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India-Japan-Vietnam Relationship

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Writer: Capt Bonji Ohara (retd)
A former Japanese Captain of The MSDF writes perceptively on the issue of bilateral and multilateral cooperation to address the threat to our commerce on the high seas. Chinese Navy went into Spratly Islands in 1988 and then engaged in an artillery battle with the Vietnamese Navy sinking two Vietnamese Ships and killed 80 Vietnamese soldiers. China prefers to use Bilateral Talks rather than Multilateral Talks to discuss the dispute in South China Sea.  But, the denial of Multilateral Security Cooperation will make China isolated in International Society. Ad hoc Multilateral Security Cooperation based on these kinds of Bilateral Security Frameworks can be one of the solutions to Maritime Security.
The effect of the Network isn’t enough, even if the Network can be built in the region.  In order to activate the Network, incentives of each country for cooperation must be heightened. Those incentives are “Common Profit” and “Common Assets”. Common assets are common military equipment eg the US-2 amphibious aircraft, or other military ships or aircraft. This fosters jointness and interoperability and could form the first steps for cooperation between India, Japan and Vietnam against common threat perceptions.


The Maritime Security for each country mainly means the Security of Sea Lanes and the protection of Marine Resources. The instances for dominion of enclosed sea / half enclosed sea by plural countries tend to involve violent measures if the water has rich resources. These kinds of disputes bring damage to countries; even if they are not concerned with the disputes directly, because these kinds of disputes have huge influence on the marine transportation. Only the marine transportation can transport large supplies without crossing some borders. Therefore the maritime transportation is vital for countries. But there are potential threats on marine transportation in the Sea Lane from East China Sea to the destinations through South China Sea, Malacca Strait and Indian Ocean. Besides, the threats on the Sea Lane are not only the disputes between countries. There are various threats like natural disaster, shipwreck and piracy etc. It means the multilateral cooperation in many fields is needed to secure safe navigation.

South East Asian countries are trying to get profit through the contract of defence equipment, even now.  The effort includes “offset” of technology and manufacturing the equipment in domestic concerns under license

In the 1990s, the multilateral security cooperation between South East Asian countries was developed, because China started taking aggressive action in South China Sea from 1988. But at the same time, it also showed us the limitation of the cooperation. Japan and US show their recognition that ARF isn’t the framework to secure the safety in Asia, but is only to supplement the Japan-US alliance.

US and Vietnam have concluded their second defence policy dialogue with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that aims to promote cooperation between the two countries' government Defence Departments on 19 September 2011.  India and Vietnam also have the good relationship traditionally.  US is seeking the cooperation with India.  Japan is making effort to build a Cooperation Framework with India and trying to develop Security Cooperation with South East Asian countries

Actually, Multilateral Security Cooperation isn’t the idea which was born only from the necessity of Maritime Security. We can see the idea of Multilateral Security Cooperation at the League of Nations which was built after WW1. The Covenant of the League of Nations prohibited a war and systemised Collective Security. But the Security System of the League of Nations couldn’t deter WW2. The United Nations, for overcoming the fault, tried to build a powerful and centralised security system by setting up the Security Council which consisted of 5 victorious nations. The United Nations was supposed to protect the international security. But the cold war caused the exchange of veto by permanent members of the Security Council and then international society understood the United Nations Security Council didn’t work. This situation shows that it’s difficult to share the perception of threat and to adjust the interests in plural nations.

China changed its behaviour in 1996.  But the change of China’s behaviour doesn’t mean the change of China’s perception of threat.  China is showing its positive attitude to ARF, but at the same time, trying to control the pace of the process of CBM and it seems to be succeeding

International society started considering the necessity of Security System which wasn’t based on the United Nations. One is PKO and the other is regional or sub-regional Security System. The regional or sub-regional Security System is the effort to avoid the military clash. CSCE – Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe – is the successful example.

