The Buzz

A Trilateral Whose Time Has Come: US-Japan-India Cooperation

The Asia-Pacific region is witnessing the increasing convergence of economic and security interests of the United States, Japan and India, and their burgeoning trilateral cooperation. Washington has leveraged its strong ties with Tokyo of nearly 70 years to deepen economic ties and to remain a net provider of security across Asia. Since returning to power in 2013, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has explicitly articulated his vision for an enhanced role of Japan in the Asia-Pacific region. Similarly, India's Look East Policy has seen it expand its economic and security engagement across Asia over the past decade, and the spring 2014 electoral triumph of Narendra Modi has injected a new level of dynamism and foreign policy activism from New Delhi.

In many ways, the three countries are natural partners. They are three of the world's largest countries by population (India is # 2, the US # 3, and Japan # 10), three of the largest democracies, and three of the largest economies (the US is # 1, Japan # three, and India # 10). They are linked by the Indo-Pacific strategic construct that makes explicit the geographical connections and overlaps that each of them shares. All three are part of a dynamic and growing region, with each government eager to find new partners, or old partners with new capabilities, to raise its profile and extend its reach. Each eyes the other two as economic and strategic partners, possessing assets and resources that it values.

India seeks US and Japanese investment and knowhow to accelerate its economic development. With each government working to create more business-friendly policies and regulations, there has been a substantial growth in cross-border investments, joint ventures, mergers & acquisitions, technology transfers, and other corporate activities. India is actively modernizing its military, and the United States has rapidly become its top defense supplier. Delhi and Tokyo have expanded the scope of their joint naval exercises and have elevated their defense dialogue to focus more attention on maritime security and anti-terrorism measures.

For the United States and Japan, India is becoming increasingly central to their economic and security calculations. India can emerge as a low-cost manufacturing hub for American and Japanese companies to sell to the large and rapidly growing Indian market, but also for exports to emerging markets across Asia, Middle East, and Africa. On the security front, an India with robust military capabilities can provide much-needed stability in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). South Asia is home to a large and growing population but also beset with protracted security challenges. India can also be a vital partner across the IOR in safeguarding and promoting US and Japanese interests, especially in ensuring freedom of navigation and other maritime security objectives. Conversely, Japan and India look at the United States as a potential energy supplier as the shale gas revolution turns the US into a major gas exporter.

The alignment of interests and ambitions is facilitated by the energy of the new governments in Tokyo and Delhi. Abe and Modi see each other as kindred spirits and both are eager to seize the moment. They are proving to be indefatigable diplomats and have reached out to each other to consolidate relations between their two countries. Meanwhile, in the Joint Statement released during Modi's visit to the US last month, the United States and India "committed to work more closely with other Asia Pacific countries through consultations, dialogues, and joint exercises." The statement highlighted trilateral dialogue with Japan, with the three agreeing to elevate the existing Trilateral to a minister-level dialogue. All the while, the US and Japan are modernizing and updating their alliance as well.

There is a lot the three countries can do together. The starting point, and a focal point of each country's engagement, is helping India develop faster. Its economic potential remains under-realized, and while the major causes of that underperformance are be found within India, businesses in both Japan and the US see great opportunities. Prime Minister Modi is initially focused on creating a stronger industrial base to complement India's world-class service sector.  To meet this objective, Modi is putting much effort into upgrading India's infrastructure, with a focus on establishing multiple industrial corridors. Japan has committed substantial funds to upgrade the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor while the United States has outlined specific ways that it can contribute its expertise and resources to this massive Indian endeavor.  

Beyond the economic domain, the three governments can advance a diplomatic agenda that emphasizes the rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes, and adherence to international norms and legal standards. The US and India primarily, but increasingly even Japan, have a stake in a peaceful Afghanistan and stability throughout Central Asia. The three governments can work concertedly to promote democracy, peace, and prosperity across South and Central Asia. India has made notable contributions to UN peacekeeping missions over the decades, but can increasingly deploy resources to become a net provider of security across Asia.

The three governments have demonstrated prowess in civilian applications of space technologies, and can cooperate to create rules that ensure that outer space remains peaceful and not used for offensive or disruptive purposes. The US and Japan are also seeking to initiate civilian nuclear power cooperation with India. While such cooperation has important commercial benefits, the most striking aspect of sharing such sensitive technology is the level of trust that their cooperative endeavors engender.

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