Monday, May 19, 2014

And Previously, on Abe and Modi

And here’s the text email that spawned the text for the previous post:

...someone at another wire service looked at a Kyodo wire today that said that the Abe administration was hoping that Modi would make Japan his first overseas destination and got to wondering, “Does Modi's election potentially affect the current balance of power in East Asia?”

My response:

Funny you ask that; I’d just begun to write a piece for the MIGA website that began with the sentence: “2014 has most likely been a bad year for you if you happen to be a political analyst who specializes in the states that used to form the Soviet Union”, then gone on to talk about an equally disastrous outcome for India specialists, and what we could learn from such cases. But to your question…

In a nutshell, no, at least not in ways that would be different from what we’d already been seeing, which is a gradual but limited development of the bilateral security relationship. The youth vote propelled Modi and his BJP to a lower house majority, and to fix the hidebound, stalling domestic economy. For that, he needs more trade and more investment, and he’ll welcome all comers, including China. He’ll do his best to avoid being sidetracked by issues that have no upside in that direction. There’s always been a mutual attraction between the two nations that has been mostly free of geopolitical conflict—India’s nuclear weapons program has been a sticking point, but Japan has managed to mostly get over that—and Modi does appear to have a warm relationship with the Japanese political and economic leadership that is only set to grow, but it’s doubtful that he’ll go about that in a way that would look like a deliberate snub of China.

I’m sure that Abe and his handlers would like to see Modi make Japan his first diplomatic stop, but that occasion is likely reserved for the July BRICs Summit in Brazil. So how about a pair of stops on his way back from Fortaleza, Tokyo and Seoul, then a brief chat with Xi Jinping  at Beijing Airport before he finally heads back home? Long trip, but it’s the least-controversial way of arranging the itinerary that I can think of. If it happens, remember, you read it here first.

The one wild card in my view is the possibility that the Chinese PLA might decide to test a new Modi administration’s mettle through a clash around the territorial disputes. Or, to state the matter more plausibly, any clash, deliberate or accidental, would be correctly seen as a test of the Modi administration’s mettle. That would leave the Modi administration no choicebut to step up India’s geopolitical game—reach out more forcefully to China’s frenemies (I don’t think that China has “enemies”)—if only for the sake of domestic consumption, a move that the Abe administration would welcome and respond to with efforts to further enhance security ties.

And now I have to find the time to write the MIGA post…

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