Ad hoc Multilateral Security Cooperation based on these kinds of Bilateral Security Frameworks can be one of the solutions to Maritime Security,issue by issue

The idea of “Common Security” was displayed in the report of Palme Commission in 1982. It said the sharing of perception is necessary for “Cooperating with Enemy”. ARF was sometimes considered to be an Asian version of CSCE. ARF was built by ASEAN initiative. “Singapore Declaration of 1992” said “ASEAN should intensify its external dialogues in political and security matters by using the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conferences (PMC)” and the framework for security dialogue was picked up as theme in ASEAN ministerial meeting in July 1992. SOM for ASEAN ministerial meeting was held in July 1993 decided the member nations and the name as ASEAN Regional Forum.

The approach should be taking place in three stages, namely the promotion of confidence building, development of preventive diplomacy and elaboration of approaches to conflicts

“Chairman’s Statement” of the First Meeting of ARF held in July 1994 said “the ARF would be in a position to make significant contribution to effort towards confidence-building and preventive diplomacy in the Asia Pacific region” and produced “confidence and security building”, “nuclear non-proliferation”, “peacekeeping cooperation”, “exchanges of non-classified military information”, “maritime security” and “preventive diplomacy” as the subjects of such further study. The Concept Paper of the Second Meeting stated “the approach should be taking place in three stages, namely the promotion of confidence building, development of preventive diplomacy and elaboration of approaches to conflicts.” In the Third Meeting, Myanmar and India were approved to join ARF. They showed the positive attitude to grapple with Maritime Security by discussing about South China Sea.

But in the Fourth Meeting of ARF held in July 1997, Chairman’s Statement said “the process has progressed at a pace acceptable to all participants” then show ARF couldn’t move the process forward easily. Continuous clash concerns with dominion on islands and EEZ in South China Sea testified that Multilateral Security Cooperation in this area doesn’t work.

ARF is based on Multilateral Cooperation involving Disputing Parties, the dispute in South China Sea brings serious antagonism between China and ASEAN countries. But it’s very difficult to share the perception of threat.

Chinese Navy went into Spratly Islands in 1988 and then engaged in an artillery battle with Vietnam Navy sinking 2 Vietnamese Ships and killed 80 Vietnamese soldiers. Chinese diplomat declared that China wouldn’t cause trouble in “South China Sea Dispute Workshop”. At the same time, Chinese Navy posted a territorial marker on Gaven Reef. China’s deeds don’t match its words and this inconsistency makes ASEAN countries distrustful of China. But China’s behaviour was not affected by the distrust and the protest of ASEAN; means China didn’t recognise ASEAN countries as threat.

China prefers to use Bilateral Talks rather than Multilateral Talks to discuss about the dispute in South China Sea. But, the denial of Multilateral Security Cooperation will make China isolated in International Society. China changed its behaviour in 1996. But the change of China’s behaviour doesn’t mean the change of China’s perception of threat. China is showing its positive attitude to ARF, but at the same time, trying to control the pace of the process of CBM and it seems to be succeeding. The Chinese marine surveillance ships cut the exploration cables of a Vietnamese survey ship Binh Minh 02 at 120 nm off the Vietnamese central coast on 26 May 2011 and the protests in society follow the Vietnam Foreign Ministry’s protest over this incident. There were protests against China’s concern with the dispute over Spratly islands in the Philippines, too. But these protests couldn’t have an influence on China’s behaviour. China kept developing both organisations and equipment of Oceanographic Administration and Fisheries Bureau and then strengthening the “management” in South China Sea.

Once antagonism appears in participating parties, then it’s difficult to treat it within the framework of the Cooperative Security which ARF is trying to build. It’s also difficult to share the perception of threat as a basis of the Common Security. It means ARF doesn’t function as an effective framework to solve the dispute in South China Sea. ARF can function as an effective Maritime Multilateral Security Framework only for natural disaster, shipwreck and crimes on ocean. However, there are some more influential actors like India and Japan in Asian region.

