In the summer of 2007, addressing the Central Hall of the Indian Parliament as Japan’s prime minister, I spoke of the “Confluence of the Two Seas” — a phrase that I drew from the title of a book written by the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh in 1655 — to the applause and stomping approval of the assembled lawmakers. In the five years since then, I have become even more strongly convinced that what I said was correct.
Peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the Pacific Ocean are inseparable from peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. Developments affecting each are more closely connected than ever.
Japan, as one of the oldest seafaring democracies in Asia, should play a greater role in preserving the common good in both regions.
Yet, increasingly, the South China Sea seems set to become a “Lake Beijing,” which analysts say will be to China what the Sea of Okhotsk was to Soviet Russia: A sea deep enough for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Navy to base their nuclear-powered attack submarines, capable of launching missiles with nuclear warheads. Soon, the PLA Navy’s newly built aircraft carrier will be a common sight — more than sufficient to scare China’s neighbors.
That is why Japan must not yield to the Chinese government’s daily exercises in coercion around the Senkaku Islands [known as the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in Taiwan and China] in the East China Sea. True, only Chinese law-enforcement vessels with light weaponry, not PLA Navy ships, have entered Japan’s contiguous and territorial waters.
However, this “gentler” touch should fool no one. By making these boats’ presence appear ordinary, China seeks to establish its jurisdiction in the waters surrounding the islands as a fait accompli.
If Japan were to yield, the South China Sea would become even more fortified. Freedom of navigation, vital for trading countries such as Japan and South Korea, would be seriously hindered. The naval assets of the US, in addition to those of Japan, would find it difficult to enter the entire area, though the majority of the two China seas is international water.
Anxious that such a development could arise, I spoke in India of the need for the Indian and Japanese governments to join together to shoulder more responsibility as guardians of navigational freedom across the Pacific and Indian oceans. I must confess that I failed to anticipate that China’s naval and territorial expansion would advance at the pace that it has since 2007.
The ongoing disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea mean that Japan’s top foreign-policy priority must be to expand the country’s strategic horizons. Japan is a mature maritime democracy and its choice of close partners should reflect that fact. I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan and the US state of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific. I am prepared to invest, to the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in this security diamond.
My opponents in the Democratic Party of Japan deserve credit for continuing along the path that I laid out in 2007; that is to say, they have sought to strengthen ties with Australia and India.
Of the two countries, India — a resident power in East Asia, with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands sitting at the western end of the Strait of Malacca (through which some 40 percent of world trade passes) — deserves greater emphasis. Japan is now engaged in regular bilateral service-to-service military dialogues with India and has embarked on official trilateral talks that include the US. And India’s government has shown its political savvy by forging an agreement to provide Japan with rare earth minerals — a vital component in many manufacturing processes — after China chose to use its supplies of rare earths as a diplomatic stick.