Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan– “I intend to make the “Confluence of the Two Seas” – the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean – open, peaceful and abundant, and we shall further advance peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region in the 21st century”.
The Indo-Japanese relationship, remarkably free of any strategic dissonance or bilateral dispute, traces its roots to the introduction of Buddhism in Japan in the sixth century. Buddhism and the intrinsically linked Indian culture had a great impact on Japanese culture, still felt today, and resulted in a natural sense of amicability between the two nations.
Japan played a key role in India’s freedom struggle by providing invaluable succour and support to nationalists like Rashbehari Bose and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Indians always recall this support with gratitude. The Japanese, in their turn, remain grateful about what they see as brave support extended by Judge Radhabinod Pal who was the lone judge in the 11 member international military tribunal that returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ in the trial of Japan’s top 25 wartime leaders after World War II.
Political relations between the two nations have remained warm since India’s independence. Japanese firms in fact are some of the first firms to invest in India. The most prominent Japanese company to have an investment in India is automobiles multinational Suzuki, which is in partnership with Indian automobiles company Maruti Suzuki is the largest car manufacturer in the Indian market.
For a politically rising Japan that is beginning to shed its pacifist blinkers, India is central to both its economic-revival and security-building strategies.
Asia’s balance of power will be determined principally by events in East Asia and the Indian Ocean. In this light, the emerging Indo-Japanese entente is likely to help shape Asia’s strategic future as much as China’s ascent or America’s Asian “pivot.” Japan and India, as Asia’s natural-born allies, have a pivotal role to play in preserving stability and helping to safeguard vital sea-lanes in the wider Indo-Pacific region — a region defined not only by the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but also by its significance as the global trade and energy-supply hub.
The two maritime democracies are seriously concerned by mercantilist efforts to assert control over energy supplies and the transport routes for them. So, the maintenance of a peaceful and lawful maritime domain, including unimpeded freedom of navigation, is critical to their security and economic well-being.
Containment of China has been identified as one of the drivers leading to this intensification of cooperation and greater understanding between the two countries.
Indo-Japanese proximity has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years by particular emphasis on India’s Look East policy. (Look East policy initiated in 1991 marked a strategic shift in India’s perspective of the world and represents its efforts to cultivate extensive economic and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia in order to bolster its standing as a regional power and a counterweight to the strategic influence of China.)
The level and frequency of India-Japan official engagement have become extraordinary. In addition to holding an annual Prime Minister-level summit, the two also conduct several yearly ministerial dialogues: A strategic dialogue between their Foreign Ministers; a security dialogue between their Defense Ministers; a policy dialogue between India’s Commerce Minister and Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry; and separate ministerial-level energy and economic dialogues. And, to top it all, they also hold a trilateral strategic dialogue with the United States.
Japan has quietly extended financial and technical support to a clutch of infrastructure projects in India, ranging from the Metro in several cities to industrial corridors, dedicated freight corridors, highways, bridges and power plants, besides initiatives in a host of other areas, including water & sanitation, health, education and agriculture.
The visit of Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in Nov-Dec, 2013 was a landmark event as it symbolizes a watershed in the already fast-developing partnership between Asia’s two leading democracies. This bonhomie was extended further with Shinzo Abe attending India’s Republic Day celebrations on 26th January, 2014 as its chief guest.
Shinzo Abe, who is known for his hawkish foreign policy, is friendly towards India. It was under his leadership that Japan signed the Strategic and Global Partnership with India in 2006. His historic speech on the Confluence of the Two Seas and his concept of Democratic Security Diamond underscore that India is perceived as an important partner. The National Security Strategy and the National Defense Program Guidelines released in December 2013 articulated that “Japan will strengthen its relationship with India in a broad range of fields, including maritime security”.
BROAD AREAS OF ENGAGEMENT
For India, Japan is a critical source of capital and commercial technology. Indeed, there cannot be a better partner for India’s development than the country that was the first non-western society to modernize and emerge as a world power, spearheading Asia’s industrial and technology advances since the 19th century.
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. India’s human capital and Japan’s financial and technological power can be a good match to help drive India’s infrastructure development and great-power aspirations, and catalyze Japan’s revival as a world power.
