Friday 17 February 2012

Japan – a Forgotten Asian Partner

James Horrax

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan before their bilateral meeting at the G8 summit on May 27, 2011 in Deauville, France. Pool/Getty Images Europe.
Over the last ten years, attention in Asia has been diverted to the emerging markets of China and India. With predictions that China will become the world’s largest economy between 2020 – 2025, and India the world’s largest democracy (for all it’s faults) in a region where its government is unusual to say the least, it is perhaps not unsurprising that British foreign and trade policy has developed around Asia’s giants. 

Further to the East however, lies an economy which is larger by GDP per capita than both India and China combined – the archipelago of Japan. 
Japan has been thrown into the shade by its own noisy neighbours in China and Korea in recent years – and it was only last year that China replaced Japan as the world’s second largest economy – but it still represents a key and important strategic relationship for Britain and the West over the coming years. 
Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has been a reliable ally for Britain and after Europe, China and the US, the UK has been Japan’s largest export market. However recently its economy - after a relatively successful period from 2000 – 2008 - has begun to struggle. Many will point to one-off mitigating factors including the powerful earthquake and tsunami which struck last March and the subsequent shut down of many nuclear reactors which as a result have helped push the costs of energy higher. But the truth is, Japan’s relative success in the early part of last decade was because of a boom in consumer consumption in its largest export markets – particularly in electronics, cars and financial services. 
Now there is a chance for Britain to return the favour. As was mentioned in my last post, David Cameron and the Coalition Government have made a big play of saying the world doesn’t owe Britain a living and the Japanese present economic malaise could be an opportunity. Despite Japan having a highly developed consumer culture, Britain can export plenty of services and expertise. Japan’s demographic time-bomb which is seeing an increasingly aging population, is increasing the need for pharmaceuticals and medicine which British firms like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca should be taking advantage of. The effective negative interest rates which Japan’s pension pots have been labouring under also makes financial services another sector where Britain can grow in Japan.
Following the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, David Cameron called on the European Union (EU) to offer a free trade deal to Japan to help recovery. While progress on this appears to have ground to a halt for now, for the benefit of all parties this deal should be resurrected and implemented as soon as possible. However there are some protectionist economic measures (specifically in the agricultural industry on both sides like the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and high import tariffs on products to Japan) which appear to be a sticking point. If the rich world is to grow its way out of its present economic funk, ensuring that tariffs and subsidies are removed will help government expenditure in the immediate term and eventually trickle through to the wider market, forcing costs for consumers down. It is only by increasing global trade and removing barriers to entry, that consumer driven economies like Britain and Japan can hope to get back to sustainable long term growth.
Still Japan is not just an economic strategic ally, it is also a regional and geo-strategic one too. As the situation in North Korea continues to unfurl, maintaining military and security intelligence cooperation in the area is vital and this is where Japan, along with South Korea will be of crucial importance. 
UK should be building close intelligence ties with Japan and South Korea in case of a North Korean collapse. Nautilus.
Japan’s relationship with North Korea, and its Chinese paymasters, is often fraught with historical and cultural tension. It is hardly surprising the US maintains a strong military presence on Okinawa given how Japan is a perfect vantage point with which to view the Far East peninsula. Historically, British ties have been less strong in this area, although with the continuing developments in the Middle East and the attention of strategists being held by Iran, it would be dangerous to assume this part of the world will simply sort itself out. As such, Britain should also focus on developing intelligence ties with Japan. This need not be costly but the consequences for failing to do so may be enormous. 
If North Korea is to collapse as reports suggest, Britain and its allies need as much information as possible, particularly since the most valuable assets North Korea will possess upon falling will be its nuclear materials which can be easily siphoned off and smuggled out of the country. While a rising China is unlikely to allow this to happen, their foreign policy is based on a laissez-faire principle of non-interference rather than liberal interventionism and nothing can be assured where projection of Chinese force is concerned.
Japan’s role, alongside its South Korean neighbours, will be of critical importance in the coming years. Britain must develop its ties accordingly. 

