Ushering In A ‘New Era’ In India-Japan Relation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid an official visit to Japan for the 13th India-Japan Annual Summit with the aim of reinforcing the ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ founded on universal values and international norms. While Japan is one of the key focus of Mr. Modi’s Act East Policy, it also serves as a big player in India’s modernization. India is envisioned as a critical strategic anchor in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’. Several agreements were signed in the areas of defence and strategic, digital and new technologies, food value chain and agriculture areas, economic and healthcare and wellness sectors. Before the summit, Prime Minister Abe hosted a private dinner for the Indian Prime Minister at his Yamanshi villa.

Advancing the institutional framework, both leaders upgraded the 2+2 foreign and defence secretary level dialogue to ministerial level, enabling a robust mechanism to coordinate on the Indo-Pacific strategy. Defence and security cooperation constitutes a core component of the Special Strategic Partnership. Improved linkages between both the armed forces and coast guards including joint exercises such as Japan-India Maritime Exercise, Malabar Exercises and Dharma Guardian have laid a robust foundation for security cooperation. A new chapter in defence cooperation was launched with the maiden project on ‘Cooperative Research in the Area of Unmanned Ground Vehicle/Robotics’. Supporting maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific, both sides singed the Implementing Arrangement for deeper cooperation between the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF).

Regional security concerns including realising North Korea’s denuclearization, addressing proliferation linkages and effective implementation of UNSC resolutions in addition to the issue of threat of terrorism featured in the Summit discussions. The two Prime Ministers urged Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, including those of the Mumbai and Pathankot attacks.

Underscoring ASEAN centrality as the pillar of the Indo-Pacific, India and Japan emphasized the criticality of upholding a rules-based order underpinned by sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce and peaceful resolution of disputes. Both sides articulated the importance of pursuing connectivity projects in an open, transparent and inclusive way centred on responsible debt financing practices, global standards and in synergy with the priorities and developmental strategies of the host nations. This is demonstrated in India-Japan cooperative projects in the Indo-Pacific including in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Africa.

Revamping regional connectivity both in India and in the adjoining region and collaborative projects in Africa gained primacy in India-Japan relations. Japanese development assistance is fuelling India’s mega-infrastructure initiatives like the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Metro Projects and the flagship Mumbai-Ahmedabad ‘Shinkansen’ (Bullet train) project.

Japan is steadfast in developing connectivity in India’s strategically significant North-eastern states of Meghalaya and Mizoram as well as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Japan is also assisting in the Dhubri/Phulbari bridge project (in Assam) as part of Phase 3 of North East Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project.

Japan is a key contributor in Prime Minister Modi’s signature initiatives such as the Make in India, Skill India, Digital India and Start-Up India campaigns by way of sharing innovative technologies and Japanese public and private sector investments. Japan is helping in Skill India through Japan-India Institutes for Manufacturing (JIMs), its Innovative Asia initiative and the Technical Intern Training Program. India-Japan Digital Partnership focuses on Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions and further explores prospect of cooperation in emerging technologies by using the Japan-India Start-Up Hub in Bengaluru and NASSCOM’s IT corridor project in Hiroshima. Furthermore, the latest summit has linked Japan’s Asia Health and Wellbeing Initiative with India’s ‘Ayushman Bharat’. In order to strengthen economic cooperation, there is an agreement to conclude a Bilateral Swap Arrangement of US $ 75 billion.

As the Indo-Pacific construct assumes greater space in policy designs given its geo-political and strategic dimensions, it is imperative for both India and Japan to engage in forward thinking to accomplish the full potential of this ‘action oriented partnership’.

Script: Dr. TITLI BASU, Strategic Analyst on East & South East Asia