Japan and India, as energy-poor countries heavily reliant on oil imports from the unstable Persian Gulf region, are seriously concerned over mercantilist efforts to assert control over energy supplies and the transport routes for them. So the maintenance of a peaceful and lawful maritime domain, including unimpeded freedom of navigation, is critical to their security and economic well-being.
India — the world’s largest arms importer that desperately needs to develop an indigenous arms-production capability — is forging closer defense ties with Japan, including co-developing weapon systems and working together on missile defence.
First and foremost, the India-Japan Global and Strategic Partnership, which hitherto was largely confined to Japanese assistance in infrastructure projects in India, is now set for a push in the political aspects of the bilateral relationship with security and strategic overtones. This has been institutionalized by a mechanism of regular consultations between the two sides’ national security advisors.
Secondly, the two countries also reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate in the rare earths sector and shared “the strong resolution” that the commencement of commercial production of rare earths by Indian and Japanese enterprises should take place at the earliest. India-Japan also agreed on paving way for civil nuclear agreement giving boost to India’s ambitious nuclear power programme.
Thirdly, the two countries decided to put a deeper emphasis on military-to-military exchanges, joint exercises and prepared an ambitious roadmap in this regard. Consequently, Indian Navy (IN) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) are engaged in regular bilateral exercises.
Fourthly, the two countries are in process of finalizing defense deals. India’s navy is also reportedly interested in Japanese patrol vessels and electronic warfare equipment. The deal is significant for a variety of reasons. On the surface, it’s another indicator of burgeoning cooperation between India and Japan on security matters. The deal is doubly significant in the context of India’s relations with Japan because once India clinches the deal, it will become the first country to purchase defense equipment from Japan since the latter’s self-imposed ban on defense exports began in 1967.
Fifthly, in the regional context, India has invited Japan to participate in infrastructure development programmes of the country’s northeast states, an area where China is sensitive to even Indian actions given its contested territorial claims in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. India is hoping that a new economic and transport corridor involving India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and possibly even Thailand would take shape in the future.
Sixthly, on the recent Chinese policy of declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), the two countries jointly underscored the importance of freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with the recognized principles of international law and the relevant standards and recommended practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). With this India has finally sided with Japan at the expense of China on the ADIZ controversy.
Recent agreements post Shinzo Abe’s visit to India in December, 2015
The biggest surprise was a breakthrough on a nuclear cooperation agreement under negotiation since 2010. A breakthrough was seen on nuclear energy cooperation that paves the way for companies such as Westinghouse Electric Co. and General Electric Co. to sell equipment to India.
The deals are bringing India, which formally avoids security alliances, further into the U.S. military orbit. Japan will join India and the U.S. as a regular member in the biannual Malabar naval exercises to “help create stronger capabilities to deal with maritime challenges in the Indo- Pacific region,” the two leaders said in a joint statement. Next year, India and Japan will hold a second round of trilateral diplomatic talks with Australia, another U.S. ally.
Both signed pacts to share classified intelligence and pave the way for a long-pending deal to export Japan’s US-2 amphibious aircraft to India.
Japan agreed to help finance infrastructure projects in India, including roads in its northeastern states, one of which is the disputed area of Arunachal Pradesh. In recent months, India has pushed ahead with plans to build a $6 billion highway and populate the remote region it has neglected since fighting a war over it with China five decades ago.
A $15 billion deal for Japan to help build India’s first high-speed rail link and $12.4 billion in Japanese financing and export insurance to spur investment in India were also finalized.
Indo-Japan relations have gone from strength to strength in recent years. In fact, Japan is the only country in India’s foreign policy outreach in the past one decade with which India’s relations have constantly been on an upswing.
India has been specially chosen for an imperial visit to signal Japan’s commitment to forge closer ties. Japan is already doing more for India than any other economic partner of this country: it is the largest source of aid, and is playing a key role in helping India to improve its poor infrastructure.
India’s relations with Japan have begun to take the flavor of India’s relations with Russia and the US where the two sides are cooperating on virtually everything under the sun – defense, energy, nuclear, trade, investment, science and technology, infrastructure, health, people-to-people contacts, railways, cyber security and tourism, apart from political and strategic issues.
These are just one sign of a shift from emphasizing shared values to seeking to protect common interests. This camaraderie is poised for growth and acceleration in near future.