On Monday, February 28th, the 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI*) hosted Dr. Rohan Mukherjee (Yale-NUS) for a virtual seminar on Japan-India relations and the prospects for a Japan-India alliance in the future.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Mukherjee gave a brief overview of broad trends in Japan-India relations since the end of the Cold War. He also summarized both countries’ respective motivations for deepening bilateral ties. Of particular note, he highlighted their shared concerns about China’s growing assertiveness, as well as their mutual desire to increase diplomatic and military engagement with the United States.
Dr. Mukherjee shared his assessment of the prospects for a formal Japan-India alliance in the future. He argued that although there are many reasons why Japan and India may wish to deepen their ties in the years ahead, there are at least six major obstacles that are likely to frustrate any push to move toward a formal alliance.
First, India wishes to maintain its strategic autonomy, a common theme in Indian foreign policy dating back to its policy of nonalignment in the Cold War. Generally speaking, India remains ambivalent about taking sides or forming any alliances that may restrict or restrain its foreign policy options. The second obstacle is the risk of alliance entrapment. Although Japan and India share a general concern about China's assertive foreign policy, their specific concerns differ. For example, neither Japan nor India wishes to get entrapped in a conflict with Pakistan or North Korea, respectively. Third, Dr. Mukherjee noted India's unwillingness to make specific or rigid defense commitments. The fourth obstacle concerned the tendency of buck-passing or free-riding—terms that come from international relations scholarship. For example, in the event of a conflict with China, India may opt to stay out of it—counting on the U.S. and Japan to deter any aggression from Beijing. Fifth, Dr. Mukherjee highlighted how there has already been some backlash from China over India's increased engagement with the United States and its allies—which would almost certainly worsen if India moved toward a formal alliance. Lastly, Dr. Mukherjee argued that whereas Japan has actively embraced a role as a champion of the liberal international order, India’s identity as an “outsider” and leader in the non-aligned movement makes it more hesitant to adopt such a role suit.
After concluding his remarks, Dr. Mukherjee engaged in a brief exchange with 21JPSI Director Adam Liff, followed by an open Q&A with the global audience of roughly 50 live attendees—faculty, students, and community members from across the United States and world. Questions came in from students and faculty based in the United States and Japan.
*The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director and HLS faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Supported by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, in its first five years 21JPSI has enabled a new tenure-track faculty line contemporary Japanese politics and society; launched four new courses on contemporary Japan and a multidisciplinary speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society; hosted national conferences and webinars on U.S.-Japan relations; and funded graduate fellowships and faculty travel grants to support research in Japan. For more information, please see https://jpsi.indiana.edu/ or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.