On 29 September 2020, the Perth USAsia Centre hosted a public event to launch our most recent publication: Australia, Japan and India: A Trilateral Coalition in the Indo-Pacific?
Participants in the discussion included authors Dr Priya Chacko and Dr Jeffrey Wilson, as well as Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan from the Observer Research Foundation and Dr Tomohiko Satake from the National Institute for Defense Studies. The panel was moderated by Perth USAsia Centre CEO Gordon Flake. We were also delighted to welcome His Excellency Reiichiro Takahashi, Ambassador of Japan to Australia – who penned the publication’s forward – to offer his own insightful closing remarks.
Australia, Japan and India are leading proponents of the Indo-Pacific concept. In recent years, a trilateral coalition has coalesced around their shared strategic outlook on the region. The ‘AJI coalition’ has developed an institutional architecture, and made several contributions to the Indo-Pacific order. But despite their shared outlooks, differences in national interests place limits on how far trilateral cooperation can advance. It is important to calibrate the AJI agenda to the opportunities and constraints facing the three governments today.
The publication highlights the three like-minded countries and their similar approaches towards the Indo-Pacific, as well as the importance of a strategic trilateral as the world looks to recover economically from COVID-19.
Dr Priya Chacko started the discussion by providing an outline of the report, highlighting that the author’s aim was not to advocate for nor dismiss an AJI coalition, but to assess what is realistically possible, identifying what has brought the coalition together, what it’s done so far, and what the challenges and opportunities will be going forward.
These statements were supported by co-author Dr Jeffrey Wilson, who indicated that the publication points to the fact that this coalition is not brand new; it is supported by foundations that have been laid down over the last decade. Dr Wilson pointed out though – that while these countries have shared outlooks on the Indo-Pacific – it does not mean they have completely overlapping interests. These different interests place limits on what the coalition can and can’t achieve.
Dr Rajagopalan spoke to India’s involvement in the coalition, highlighting the recent border clashes with China, with little hope that Sino-Indian relations will repair in the short-term future. Dr Rajagopalan noted that over recent years, India has been more willing to participate in different kinds of multilateral forums, such as the Quad, the AJI trilateral and other coalitions like BRICS and RIC. Impacts of trade with China was identified as a common thread between the Australia, Japan and India. Dr Rajagopalan also discussed the concept of a free and open Indo -Pacific.
The publication explores the similarities and differences with regards to the countries and their approach to the Indo-Pacific concept. While India’s focus is on the Indian Ocean with a desire for strategic autonomy, Australia and Japan place an emphasis on maintaining the United States role within the region.
Dr Tomohiko Satake mentioned that while Japan’s Prime Minister has changed recently following the resignation of Abe Shinzo, he believed Japan would continue to work towards creating a free and open Indo-Pacific alongside its allies Australia and India. Dr Satake called for Japan to invest more money, more people and more partnerships into the region to secure its place within the Indo-Pacific. He also explored the importance of this trilateral, which does not include the other member of the Quad – the United States. He pointed out that the trilateral is in no way a replacement for the quadrilateral.
Following a short period for question time, Japanese Ambassador to Australia His Excellency Reiichiro Takahashi joined the webinar to provide concluding remarks, calling the publication “very timely”. The Ambassador commented that while there is no fundamental, conceptual reason that there needs to be a regional grouping of three countries, the AJI coalition is an interesting and meaningful combination of countries with similar approaches, but different assets and geographical settings. The Ambassador called for the trilateral to pursue concrete cooperation on projects rather than just within a conceptual framework. One example project Ambassador Takahashi suggested was the Mekong River Basin Development. The publication concurs with the need to cooperate to deliver tangible outcomes – such as in the areas of defence and maritime policy and critical materials for economic growth.
The report can be downloaded here.