Indian and U.S. experts exchange mixed views on India as a global power

India’s foreign policy has become increasingly contested in domestic Indian politics, calling into question some of the assumptions and expectations that American policymakers may have about the future of US-India relations. This divergence in opinion was highlighted at the “India as a Global Power: Contending Views from India” conference, which took place on January 23, 2012 and was co-sponsored by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies and the Center for a New American Security.

Assessing India’s Threat Environment

The conference’s Indian speakers disagreed on a wide range of issues, one of which was the question of India’s threat environment. Bharat Karnad, Professor at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, identified China’s military build-up and proliferation activities as the top threats to Indian security. Former Indian Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh also expressed grave concern over China’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean, though he did not consider it an imminent threat.

In contrast, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Member of the Indian Parliament, was more optimistic that India could forge cooperative solutions with China on issues of common interest, such as freedom of the seas. He instead argued that Pakistan remains the most prominent threat to India. T.N. Ninan, Chairman and Chief Editor of the Business Standard, while concurring on both the Chinese and Pakistani threats, emphasized economic development as India’s top priority and said energy security and international pressure to act on climate change could hinder India’s growth trajectory. Read more of this post

Kim Jong-il’s Death Draws Major Reactions in Asia

The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il this week provoked a variety of reactions across the globe. Kim Jong-un, the late Kim’s third son, will succeed his father. In this post, we examine reactions to Kim’s death from Asia and what it means for North Korea’s future.


Given Japan’s proximity and interest in the Korean peninsula, reactions were markedly heightened. Many speculated on what the post-Kim era might mean for Japanese interests in the region.

Kim’s death triggered a flurry of responses from Japanese government officials, who emphasized their hope for continued stability while monitoring developments on the Korean peninsula:

A group of academics mulled over North Korea’s future and its relations with the rest of the world in aroundtable interview with the Asahi Shimbun.

  • Noting Pyongyang’s close ties with Beijing, Masao Okonogi, professor emeritus at Keio University, predicted that China’s leaders will support the Kim Jong-un regime, fearing the consequences of a North Korea plunged into turmoil. Okonogi also predicted that North Korea’s foreign policy will remain unchanged for the time being. Read more of this post

China and India React to Secretary Clinton’s Visit to Burma/Myanmar

US policy toward Myanmar is shifting from one of isolation to engagement, as underscored by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s three day visit to Myanmar in early December. In this post, we highlight how this change is viewed in India and China, two major Asian powers with potentially competing interests in Myanmar. 


Of the diverse range of Indian commentaries on this topic, a generally shared opinion is that this liberalization of relations with Myanmar shows that India’s policy of engagement since the mid-1990s has been the right approach all along.

On the geopolitical implications of US engagement with Myanmar, many see this as an opportunity for India to counterbalance China through strengthened relations with Myanmar. See, for example,commentary by Shyam Saran, the former Indian ambassador to Myanmar.

  • The “Liberal Globalist” perspective is more optimistic about cooperating with the US. Sreeram Chaulia, Vice Dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs, argues that an “India-US team” with common geopolitical interests “can tilt Myanmar decisively away from authoritarianism and Chinese stranglehold.”

A critical question is whether India’s relations with Myanmar should take into account the country’s progress in political liberalization. Read more of this post

The US “Pivots” Back to Asia. How are the Region’s Major Powers Reacting?

In our previous blog post, we examined Asian reactions to the economic aspects of America’s “pivot” back to Asia strategy. Today’s post looks at what China, India, and Japan are saying about the geopolitical implications of US plans to strengthen its presence in Asia.


Official commentary specifically on this topic was expressed by the Foreign Ministry spokesperson during a regular press briefing: “In handling Asia-Pacific affairs, one should comply with the basic trend of peace, development and cooperation upheld by regional countries, and respect the diversity and complexity of the region.”

