Monday, July 20, 2015




Japan  has been invited to join the Indo-US naval exercise 'Malabar' this year.  For reasons of economy, similar activity between the Indian and Japanese Navies scheduled for later this year is likely to be cancelled. Joint exercises between Japan and India have made sense for a number of years but previous Japanese administrations had interpreted the Japanese constitution as severely limiting such exercises , though in fact they were never specifically mentioned. Japan last participated in these exercises in 2007.  Japan is now interested in joint and cooperative defense, though still sees constitutional hurdles for much of the activities involved and in entering into such arrangements by formal treaty. Despite the tentative nature of all such cooperative endeavors by Japan, the Rising Sun is finding more willingness to cooperate defensively even extending to the Philippines once horrifically militarily occupied by Imperial Japan in WWII. Fear of an aggressive Chinese navy has been fueling the interest along with on going watery territorial disputes with China in the region which have been the occasion of some ruthless Chinese muscle flexing. 

 No decision has been made as yet, but Japanese defence sources have publicly stated that there was no point in doing a repeat exercise given the time and cost involved. The Malabar exercise is scheduled for October in the Bay of Bengal. "Malabar" is an annual training exercise conducted by Indian and American naval forces, which includes combat operations from aircraft carriers with escorts , replenishment at sea, and other skills possessed by all three navies. Japan took part  in the Malabar hosted by India in 2007. However, China reacted strongly to inclusion of Japan and Australia in the exercise back in 2007 and the Chinese objections led to the exercises being kept largely bilateral until now. Now Chinese naval aggression in the South and East China Seas and their "String of Pearls" plan for the Indian Ocean has her neighbors more concerned with the Dragon's intentions than her impressions concerning their cooperation. This is indeed a defensive cooperation. A China that would adhere to the International Convention of the Law of the Sea would have nothing to fear from a regional naval coalition. 

The decision to hold a trilateral exercise came s after the three countries held their first-ever high-level trilateral dialogue last month. This discussion was attended by foreign secretary S Jaishankar, Japanese vice foreign minister Akitaka Saiki, and Australian secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese. 

While the participants discussed a range of issues, including  freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,and  maritime security; it was trilateral maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean topped the agenda. Japanese officials have said that  India, Japan and Australia are on the "same page" over increasing assertiveness of China in the disputed South and East China Seas. The growing cooperation between regional navies and the Japanese Maritime Self defense Force will be interesting to watch, but real cooperative regional defense will require some adjustments to the Japanese constitution, the Japanese people are very cautious on that issue. 


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