For Australia, Japan and India, the Indo-Pacific is more than just a new geographic map of the region. It also reflects a shared set of outlooks regarding how regional politics and institutions should be organised. While national formulations have subtle variations in language, the common denominator is a commitment to ‘free’, ‘open’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘rules-based’ principles for regional governance. These outlooks are advocated as an implicit – but clearly deliberate – foil against a model of Indo-Pacific order structured by geopolitical competition and great power rivalry.
As many countries look to protectionism, these three countries could benefit from strengthening the AJI coalition. There are five broad principles outlined below that should inform the direction of their efforts:
- Formal ‘treaty-type’ instruments amongst the AJI coalition are not presently suited to their shared agenda. This is due to India’s commitment to strategic autonomy, Australia and Japan’s need to integrate with their US relations, and shared concerns over presenting the group as an ‘anti-China’ bloc. Informal mechanisms – such as dialogues and technical cooperation platforms – are better calibrated to the diplomatic constraints facing the three countries.
- Given that there are many instances in which two of the three countries share interests, cultivating bilateral cooperation should be the initial focus. This can keep in view the potential to expand bilateral initiatives into trilateral efforts when opportunities arise.
- Economic cooperation will need to be functionally-oriented, to accommodate the different trade outlook of India vis-à-vis Australia and Japan. Greater awareness of domestic priorities and political constraints in all three countries will help to avoid expending energy on initiatives that are likely to encounter sensitivities.
- Security cooperation will need to tread a fine line between responses by the US and Chinese governments. It will be constrained by Australia and Japan’s commitment to the US alliance; India’s prioritisation of strategic autonomy; and the three countries’ different forms of economic dependencies with China. These factors will shape security policy for the foreseeable future, and cooperative initiatives will need to be designed with these in mind.
- Coalitional advocacy should focus on building consensus around norms and principles with a wider range of partners. The G20 is the highest impact amongst these, and provides an opportunity for the AJI coalition to advocate for their shared interests in a global forum. Nonetheless, functional groupings, such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association, offer complementary platforms to advance coalitional advocacy in a less formal way.
This is an extract from Perth USAsia Centre’s publication Australia, Japan and India: A Trilateral Coalition In The Indo- Pacific? Co-authored by our Research Director Dr Jeffrey Wilson
, and Indo-Pacific Fellow based at the University of Adelaide Dr Priya Chacko
to download the publication launched today.