Similarly, the press has stressed China’s commitment to peaceful development and coexistence with neighbors. Commentaries characterize US intentions as reflecting a “Cold War mentality” aiming to encircle China, then explain why such plans are likely to fail:

  • China may also retaliate economically at neighboring countries, such as the Philippines, for cooperating militarily with the US. The Philippines is “walking a very fine line,” warned a Global Timeseditorial that recommended economic “punishment” such as postponing the implementation of investment agreements and decreasing imports from the Philippines. In the meantime, “China should enhance cooperation with countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, allowing them to benefit more from the Philippine vacuum.”

For reactions by Chinese netizens, the Dutch nonprofit foundation Global Voices has a report here.



Across the board, commentary in India is welcoming of America’s plan to strengthen its presence in Asia, and sees this renewed attention on the region as a chance for India to assert its strategic role. Read more of this post

Asian Powers Comment on U.S. Plans for Asia-Pacific Economic Integration

The United States is “pivoting” toward Asia. This strategy was formally publicized last month with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s essay on “America’s Pacific Century.” This week, President Barack Obama has been visiting Asia to push for a Trans-Pacific trading bloc and stronger military ties with US allies. How are major Asian powers reacting to America’s strategy to “re-engage” the Asia Pacific region? Today’s post  highlights Chinese, Russian and Japanese views on the economic aspects of this strategy.

Chinese officials have so far made only brief comments on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), all of which express China’s support for regional economic integration but stressing its preference for existing mechanisms. Assistant Commerce Minister Yu Jianhua said any trade mechanism should be “open and inclusive,” while Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said economic integration should proceed in a “step-by-step manner.”

Commentary in the press characterized the TPP as a part of a wider strategy to contain China:

 Academic opinions leaned toward a “wait-and-see” attitude:

  • Wang Yuzhu of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said, “Economic regionalism is China’s most pragmatic choice, because the international architecture is changing rapidly. China has to recalibrate its relations with the rest of the world.”
  • According to Lu Jianren, deputy director of the APEC Study Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “How the TPP negotiations will progress is still a matter of great uncertainty. What can be certain is it will be strategically detrimental to the old ASEAN Plus Three coalition, which has long been lagging behind in forming a free-trade zone that can allow a level of economic unity in the region.”


As Russia gears up to host the 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostock, commentary on U.S. re-engagement in Asia was introspective, questioning Russia’s own unique orientation as both a European and Asian state.  Read more of this post

The Okinawa Question and the US-Japan Alliance: Factoring in Japanese Domestic Politics and Debates

By Amy Hsieh

Since Yoshihiko Noda took office as Prime Minister of Japan two months ago, there appears to be some possibility that the United States and Japan will be able to make progress on the stalled issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa prefecture. However, even cautious optimism should be tempered by the reality of domestic politics in Japan and a thorough consideration of Japan’s overall strategic thinking.

Noda has made specific gestures expressing an intent to honor the U.S.-Japan agreement to relocate the Futenma base from densely populated Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago City in northeastern Okinawa, where a new on-shore facility would be built. To win political support from Okinawans, he announced in late September that his government would remove the conditions currently attached to development subsidies to the prefecture. In October, he told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the government would submit an environmental impact assessment report to Okinawa prefecture by the end of this year, which would formally start a legal process whereby the Okinawa government is required to respond within 90 days. From Washington’s perspective, these moves may indicate some long-awaited momentum on the Futenma issue.

Opposition and skepticism in Japanese domestic politics 

However, the official message coming from Tokyo stands in stark contrast to the local opposition in Okinawa, which has grown stronger and more vocal over the years. Just days after Panetta’s visit, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima told Noda that the Futenma relocation within the prefecture was “virtually impossible.”[1] In a recent speech delivered at The George Washington University, Nakaima stressed the intolerable impact of Futenma on the daily lives of Okinawans, and compared it to having a military base in the middle of New York City on 36th Street. Added to this is the sense of unfairness of having to bear the lion’s share of U.S. military presence in Japan: Okinawa comprises only 0.6% of Japan’s national land mass, but hosts 74% of American facilities in Japan.

While there is nothing new about local opposition to U.S. military basing in Okinawa, observers note that it has dramatically strengthened in the past few years that the Democratic Party of Japan has been in government. Read more of this post

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