mr Abe’s renewed mandate promises to alter the political landscape not only in Japan but also he India-US-Japan trilateral meeting was in “broader Asia”. He has pledged to restore convened on December 20, 2014 after a Japan’s economic vitality, amend its pacifist conlong hiatus. While this official-level engage- stitution and make “proactive contributions” to ment did not make media headlines, the re-initi- regional peace and stability. Even relatively limation of this forum is a significant response to ited legislative changes lifting restrictions in the the changing security dynamic in Asia. domain of collective self defence will have a sigAsia today stands at a crossroads. It is increas- nificant impact on power equations in Asia, as will ingly becoming the locus of economic power Mr Abe’s continued engagement of Southeast but is also witnessing major geopolitical realign- Asian countries and his strong advocacy of Indoments, growing strategic competition and desta- Pacific strategies. bilising unilateral assertions based on unsettled There are striking similarities between Mr historical differences. Abe’s approach and the attention devoted by his The absence of regional security architecture Indian counterpart Mr Modi to strengthening to mediate these complex trends is Asia’s single- transformative partnerships with like-minded most pressing concern. There are several con- countries in the Asia Pacific. straints that impede progress. To begin with, In the course of recent summit meetings, there is a clash of normative systems among Prime Minister Narendra Modi has signalled states. Power elites in a few select countries fos- his intention to revive India’s historical role ter a false dichotomy between universal and across the Asia Pacific, from forging new strateAsian values. The desire for hegemonic domi- gic ties to scaled-up contributions to the regionnance suppresses the region’s inherent multipo- al power equilibrium. In his own words, since he larity. And there are divergent notions of geo- assumed office “no region has seen more graphically limited regionalism versus balanced intense engagement on India’s part than the and inclusive architecture. Asia Pacific — because we understand how Europe’s experience of building economic and deeply our future is linked to this region”. He security structures during the intense polarisa- has urged regional powers to buttress economtion of the Cold War hardly fits in today’s Asia. ic integration and growing prosperity with In spite of the region’s multiple contradictions, strong regional institutions that underpin peace there has been some expectation since 2005 that and stability by ensuring universal respect for the East Asia Summit (EAS) process anchored by international law and global norms. Asean will eventually evolve into a leaders-led President Obama’s unprecedented second state regional security forum, not least because it visit to India next month provides another opporencompasses all relevant and consequential tunity to revive the strategic drivers of India-US actors within its ambit. However, relations. Operationalising civil It is in the context hopes are fast receding for “Asean nuclear cooperation as well as the centrality”-based architecture even of Asia’s growing defence technology and trade initiastrategic as regional disequilibrium accelertive is an important priority for both competition that ates. Existing Asean-led forums countries. India and the US need to remain uncoordinated and limited we need to view remove irritants to their growing ecoto non-traditional security issues. the importance of nomic relations and renew their Narendra Modi’s Talk of “multiple overlapping” instidefence cooperation framework with Act East Policy, tutions, equating partial with inclua more comprehensive ten-year sive frameworks, only serves to mar- Shinzo Abe’s agreement covering maritime secuvictory in Japan’s ginalise the EAS further. rity across the Indo-Pacific, defence elections and In the absence of a regional exchanges and defence industrial ties. organisation to address security President Obama’s Against this backdrop, the Indiaissues, traditional rivalries and forthcoming visit US-Japan dialogue held last week realignments dot the East Asian delivered substantive outcomes, landscape. Russia and China have converged to from initiatives for regional economic connecforge an energy partnership and have deepened tivity to advancing shared security interests. defence ties. South Korea, nominally an ally of the With greater momentum behind both IndiaUS, is now economically aligned with China and Japan and India-US components, comfort levels has made common cause with Beijing against have grown. Trilateral interactions are to be Japan in Northeast Asia. China’s economic lever- intensified in the margins of regional meetings. age has effectively neutralised Asean. This trend This engagement must now be sustained and, has significantly enlarged the strategic space for eventually, raised to the ministerial level. China, whose grey zone actions and territorial While there are nodes of convergence in the assertions have triggered “hedging” impulses strategic outlooks of India, Japan and the US, all among regional powers in the first place. three countries will face considerable endogeMeanwhile, the US appears unlikely to accom- nous challenges: defence cooperation for Japan, modate China’s shortcut to great power status by fragmented attention and diminishing capacity conceding the latter’s dominance in the western for the US and hesitation about special partnerPacific, but anxieties about US resolve will persist, ships for India. It is, therefore, important for the with or without a sustained US commitment to its three to invest as much in each other’s econom“rebalance” strategy. At the same time, US-spon- ic growth and prosperity as in meeting security sored economic arrangements (TPP) can adverse- challenges. If the leading democratic powers in ly impact Asean-led attempts at economic inte- the Asia Pacific can step up their economic reingration (RCEP). The US is being perceived as forcement and synchronise their defence and falling short of innovative ideas and credible con- security ties, this would constitute a major steptributions to redress the Asian power imbalance. ping stone for bringing about a favourable balance It is in this context that we need to view the of power in the region. That in turn can uplift importance of PM Narendra Modi’s Act East Asean’s flagging self-confidence and create the Policy, the resounding victory of PM Shinzo Abe basis for a balanced multipolar security architecin snap elections in Japan and the forthcoming ture for Asia. visit of President Barack Obama. India’s choice of Mr Abe and Mr Obama as chief guests for con- The authors are, respectively, Professor and Fellow for secutive Republic Days sends out a message that Strategic Studies at ICRIER, New Delhi