If the United States wants a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged and U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed at their recent meeting in Tokyo, no two powers will be as important as India and Japan.
The two countries are among the most concerned about security in the region and are also increasingly ready to work with each other on it. The relationship between the two countries—historically strategically distant—has grown increasingly robust under the stewardship of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Abe, with regular high-level summitry (Abe traveled to Delhi to visit Modi last month) combined with increasingly frequent and deepening exchanges at the diplomatic, defense, and business levels.
One reason the two countries are coming together is a common strategic anxiety about China’s rise, particularly its foreign policy ambitions in Asia. For them, Beijing’s maritime assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, as well as the Indian Ocean region, and its push to expand its geopolitical influence beyond East Asia through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are particularly alarming. India and Japan, in response, have come to share a sense of purpose in promoting the current order in the region, which is based on transparent institutions, good governance, and international law and benefits them by ensuring secure supply chains and fair access to resources.
In addition to the two countries’ shared concerns about the rise of China, there is also anxiety that U.S. credibility is weakening. Despite the efforts of the Barack Obama’s administration’s “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific, Washington has been unable to mitigate regional concerns that its influence is diminishing. Such sentiment existed before Trump’s election as president, but it has been magnified by the Trump White House’s “America First” foreign policy that relies on protectionism and transactionalism rather than a more comprehensive approach to the region. The withdrawal
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