Monday, November 14, 2011

Eyes right- “look east”!

Indian prayers have been answered - the US secretary of State, Hilary Clinton in her recent article in Foreign Policy has stretched the "sea from the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca to the Pacific". From now on, India will not have to waste time in justifying its inclusion in multilateral security or economic arrangements in the ASEAN and beyond. India has reason to celebrate the success of its ‘look east’ policy because the region is moving "toward a seamless regional economy" (the theme of November 2011 APEC summit at Hawaii). But for trade to flourish, peace is paramount. To ensure peace, Hillary says, we are building "a web of partnerships and institutions across the Pacific that is as durable and as consistent with American interests... Among key emerging powers with which we will work closely are India and Indonesia."

Japan and the US are moving in tandem to make workable arrangements ranging from multilateral to ‘minilateral’. Yuriko Koike Japan’s former minister of defence and national security adviser recently wrote, "The best way for peace to prevail in the region is for the US and China to share responsibility for a regional order with Asia’s other powers, particularly India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea. Asia’s choice is clear, either the region embraces a multilateral structure of peace, or it will find itself constrained by a system of strategic military alliances." One needs to appreciate the efforts of the otherwise reticent Japanese to take the initiative to shape the regional security architecture. The Japanese dependence on US is well known. It is the most intriguing relationship, where the Japanese have been able to overcome all feelings of negativity and revenge against the US that must have cropped up after the Hiroshima - Nagasaki nuclear attacks and also the occupation of their country. Perhaps, it is this positivity that has made them overcome their fear of America - may be the Japanese have developed enough immunity vis-à-vis the US and they strongly feel that America is like chicken-pox that attacks only once in a life time. Paradoxically, Tokyo is wary of Beijing’s attack plans that has historically been at peace with the island nation.

The thing that is confusing in Koike’s plan is the role that he expects China to play. Because in the same article he also mentions that "China is at the root of most of the disputes troubling Asia." He further writes about his concerns regarding "China’s renewed conception of itself as the ‘Middle Kingdom’, a state with no sovereign equal." If China is such a huge problem then how can it be a part of a solution that envisages sharing responsibility with others in the region? Furthermore, one is also confused about the sudden Japanese and American love for Vietnam. Both Beijing and Hanoi fall into the category of totalitarian states. Then why undue favours towards Vietnam?

Vietnam is a tough guy, it has fought with China before and is not afraid to take it on again on its claims in South China Sea. So, it fits into the Japanese understanding of natural ally just as the term ‘maritime democracies have been coined to add sheen to India-Japan relationship. However, we are at a stage in history, where semantics and rhetoric needs to be replaced with substance based on truth.

Hillary feels that the U.S. commitment in Asia Pacific is essential. "It will help build that architecture and pay dividends for continued American leadership well into this century, just as our post-World War II commitment to building a comprehensive and lasting transatlantic network of institutions and relationships has paid off many times over -- and continues to do so." What Hillary Clinton is missing is that the Marshal Plan and NATO architecture had come up after a great war that had killed millions. The world had sacrificed a lot to establish the US Empire. One doesn't know if in the internet age the people of Asia will be willing to sacrifice their peace to save the American empire? And sooner rather than later both India and Japan will learn the futility of building Cold War type of barriers once again in the 21st century