Democracy has not featured as a theme of US President Barack Obama's foreign policy. He took office promising to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, not to remake those countries in America's image. The Arab Spring turned into a nightmare, leading Obama to back strongmen in Cairo and Riyadh. Outreach to autocrats in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Havana has sometimes taken precedence over ties with US allies. But in a landmark visit to India in January, Obama changed tack, recognising that a convergence of interests and values makes the world's largest democracy pivotal to US strategic objectives.
In doing so, he followed in the footsteps of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who predicted as early as 2006 that Japan's relations with India could surpass those with America to become "the most important bilateral relationship in the world" on the basis of shared interests and values. For his part, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is treating Washington and Tokyo as India's most valuable external partners.
Both Japan and India have lately prioritized ties with democratic neighbours in South and Southeast Asia. Abe and Modi are pursuing the sort of values-based diplomacy that Obama previously scorned. But all three now seem to recognise that unsentimental national interest and shared political ideals require closer strategic collaboration to shape the Pacific century.
Coming from very different backgrounds, Obama, Abe and Modi are converging around the idea of an Indo-Pacific alliance to manage China's rise and sustain the peace of Asia. This is a strong challenge to Beijing's belief in its pre-eminence in Asia -- and its attempts to forge a "new type of major power relations" with the US over the heads of its allies.
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