Maritime Security requires the Multilateral Cooperation, but permanent framework which fixes the participating parties can’t function. On the contrary, Bilateral Cooperation is developing concrete measures. For example, US and Vietnam have concluded their second defence policy dialogue with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that aims to promote cooperation between the two countries’ government Defence Departments on 19 September 2011. India and Vietnam also have the good relationship traditionally. US is seeking the cooperation with India. Japan is making effort to build a Cooperation Framework with India and trying to develop Security Cooperation with South East Asian countries. Ad hoc Multilateral Security Cooperation based on these kinds of Bilateral Security Frameworks can be one of the solutions to Maritime Security,issue by issue.

India, Japan and Vietnam don’t have to build permanent trilateral security cooperation, but have to build bilateral cooperation framework with each other.  If three countries have unique “Common Assets” which are attractive for ASEAN countries, the framework will extend in the South East Asia.  These Networks of bilateral security cooperation will be effective against many kinds of problems

This is only the philosophy of dealing with the threat. The effect of the Network isn’t enough, even if the Network can be built in the region. In order to activate the Network, incentives of each country for cooperation must be heightened. I would like to present two keywords for it. Those are “Common Profit” and “Common Assets”.


“Common Profit” points that both sides can get new profit through the cooperation. The profit includes economic, political, military and technological etc. Political profit means the support of people in domestic and the bargaining power against the rivals. Military profit means, generally say, improvement of operational capability. But economic profit gives each country much bigger incentive to act and economic profit is concerned with other profits deeply. Looking at the defence / security events happening in the world, we can understand clearly that the business has huge influence on them.

South East Asian countries are trying to get profit through the contract of defence equipment, even now. The effort includes “offset” of technology and manufacturing the equipment in domestic concerns under license. In these kinds of contracts, both sides have incentives to cooperate with each other, because both can get profit from the contract. This situation will show us that “Common Profit” drives both countries to have bilateral cooperation. However, the adjustment of sharing profit has not been achieved in many Asian countries. South East Asian countries didn’t procure equipment based on the military rationality. For example, in the situation where an Air Force operates different types of Aircraft from different countries gives the Air Force difficulties in operation, training, maintenance and supply. And this situation gives problems to the security cooperation in Asia, too. The joint pilot training which is led by Malaysia has limitation inevitably, because of many types of aircraft owned by each country. “Common Assets” becomes necessary here. If countries use “Common Assets” then wider range of cooperation can be achieved.

In the maritime security, “Common Assets” can be effective infrastructure of the security cooperation. Japan and India have already started the security dialogue on some level, but both countries must go beyond the discussion and build the effective framework. The framework must be extended to South East Asia and “Common Assets” will help it. For example, US-2 is the only aircraft that can make splash down on the ocean in the world. India and Japan have been discussing about the introduction of US-2 to India since early 2011. South East Asian region has many islands and then has various occasions to use US-2; therefore some countries are considering the introduction of this amphibious aircraft. If US-2 is to be the one of “Common Assets”, it will improve the maritime operation capabilities of each country and provide them technology by offset. In addition, operational cooperation between countries must be easier than present and countries can save the cost for training, maintenance and supply through the cooperation. India and Japan can build the cooperation framework with South East Asian countries in operation, maintenance, supply and training by using the “Common Assets”.

India and Japan will have huge damage, if the problems occur in South East Asian region. They will suffer economic damage, because it has influence on maritime transportation. India also suffers economic damage by stopping joint development of seabed resources with Vietnam. We can consider port facilities, supply facilities, repair structures and various facilities for the prevention of accidents as other “Common Assets”. In this way, India and Japan can give Asian countries the strong incentives to cooperate and then make the regional security cooperation framework to be effective.

One of the key countries in ASEAN is Vietnam. Vietnam had a military clash with China in South China Sea and India has good relationship with Vietnam traditionally. Vietnam keeps seeking the effective security cooperation without ARF and tries to get cooperation with Japan and USA. India, Japan and Vietnam don’t have to build permanent trilateral security cooperation, but have to build bilateral cooperation framework with each other. If three countries have unique “Common Assets” which are attractive for ASEAN countries, the framework will extend in the South East Asia. These Networks of bilateral security cooperation will be effective against many kinds of problems.


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