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Anil Choudhary asked: How do the views of India and South Korea differ on the two Asian giants - China and Japan?

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  • Titli Basu replies: The ‘views’ of a nation concerning another sovereign state are shaped by several variables such as the national interest, ideological orientation, security concerns and strategic goals, historical experiences, economic imperatives and shared values.

    View on Japan

    The most significant difference in how the Republic of Korea (ROK) and India ‘view’ Japan is determined by the critical variable of historical baggage in case of the ROK and the lack of it in case of India. The energy invested in the India-Japan relations by the successive leadership of the two countries, as evident from the 2014 Tokyo Declaration, has added a qualitative depth to their friendship, thereby setting an overall positive tone in their bilateral ties. Whereas, the ROK’s perception regarding Japan has suffered enormously in recent years especially since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a nationalist, came to power in December 2012. Thus, while India looks at Japan as an important player in its ‘Act East’ policy and a prospective participant in its ‘Make in India’ initiative, the ROK’s approach towards Japan remains hostage to its historical experience with Imperial Japan even as both the countries celebrate the 50th anniversary of normalisation of relations.

    In fact, issues of history have long nurtured trust-deficit among the East Asian countries. The sensitive issue of ‘comfort women’ and the Japanese approach towards it has often affected the diplomatic and economic relations in the region. According to the May 2015 report on joint opinion polls conducted by the Genron NPO and the East Asia Institute, about 72.5 per cent of the South Korean respondents continue to have “unfavorable” impressions of Japan primarily owing to “Japan’s lack of remorse for historical invasions” and its contested territorial claims over Dokdo/Takeshima Islands. On the contrary, and unlike the ROK-Japan relations, the intellectual discourse on India-Japan relations often factor in the narrative of ‘spiritual affinity’ and ‘strong cultural and civilisational ties’ between the two nations.

    View on China

    With regard to China, both India’s and the ROK’s ‘views’ are shaped by a separate set of determinants. Though the ROK is a key factor in the US’ strategic calculus in the region, and the former too perceives US as the security provider in the region, Seoul understands that the influence of China over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), though declining, may serve its own national objectives particularly de-nuclearisation of the Peninsula and the Korean unification. Moreover, there is an evolving view that the unfolding changes in Japan’s security policy and anxiety over a ‘normal’ Japan has facilitated the growing proximity between the ROK and China. It is noteworthy that China is Seoul’s largest trading partner. Despite the US discomfort, Seoul has also joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), often regarded as the Chinese alternative to the West-dominated global financial framework.

    The 2015 Asan Institute opinion poll reflects some very interesting trends in this regard. While the support for alliance with the US remains considerably high, still 44.5 per cent of the South Korean respondents suggested that the US and the ROK do not share the same national interests. Additionally, 52 per cent of the respondents approved of the Chinese global leadership in 2015, a remarkable increase from 29 per cent in 2013.

    On the other hand, India’s perception regarding China is largely determined by its long standing boundary dispute including Beijing’s position on Arunachal Pradesh; Chinese activities in the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and the Indian Ocean Region, particularly in Sri Lanka; and China’s growing engagement and presence in Nepal, Myanmar and the Maldives. The Chinese attitude towards the resolution of the boundary issue and incidents like Depsang incursion has only strengthened India’s perception of China as a difficult neighbour. Nonetheless, India does not view its relations with China as a zero-sum game and believes that convergence on several international issues presents an opportunity to further expand bilateral cooperation and understanding.

    Posted on July 22, 2015