India woos Japan and Vietnam to challenge China's South Asia dominance

By Saurabh Shukla


In a calibrated diplomatic strategy to create a new ring of important allies, India is set to roll out the red carpet to leaders from East Asian countries in a policy that is also aimed at balancing out the power of China.

India's decision to welcome the leaders with their strong anti-China stance is unlikely to go down well with Beijing. Even though the two neighbours have exchanged visits by premiers this year, tensions between the two have dominated the headlines.

South Block continues to resent China's attempts to dominate the Line of Actual Control and the vexed boundary, and the frequent pricks on the stapled visa issue and aggressive intrusions.

Emperor Akihito
Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong

Strengthening links: Japanese Emperor Akihito (left) and Vietnamese General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (right) are both set to visit India

While officials continue to say that the upcoming visits by some East Asian leaders are part of India's engagement and its Look East policy, their timing and frequency indicate that a clear message is being sent out to Beijing that India has a ring of friends with common strategic goals in East Asia.

So, while Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe will be India's coveted Republic Day chief guest in 2014, New Delhi will roll out the red carpet for Japanese Emperor Akihito and wife Michiko later this month.

The foreign ministers of both nations met on November 12 on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in New Delhi.

 

There are plans for a joint exercise between Japan's maritime self-defence force and the Indian Navy by the end of this year.

Diplomacy: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is sending a message to China that India has a ring of friends with common strategic goals in East Asia

Diplomacy: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is sending a message to China that India has a ring of friends with common strategic goals in East Asia

Plans are also in place to export US-2 amphibious aircraft to India. The aircraft, a four-engine turboprop, is used for search and rescue operations.

The two countries will also step up plans for a civil nuclear cooperation deal. Abe has taken a hardline position on China and has been a votary of a closer India-Japan relationship to check Beijing's aggressive designs.

The general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, is also scheduled to visit India on November 19.

Defence cooperation will dominate the agenda of the talks between the two countries. India will finalise a $100-million line of credit to Vietnam for defence procurements.

Vietnam has supported India's resolve to remain involved in oil exploration activity in the Phu Kanh basin of the South China Sea.

Vietnam says it is within its rights to invite India to explore for oil in this area and has stood against China's bullying in the South China Sea.

For India, the alliance with Vietnam stems from its Look East policy, but is largely because it sees Vietnam as a willing ally to counter-balance China's muscle-flexing in the South China Sea. So, it is helping Vietnam ramp up its defence capabilities. This new-found assertiveness from India is a welcome change, as in the past

 

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