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No Mention Of South China Sea In India-Japan Talks, Is It The Trump Effect?

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| September 17 , 2017 , 11:58 IST

The recent visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India and the subsequent talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw the discussion of several important issues, including China's expansion through its OBOR (One Belt One Road) initiative, and laying the foundation stone of India's first bullet train, made with the aid of Japan.

However, one international issue was not discussed, namely the disputed South China Sea, in contrast to the previous two India-Japan summits where the summit declarations specifically referred to the South China Sea and reaffirmed the commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight.

Several reasons may be behind the absence of South China Sea mention during the bilateral talks between India and Japan, including the stand taken by US President Donald Trump, backing off from the issue with China. For example, the recent successful resolution to the Doklam dispute where Indian and Chinese forces had been locked in a standoff for 73 days, along with the threat Japan faces from North Korea in the wake of two missile launches from Pyongyang over Japan.

In the past, the Modi government has issued direct mentions of the South China Sea dispute in its past joint declarations, specifically with the US in 2014, under the presidency of Barack Obama.         

The varied stance of US President Donald Trump over the South China Sea may also have influenced the mention of the dispute between India and Japan.

According to strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney, since Trump has effectively given China a "free pass" on how to act on South China Sea, India and Japan are in a more difficult position to address the issue.

"The omission is especially significant given the reference to the SCS in the 2015 and 2016 joint statements. India and Japan cannot ignore the fact that the US has no clear policy on SCS," said Chellaney.

"Under Trump, the US has no desire to seek a return to status quo ante in the SCS. As a result, China is consolidating its position in the SCS, even as the US symbolically undertakes freedom-of-navigation operations in the region," he added.

China's construction of artificial reefs, consolidating its territory in the contested South China Sea has been a topic of dispute for other nations in the area.