Japan is back


While China is angry with Abe, it is apparently pleased with Obama's seeming reluctance to publicly back the Japanese premier against Beijing. Media commentary in China noted that Obama had turned down Abe's request to visit Washington in January. Beijing has also noted that John Kerry has not followed his predecessor Hillary Clinton's footsteps in making the first foreign trip as secretary of state to Asia. Kerry has chosen to go to Europe and the Middle East, adding to Chinese speculation that Washington is having second thoughts on the US pivot to Asia.

While the two leaders reaffirmed the centrality of the US-Japan alliance, Chinese media noted, Obama carefully avoided any mention of China and refused to answer questions from Japanese reporters on the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing in the East China Sea. Beijing is fully conscious of the debate in Washington where a large section of the foreign policy community has been wary of Japan's assertiveness under Abe. Many have suggested that the US should not get dragged into a conflict between Japan and China and that Washington should not encourage Abe to confront China.

Chinese news agency Xinhua said what transpired in Washington was "contrary to Abe's great hope of showing off the 'robust' US-Japan alliance and prodding the US into taking Japan's side in its spiralling dispute with neighbouring China over the Diaoyu Islands."


As the triangular dynamic between Washington, Beijing and Tokyo acquires a sharp edge, India appears to be falling out of the new power play in Asia. In his Washington speech, Abe did not mention India when he talked of his pet political project building an alliance of Asian democracies. Nor did he cite the current trilateral dialogue between Japan, India and the US.

Among Japanese leaders, Abe has been the most vigorous champion of deepening the partnership with India. His return to power was widely expected to give a big boost to India-Japan relations. It is not easy to explain, then, the current drift in relations between New Delhi and Tokyo. One of the capitals, it would seem, has curbed strategic enthusiasm for the other.

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