India, Japan scale up their partnership
Amb Kanwal Sibal

The India-Japan relationship is acquiring increasing strategic importance. Japan’s economic partnership with India, although far below the actual potential of the relationship, has always been significant, but strategic understandings on issues of security have been lacking. India and Japan have had serious differences over nuclear issues, with Japan following the US lead in sanctioning India on the technology front, and even being more restrictive in some respects. Now, both on the economic and strategic fronts India and Japan are coming closer. Prime Minister Abe’s visit to India from December 11 to 13 has further confirmed this.

The most important strategic outcome of Abe’s visit was the nuclear agreement signed by Prime Minister Modi and Abe, already delayed considerably because of the inability of the political leadership to overcome the resistance of Japan’s bureaucracy and concerns about public reaction to signing a deal with a non-NPT country. When Modi visited Japan in September 2014 and Abe was in India earlier as chief guest at our R-Day celebrations in 2014, the nuclear deal could not be concluded, despite Indian efforts. Another failure this time would have signalled that Japan is not ready yet to establish a relationship of strategic equality with India. While India has been sensitive to Japan’s argument that as the only victim of a nuclear attack in history it has to overcome considerable political and mental barriers to open its own nuclear doors to India, there is also a perception in India that this argument has been overused. If the degree of nuclear allergy in Japan was so strong, Japan should have spurned US nuclear protection. This time Modi and Abe have signed an agreement that envisages the formalisation of the nuclear deal after some legal and technical procedures are completed on the Japanese side, which actually means that the timing of finalisation will be dictated by domestic political considerations on the Japanese side. Otherwise, the text has been successfully negotiated within the template of similar agreements with US, Canada and Australia that India has concluded.

The forward movement in India-Japan strategic ties can be better appreciated if the Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions signed with the US when Obama was chief guest at our R-Day celebrations in 2015 is examined. This joint vision affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea. It also called on all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It foresaw that over the next five years the two countries will strengthen our regional dialogues, invest in making trilateral consultations with third countries in the region more robust and deepen regional integration.

This India-US strategic vision includes Japan as a partner. During Abe’s visit we have underscored even more robustly than before that peace, stability and development in the Indo-Pacific region are indispensable to our national security and prosperity, and that close cooperation between Japan and India is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region. Actually, by themselves India and Japan cannot ensure peace in the Indo-Pacific region as they lack the military means as well as the political capacity to do so. As a global power, US is present in the Indian Ocean as well as the Pacific, and US power is therefore an indispensable element in countering threats to peace in the Indo-Pacific. If China has a growing capacity to disturb the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region, the US, along with India and Japan, has the power to thwart this threat. China’s sensitivities have in the past made us circumspect in taking a position on South China Sea issues. However, China’s policies in our neighbourhood, especially its deepening strategic commitment to Pakistan as signalled by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor through POK, even as China engages us, has removed our earlier inhibitions to some extent. With China’s challenge in the East and South China Seas in mind, Modi and Abe have underscored the importance of international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and peaceful resolution of disputes without use or threat of use of force; freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in international waters. Noting the critical importance of the sea lanes of communications in the South China Sea for regional energy security and trade and commerce, the two Prime Ministers noting the developments in the South China Sea called upon all States to avoid unilateral actions that could lead to tensions in the region. If these formulations essentially support Japan against the Chinese and there is no reciprocal reference to Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean, it is because we too have clear concerns of our own with regard to China’s South China Sea claims in view of our trade flows in this region, while Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean are a strategic challenge, not a violation of international law.

Increased strategic understandings between India and Japan should have stronger defence ties as a component. Under Abe, Japan is slowly coming out of the shell it had enveloped itself in after WW 2. This is not without internal political resistance. Japan has reached out to Australia as the first country for defence equipment cooperation. Japan is keen to sell the US-2 amphibian aircraft to India. We want any such acquisition to be part of more ambitious defence technology cooperation between the two countries. While no decision was announced on the US-2 aircraft, the two countries have signed two defence related agreements during Abe’s visit, one on Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology and the other on Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information. These are foundational agreements that will pave the way for building a defence partnership. Even if actual defence co-development and co-production will take time to be realised, the signing of the agreements indicates an evolution of thinking on both sides and is politically important. It send out a clear message to others on the direction of India-japan ties. The expansion of India-US defence ties is no doubt a factor in the India-Japan defence embrace, even if it is still tentative.

