23 March 2022
Pivot to India
Over the weekend, Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, made an official visit to India, where he pledged to invest 5 trillion yen (A$57 billion) in the country over the next five years, signalling Japan’s view of India as an important rising power. This follows on from a previous investment of 3.5 trillion yen (A$40 billion) that former prime minister Shinzō Abe announced on his visit to India in 2014. Although unable to match Japan’s scale of investment, Australia has also begun to see India’s success as a vital national interest.
India has been the largest recipient of Japanese development investment for several decades. Japan – which views the enhancement of India’s urban infrastructure as essential to its rise to become a major Asian power – has been instrumental in improvements to the metro systems in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. Furthermore, the Mumbai–Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor, currently under construction, is set to run on Shinkansen technology, with Japanese engineers overseeing the project.
Relations between India and Japan – both neighbours of China – are being driven by an increasing economic, security and political convergence. Both are interested in cooperation that can temper some of Beijing’s unilateral instincts, although their “special strategic and global partnership” has become as close as India is willing to go towards a formal alliance.
Abe’s speech to the Indian parliament in August 2007 titled “Confluence of the Two Seas” was the blueprint for Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy – a concept subsequently adopted by the United States, and one that provides the overarching framework for the Quad, the grouping that also includes Australia.
Following Kishida’s visit, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison held a virtual meeting with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, announcing Australia’s own A$190 million package on projects designed to boost ties with India, including the establishment of a new Centre for Australia-India Relations. The concerns that both Canberra and Tokyo share about China are leading to their increased attention on India.
Genocide in Myanmar
On Monday, US secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. After touring the museum’s new exhibition, “Burma’s Path to Genocide”, Blinken gave a speech declaring the United States would recognise that the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.
The designation is expected to trigger further economic sanctions and a more restrictive arms embargo against Myanmar’s military junta, the Tatmadaw. Blinken announced additional funding for further fact-finding, and support for The Gambia’s case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice. The designation should also instigate a more forceful diplomatic push from the United States within South-East Asia, posing a challenge to ASEAN’s core principles of consensus and non-interference.
Although the atrocities against the Rohingya have been known for some time, previously America feared that declaring a genocide would undermine the faith placed in Aung San Suu Kyi as a leader capable of forging a more liberal and democratic path for the country. Not only was this faith misplaced, but the February 2021 military coup against her government made this calculation irrelevant.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has clarified the need for the US to demonstrate a firmer commitment to its values and to set a strong humanitarian example. It is likely that Australia will follow Washington’s lead with a similar declaration, as part of a concert of liberal democracies asserting that the ethnic persecution and violence that has been witnessed in Myanmar can no longer be overlooked.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will likely accelerate the transition to renewable energy – a shift that is presenting an enormous opportunity for Australia. Central to this will be the expansion of Australia’s production of hydrogen, an energy source that when burned produces only water.
Currently, production of hydrogen is not cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Yet, Japan is investing considerable resources in it, and wants to become a predominantly hydrogen-fuelled society by 2050. Tokyo has identified Australia as its primary partner to achieve this objective. Cooperating with Japan on hydrogen production and export was a central feature of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy, released in 2019.
Japan’s mountainous and heavily forested landscape makes large-scale production of both wind and solar energy difficult, and nuclear power has lost public support since the Fukushima meltdown in 2011. As a result, Japanese companies have invested in a hydrogen liquefaction plant at the Port of Hastings, Victoria, and constructed the world’s first purpose-built liquid hydrogen carrier ship, the Suiso Frontier. The vessel returned from Hastings to Japan with its first shipment in late February.
However, there is a catch. The production of hydrogen on an industrial scale is energy intensive, and its status as a clean energy source depends on how it is produced. The first shipment of hydrogen to Japan was produced from Latrobe Valley brown coal, making it simply another carbon-heavy energy source. Without making the production of hydrogen reliant on renewable energy, Japan will simply be transferring its own emissions to Australia.