Monday 13 February 2012

A Mercenary Attitude to the Indian Economy

Jack Barton

India’s 1.13million strong military has long been criticised for underfunding and out of date equipment. Getty Images/Daniel Berehulak
At the end of January, after months of negotiations and sales pitches, the Indian ministry of defence indicated that it has chosen to buy 126 Rafale Fighter aircraft from the French firm Dessault rather than the Eurofighter Typhoon from BAE Systems and Italy’s Finmeccanica.

The decision has outraged many British politicians and commentators, drawing criticism of the Indian government from the right and the British government from the left.  David Cameron drew criticism by getting involved personally in attempting to change the Indian government’s mind.  Since it has been a clear aim from the start of his administration to garner closer ties with India, particularly in terms of trade, this must have left rather a sour taste.  Commentators have suggested that this is down to a fundamental misunderstanding of who holds real power in India; Cameron has worked hard to foster good relations with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh – underestimating the unofficial power still wielded by the Ghandi family who David Miliband was much closer to.
The reaction of Conservative MP Peter Bone (“What on earth do they know about cricket and curries”) sparked a much-read article by Labour MP and Guardian columnist Tristram Hunt.  The article highlights the dangerous effect of an attitude toward India “enveloped in the language of colonialism and entitlement” which threatens to forever undermine the relationship.
While I am more than happy to criticise David Cameron for attempting to cosy up to the Indian Government without attempting to understand the nuances of Indian politics or the very real danger of post-imperial arrogance, it is hard to believe that either of these things were really the problem.  India chose the Rafale over the Eurofighter Typhoon simply because it was cheaper.
India has the second-largest military in the world but the 10th largest military budget, and this time last year the Indian government increased the defence budget by 11.6%.  Its enormous military machine is engaged in an overhaul it has been attempting to complete for almost half a century, spurred on by what is essentially an arms race with China.  For all of BAE’s assurances that the Typhoon is a better aircraft, the Indian air force already uses French planes and Dessault’s offer was lower.  Undoubtedly many factors went into India’s decision but it really should not be a surprise, and what’s more from India’s perspective it is hard to see it as a bad decision.
The Eurofighter Typhoon was widely tipped to win the contract by analysts. Reuters
Much of the criticism has been drawn from the fact that France gives no aid to India whereas Britain donates billions, the Sun has even called for an end to British aid to India.  Arms trade companies are at best in a murky ethical position on the whole, squabbling over a $10billion arms sale to a country where over 30% live below the poverty line is even more dubious.  But calling for aid to be reliant on their buying our weapons surely crosses a line.  BAE will not cease trading with India, they will keep trying to change their minds, they will keep selling them arms whenever they can.  Britain cannot cease giving aid to India, apart from the suggestion that this would be some kind of reprisal, the government has made it all too clear how much increasing trade would benefit us and how keen they are to gain tighter links with New Delhi.
There is a good chance that this deal will fall through – it has been suggested that Nicholas Sarkozy brought the price down temporarily to gain a political victory in an election year.  This would explain the British government’s indignation but highlights yet another unsavoury element of this affair.
The British government is just not in a position to complain about this and in doing so it risks revealing an incredibly mercenary attitude toward its dealings with its former colony.  In constantly trying to increase its financial and diplomatic stake in the developing country, our government forfeits its right to criticise India’s massive – and ever-increasing – defence spending despite their continuing to take (and so clearly need) aid money.  Furthermore what should oblige India to choose our more expensive option?  The British government’s stance has repeatedly demonstrated that they think that we are the ones that have everything to gain from this relationship, had the Indian government chosen the more expensive option they would have come under enormous criticism for wasting extra resources so badly needed elsewhere.
It is easy to attack the UK arms trade from a moral perspective and of course the fact that Dessault is likely to win the contract is hardly a result of the company’s altruistic aims towards cutting Indian defence spending.  It is necessary to take a step back though; the outrage displayed by our government is a PR disaster, bringing to light an incredibly mercenary attitude where aid is there to buy us favours and winning a defence contract with a poverty-stricken country is a political victory rather than economic expediency and at best a necessary evil.