Rising Powers Initiative - Sigur Center for Asian Studies
Policy Alert #156 - January 19, 2018    
Looking Back on 2017: A Rising Powers Story You May Have Missed 
While China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) grabbed international headlines last year, another major infrastructure plan floated by two other key Asian countries hardly got much overseas coverage. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of India and Japan's Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) at the African Development Bank Meeting in May 2017 represented the culmination of Indo-Japanese efforts for meaningful, bilateral action in the Indo-Pacific region. But it also symbolized an attempt to promote an attractive alternative to the BRI, with the two countries emphasizing the AACG's commitment to development cooperation, quality infrastructure and institutional connectivity, and people-to-people partnership. The AAGC's primary goals are to promote sustainable projects and growth and to coordinate the development priorities among countries and sub-regions of Asia and Africa.

India began its India-Africa Forum Summit in 2008 , pledged $10 billion in concessional credit to African countries in 2015 , and has expanded its economic ties to Africa by promoting its private and public sector companies operating there. India, along with the United States, has also been collaborating with African countries in agricultural development, energy security, health, women's empowerment, and peacekeeping training.

The AAGC provides Japan and India a platform from which to emphasize the importance of the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region as well. Prime Minister Abe has talked about the need for a maritime security "diamond" of democracies between Japan, India, Australia, and the United States. Japan's military base in Djibouti was completed in 2011 as part of its anti-piracy campaign around the Horn of Africa, and Indo-Japanese security cooperation has strengthened over the past year. Thus, the close alignment between Japan and India's strategic and economic interests could provide a solid foundation for the AAGC as a new type of regional political and economic architecture for the 21st century.

Commentary below from India and Japan show mixed reviews for the AAGC despite the enthusiastic push by Abe and Modi. Chinese opinion is uniformly negative, citing various reasons.

After openly opposing the BRI in May 2017, Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar explained India's rationale for pursuing a quadrilateral partnership with Japan, the US, and Australia instead, " Many of the concerns we articulated in the summer have become broader international concerns. We hear it in Japan, US and Europe ... India has been a pioneer of connectivity in many ways [...] We have more ownership of Silk Road than anyone else. " At a consultative meeting before Abe's visit to India in September 2017, Jaishankar pointed out that a defining characteristic of the AAGC was " a strong sense of local ownership ." " Our activities must fully conform to balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards. And, I am compelled to add, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity ," he added, highlighting India's frustration with the BRI's inclusion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) without India's consultation. In the joint statement during Abe's visit to India, Prime Ministers Modi and Abe promised to "work together to enhance connectivity in India and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region, including Africa," and " underlined the importance of all countries ensuring the development and use of connectivity infrastructure in an open, transparent and non-exclusive manner based on international standards and responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment ." This was a clear rebuke to China's BRI which has been widely criticized for its lack of transparency and financial practices.

While the Indian press has followed the AAGC project with close attention as an alternative to China's BRI and the potential of a partnership with Japan as a counterbalance to Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific, it has been less of a priority in the Japanese press. Indeed, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced his willingness to cooperate with China's BRI. " I believe Japan will be able to cooperate well with China, which has been putting forward its One Belt, One Road Initiative. [...] Meeting robust infrastructure demand in Asia through cooperation between Japan and China will contribute greatly to the prosperity of Asian people, in addition to the economic development of the two countries ," he said at a two-day summit between Chinese and Japanese entrepreneurs in Tokyo. Abe also expressed his hope that Chinese President Xi Jinping would visit Japan "as early as possible."

Although there has been no formal statement on the Chinese government's position regarding the AAGC, commentary in state-owned and state-directed media outlets are generally critical of the AAGC as it provides competition to China's BRI and efforts to include African countries through BRICS-Plus, which China introduced as host of last year's BRICS Summit.



POLICY ALERTS of the Rising Powers Initiative inform U.S. policymakers and media professionals of the ongoing debates in China, India, Japan, Russia, Brazil and South Korea on current issues and events relevant to American foreign policy. The aim of the POLICY ALERTS is to provide a spectrum of divergent viewpoints within these countries.
For further information and analysis, visit the Rising Powers website and blog at http://www.risingpowersinitiative.org
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