Deepening India–Japan Ties: Beyond a rising China

Modi Abe1

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in India recently to hold the 9th annual India-Japan summit-level talks. It was his second summit engagement with India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi. That this growth in bilateral ties has been attributed to China’s assertive rise is well known. However, as Abe stated during his visit – “A strong India is good for Japan and a strong Japan is good for India,” and this statement stands true for reasons beyond just a successful Chinese hedge. When looked at intrinsically, Abe’s latest visit to India bolsters the growing partnership between India and Japan by promoting economic growth, stable seas, peace and security, and contributes to the rise of a stable Asia.

During this visit, both leaders agreed to transform the India-Japan Global and Strategic Partnership into a deep, broad based and action-oriented partnership which would reflect a broad convergence of its long term political, economic and strategic goals. The joint statement on ‘India and Japan Vision 2025’, released on December 12, has highlighted remarkable progress and growth in Indo-Japanese ties, and credit can be given to Modi and Abe whose political determination and assertion in the security and geo strategic domain has made it possible. This visit touched upon more than just issues related to Chinese assertiveness, and addressed a large number of growing concerns.

Maritime Security: Stable Seas

Abe, since his first stint as Prime Minister in 2007, has been a proponent of deeper Indo-Japanese ties, and in his speech titled the “Confluence of the two Seas”, he had spoken about a “broader Asia”, and the growing importance and responsibility that India- Japan ties had in ensuring Asia’s stable and transparent rise. After being re-elected as Prime Minister in 2012, Abe continued to push this growing strategic Indo-Japanese trajectory. His Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) picked up the issue of the sale of the US-2 amphibious aircraft, negotiations for which had begun under the then Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) governments of Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda. Since then he continued to work towards reaching what would be Japan’s first defence sale since the end of World War II. In light of this, though the US-2 aircraft sale was not concluded during this visit, on a positive note the two prime ministers agreed to continue to explore potential future projects on defence equipment and technology cooperation.

Further, India and Japan have in the past decade tentatively mooted the possibility of greater maritime cooperation, but this had remained stunted due to the previous UPA governments reticence to move forward. Japan’s participation in the 2007 Exercise Malabar that took place in the Bay of Bengal alarmed China, causing India to withdraw Japan’s participation. However, during this visit Japan’s “regular” participation in the India-US Malabar exercises was welcomed. This move would create stronger capabilities to deal with maritime challenges, and enhance disaster response and mitigation capacity.

As maritime nations, both states share similar views regarding the critical importance of the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) in the South China Sea (SCS) for their energy security, and trade and commerce. India and Japan have for the first time come up with an unequivocal statement on South China Sea and called on countries to “avoid unilateral actions” that could lead to tension in the region. Last year, India had signed two joint statements with Japan, but neither mentioned the South China Sea. Further, both leaders underscored the importance of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). With regard to Chinese assertiveness in the SCS and its adamant stand to solve disputes bilaterally rather than utilising mechanisms of International Law, these moves are important. Additionally, India is dealing with a growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and Japan is dealing with the Senkaku/Diaoyu territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea (ECS). Promoting such mechanisms would only prove beneficial.

Economic Growth

Tokyo, which considers itself a champion of non-proliferation, has for years condemned India’s nuclear testing that took place in 1998. However, after five years of negotiation, there had been adequate indication to suggest that there may be have been tangible movement with regard to the India–Japan civil nuclear deal. Though the final conclusion of the deal is still awaited due to certain “technical details” that needed to be ironed out, the joint statement does note that both sides “also reached an agreement for cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy”, which marks a complete reversal of the policy Japan had adopted towards India after 1998 tests. The deal can thus be seen as a Japanese seal of approval to India’s status as a nuclear-armed state.

Japan’s heavy-manufacturing base and India’s services-led growth — as well as their contrasting age structures — make their economies complementary, opening the path to generating strong synergies. In this regard, Japan will set up a new financial facility worth $12 billion (1.5 trillion yen) under the “Make in India” initiative to promote direct investment of Japanese companies and trade from Japan to India. Both nations also welcomed the signing of memoranda on technical cooperation and R & D in the railway sector. Further, a Memorandum of Cooperation of Japan’s High Speed Railways (HSR) technologies – the Shinkansen system was singed for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.

India is also one of the largest recipients of Japanese ODA, which it has been receiving since 1952. During this visit Modi welcomed ODA loans of approximately $ 800 million (100 billion yen) for the metro projects both in Chennai and Ahmedabad, while Abe also expressed Japan’s intention to provide ODA loans for improved road network connectivity in India’s Northeast, and Bengaluru. This year, India could also expect $ 5 billion funding for a range of infrastructure projects such as the Western Freight Corridor, the Chennai Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC) and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). Also, in Modi’s bid to improve the business environment in India, both sides reaffirmed their intention to develop Japan Industrial Townships (JITs) and also evolve special packages for attracting Japanese investment in these JITs.

Peace and Security

The two sides may not have clinched their nuclear deal, or the agreement to manufacture the US-2 amphibian aircraft, but they have set the stage for quick movement in the area of security. In line with Japan’s decision to permit sales of military equipment abroad, the two sides have signed a foundational agreement concerning the Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology, as well as another agreement concerning Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information.

On the issue of terrorism too, both leaders used strong language. The two leaders called for eliminating terrorist safe havens, in disrupting terrorist networks and financing channels, and stopping cross-border movement of terrorists. They underlined the need for all countries to effectively deal with trans-national terrorism emanating from their territory.

Finally, important for any developing nation are their future generations, and both leaders have taken key steps to ensure the success of India’s and Japan’s younger generations. Abe stated that in the next five years, around 10,000 Indian students would visit Japan under numerous student exchanges, and IT trainings. India and Japan will also continue to develop Science and Technology cooperation, and promote the establishment of joint research centres in India.

While there had been major expectation of omiyage from Abe in the form of the civil nuclear deal, and the sale of the US-2 amphibious aircraft, it can be seen that his latest visit to Delhi has been extremely fruitful. In light of the geoeconomic and geostrategic changes taking place in the Indo-Pacific, this visit has further cemented the ties of Asia’s two leading democracies, and taking the India–Japan connect to the next level.

(Vindu Mai Chotani is Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)



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