Harsh V. Pant
Japan hosted the G-7 summit meeting last week in Hiroshima where India was a special invitee along with Australia, India, Brazil, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Comoros (representing the African Union), and the Cook Islands (representing the Pacific Islands Forum). Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence at the G7 Summit in Japan was particularly important this year in the context of India currently holding the G20 presidency. The Quad summit, which was to take place in Sydney before US President Joe Biden pulled out due to debt ceiling talks going down the wire in Washington, also took place in Japan.
Modi also visited Papua New Guinea for the third Summit of the Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation (FIPIC) before finally moving on to Sydney for a bilateral engagement with his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese.
For Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the summit was a moment to showcase to the world a changing Japan that is more willing than ever to shoulder global responsibilities in international peace and security. Slowly, but surely, Kishida had been transforming Japan’s security profile in response to the rapidly deteriorating strategic environment. China’s military rise was already challenging Japan’s pacifist orientation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has jolted Tokyo into rethinking the fundamentals of its strategic assumptions.
Underlining that Japan is facing the “most severe and complex security environment” since the end of World War II, the country’s national security strategy, released in December 2022, commits to increasing its defense budget to 2 percent of its GDP by 2027 and to maintain this level thereafter. This is a transformational increase. Defense spending is prioritized in areas such as counterstrike capabilities, unscrewed systems, integrated air and missile defense, space and cyber capabilities, and mobility and lift.
Japan’s focus on developing counterstrike capabilities marks uncharted territory in its post-war history, which was about eschewing any power projection ambitions, aimed at preventing Japan from being perceived as a threat by other states. But today there is widespread support among the Japanese people for a more robust strategic posturing.
From the very beginning of the Ukraine conflict, Japan has been strongly supportive of G-7 moves to come down heavily on Russia. Soon after the war began, G-7 nations imposed some of the harshest economic sanctions on Russia and then followed it up by banning Russian oil and gas imports. In Hiroshima, the G-7 leaders said they would “starve Russia of G7 technology, industrial equipment and services that support its war machine” by taking measures to restrict the export of items “critical to Russia on the battlefield.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who attended the summit in person, was the star attraction. He managed to extract more concessions from the US as Washington announced its 38th military package, worth $375 million, for Ukraine. More significantly, the Biden Administration has now agreed to allow its allies to send US-built F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine even as Washington itself would move ahead with training Ukrainian pilots on these jets.
China was the other big concern where the G-7 leaders showed rare unity when without mentioning China by name, they targeted Beijing’s policies as they resolved to combat the “disturbing rise” of economic coercion. The focus has now moved from de-coupling to de-risking as the developed world seeks to reduce its dependence on China by diversifying its trade, investments, and supply chains away from Chinese stranglehold. The China factor also loomed large in underscoring the continued commitment of the G-7 to a free and open Indo-Pacific, buttressed by the presence of several key nations, including India, from this critical geography.
The Quad summit also saw the four members taking aim at China by strongly opposing “destabilizing or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion” and expressing “serious concern at the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coastguard and maritime militia vessels, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.”
As the list of Japan’s special invitees to the summit underscored, Kishida was trying to rally the so-called Global South in ensuring that a global solution emerges to the Russia question. In this, he is in sync with Modi who has made it clear that he too wants to “amplify the voices and concerns of the Global South” nations at the G-7 summit in Hiroshima to be able to “foster synergy” with the G-20.
It is heartening, in some ways, to see this attempt to give voice to the concerns of those who are getting marginalized in the hyper-competitive world of global geopolitics. During his first in-person meeting with the Ukrainian President, Modi underscored that the Ukraine war is not only “a political or economic matter, but it is about human values,” and promised to do whatever possible to find a solution to the ongoing war.
Regardless of how the G-7 nations might want to project it, it remains clear that a significant portion of the world is currently struggling with a different set of concerns, given the prevailing negative headwinds in the global economy. For Japan, aligning itself with its G-7 counterparts on Ukraine is also a way of ensuring that when it comes to the crunch in the Indo-Pacific, the Western nations will also stand up unitedly against China.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has heightened anxieties in Japan about a possible conflict in the Taiwan Straits. Japan is getting ready to face these growing challenges both by strengthening its internal capabilities and by mobilizing a coalition of like-minded partners.
India and Japan both view themselves as critical Indo-Pacific players. Japan was the first to articulate the need for reimaging Asia’s strategic geography through the lens of the Indo-Pacific, and without India’s active involvement, there won’t be any Indo-Pacific. Modi has reiterated during his Japan visit that there are significant issues on the agenda that goes beyond the immediate crisis in Eurasia or the concomitant debt crisis around the world.
The challenge for the G-7 is to try to find credible answers for the global disorder that is afflicting the international system. In doing so, it needs new partners like India, both to chart its own course and to help preserve a rules-based order that is facing a crisis unlike any since the end of World War II.
This article was first published on NDTV as ‘New’ Japan, ‘New’ India Join Forces to Tackle Global Disorder on May 22, 2023
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