By Chidanand Rajghatta
India and Japan appear to have put their geo-strategic ties on a fast track with the launch of a “bullet train” project in western India. Costing a trifling $17 billion, a third of India’s annual defence budget, the train is seen in some quarters as a “magic bullet” to restore the infrastructural vitality in India that has all but derailed. But can it be a “silver bullet” against growing Chinese hegemony in the region and beyond? At any time, it is difficult to compartmentalise foreign relations. Nations, as much as train bogies, are interlinked. But of late, there is geo-political train wreck in Asia arising from the inability of US-China-India-Japan – the world’s top four economies – to objectively quadrangulate ties.
The US, which used to love Pakistan during the Cold War because India lined up with USSR (after getting sidetracked by Washington) now courts New Delhi, which fears China, which in turn loves Pakistan but dislikes Japan, which reciprocates the feeling and has reached out to India. Rebuffed by the US Pakistan, whose entire existence is premised on being not India, now loves Russia and China. The Koreas, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Australia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and others are bit players in this clamorous geo-political junction.
While some critics may castigate New Delhi for having a tunnel vision vis-à-vis Japan – considering China remains a major engine of growth for the world economy – supporters of bullet train diplomacy see in Tokyo a light at the end of the tunnel. They say both US-India and US-Japan relations are running out of steam – and esteem, given Trump’s ticket-to-ride diplomacy – and it is best for New Delhi to streamline its policy along an Asian axis. India can also draw in other nations such as Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea that have problems with China and its client states Pakistan and North Korea, living on the wrong side of the tracks.
Beijing though is neither sweating bullets nor blowing steam, given that it now runs a gravy train with bells and whistles to boot. It has railroaded many countries into running behind it. Even the mighty US has had to bite the bullet on occasion, in tune with the American comic who observed that when Washington was in serious danger of defaulting on its loans Beijing showed up – and broke the Statue of Liberty’s kneecaps. India and Japan need to stand up more firmly to Beijing than Washington can.
Times of India, September 18, 2017