Other steps have been taken on the defence front with Japan. It will now participate regularly in the India-US Malabar exercises in order to “help create stronger capabilities to deal with maritime challenges in the Indo-Pacific region”. This is a candidly expressed rationale for this decision. To further develop dialogue and exchanges in the security and defence fields, the full utilisation of ‘2+2 Dialogue’( the Foreign and Defence Ministries together on both sides), Defence Policy Dialogue, Military-to-Military Talks, Coast Guard to Coast Guard cooperation and Air-Force to Air Force talks is being envisaged.

The US-India Joint Vision document mentioned trilateral dialogues in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. These are now taking shape, with the trilateral Japan-India-US dialogue at Foreign Ministers level in September this year and the inaugural Japan-India-Australia dialogue at Secretary level. Both are being projected as part of a stable security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region. Australia, significantly, is eager to join the Malabar exercises.

Other important deliverables from the Abe visit are the full Japanese endorsement of our position on terrorism, with references to cross-border terrorism and bringing to justice those involved in the Mumbai terror attacks, and support for our membership of the four export control regimes , which further closes the door on nonproliferation issues that have hitherto bugged the India-Japan relationship.

The joint statement issued on the occasion of Abe’s visit mentions that the India-Japan partnership has great potential in areas of infrastructure, manufacturing and high technology, including advanced transportation systems, civil nuclear energy, solar power generation, space, biotechnology, rare earths and advanced materials. Both sides are seeking a synergy between India’s "Act East” policy and Japan’s "Partnership for Quality Infrastructure”, that could help develop connectivity within India and between India and other countries in the region. The “Partnership for Quality Infrastructure” is the Japanese response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative to be funded by the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Memorandum of Cooperation on the hi-speed rail system (the Shinkansen system) on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route and the highly concessional yen loan Japan has offered is path-breaking, even if critics say that the Japanese system is very costly and that the huge funds to be spent on it could be better utilised in upgrading and modernising the Indian railway system which is in poor shape. Even if the Chinese hi-speed rail system is cheaper, it is for consideration whether for larger security reasons we should prefer China over Japan. The ODA figure for FY 2015 would be 400 billion yen, the highest ever accorded to India. Japan will extend ODA loans for the metro projects both in Chennai and Ahmedabad, as well as for the improvement of road network connectivity in northeastern states of India.

The joint statement mentions the creation of a US $ 12 billion facility to support Japanese companies investing in India. While Japanese companies are implanting themselves in India in increasing numbers, India is not yet the plus one in Japan’s China plus one economic strategy. The initiative to invest is essentially in the hands of the Japanese corporate sector. In our briefings we have mentioned that the two sides are looking at 13 big infrastructure projects: the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, the Ahmedabad Metro Project, the modernization of ship recycling yards in Gujarat, the Mumbai trans-harbour link, the peripheral ring road around Bengaluru, the Chennai Metro project, the Tuticorin outer harbor project, the Odisha transmission improvement project, the Odisha sanitation project, the Madhya Pradesh transmission project, Ganga rejuvenation, horticulture and irrigation in Jharkhand, and road connectivity projects in the North-East. Japan also has agreed to implement the concept of Japan Industrial Townships in India. One can see these projects as implementing the commitment made by Abe during his visit last year to invest US $ 35 billion over the next five years in India.

There is an understanding that 10,000 Indians would be visiting Japan as students and as trainees in various capacities in the next five years. There are some question marks about how this system of internship is actually being implemented in Japan and therefore should be looked into so that the programme meets our needs. India has decided that Japanese visitors in all categories could avail of a visa on arrival from March, 2016, the first country to be offered this arrangement. Japan needs to reciprocate by making visa delivery easier for Indian visa-seekers, which is not the case so far. Abe has appreciated creation of "Core Group” chaired by Cabinet Secretary to coordinate and closely monitor the process to ensure that investments from Japan as envisaged in India-Japan Investment Promotion Partnership are facilitated. At the multilateral level, Japan has expressed support for our membership of APEC.

All in all, Abe’s visit has given a major fillip to our relationship with Japan.

Published Date: 25th December 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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