Intensification of Indo Japanese Strategic Partnership
Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty

Strategic Partnership

Japan has been a great supporter of India from a long time. It played a substantive role in India’s freedom struggle by assisting freedom fighters in gaining India’s independence. It started with assistance to Rash Behari Bose and finally ended up in the formation of the Indian National Army under Subhash Chandra Bose who fought alongside the Japanese, making the British realise their vulnerability in relying on locals for their security. The British Prime Minister Clement Atlee, on a visit to India confided to the Governor of West Bengal Justice Chakraborty that the reason for granting freedom was mainly attributable to the inability of the British to prevent soldiers joining the Indian National Army, thereby resulting in breakdown of the security organisation in the country. Subash Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army and he was ably assisted by Japan.

Japan has been a consistent supporter of post-independence India’s economic endeavours. Apart from numerous projects the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and Maruti Suzuki stand out for their technological performance. Strategic partnership takes place when there is close links with the political leadership. Prime Ministers Modi and Shinzo Abe have met ten times since May 2014. Both Prime Ministers have exhibited vision in finding a path through the complex problems of Asia. Prime Minister Abe visited India on 13 September and inaugurated the Ahmedabad Mumbai Bullet train project as also an Rs 3000 crores Suzuki automotive plant, besides signing many Memorandums of Understanding.

Japanese Navy along with the United States and Indian Navy recently participated in Exercise Malabar off the Chennai coast. The exercise was extremely important as it improved interoperability between the three participating Navies. It is expected that Australia is considering joining the exercise next year. The Doklam issue was a major standoff between India and China. While India exercised restraint during the impasse, Japan openly expressed support to India on the issue, clearly stating that China must respect international laws and conventions. This happened on 17 August 2017 and is a major demonstration of Japanese strategic support at a critical time in our border standoff with China. It is pertinent to note that both China and India withdrew their troops 11 days later resulting in peaceful resolution of the crisis. Experts comment that China will continue with transgressions but then so will India resist these and receive support from Japan which is consistent in its support.

Japan has been having problems with China regarding the Senkaku Islands on the South China Sea. In May 2017, a Chinese Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was spotted flying over the area, causing Japanese fighter jets to scramble and chase the UAV out of the airspace over the islands. On this occasion India spoke candidly about freedom of navigation of the seas which directly points to Chinese intrusions in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Japan and the United States have appreciated India’s consistent stand on these issues resulting in close political and strategic linkages between India, United States, Japan, Australia and Vietnam on the issues pertaining to freedom of navigation in the Indo Pacific. Viewing this close proximity, it is time to move forward and intensify the strategic partnership.

Geo Strategic Situation

‘Indo-Pacific’ is a term coined by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is doing his utmost to maintain peace in this volatile region. Japan currently is facing two problems; the first is nuclear threat from North Korea and the second is the issue of islands in the East China Sea. North Korea and Pakistan are great friends of China and their nuclear programmes have been assisted by China. They form a triangle as far as proliferation of nuclear weapons is concerned. The initial infrastructure was set up by China and thereafter Pakistan assisted North Korea in the process of nuclear weaponisation while North Korea helped Pakistan with delivery systems. Currently North Korea has successfully tested an Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and a Hydrogen Bomb. The ICBM is believed to be capable of hitting targets in the United States and the Hydrogen Bomb is miniaturised to be fitted into the ICBM. The test results may be shared with Pakistan with whom North Korea maintains clandestine nuclear relations. Accordingly, India should be prepared to counter Pakistani missiles carrying miniaturised Hydrogen Bomb.

Targets which North Korea threatens are the United States (including Guam), Japan and South Korea. Accordingly United States, Japan and South Korea are straining every sinew to solve this problem. There are various options which could be considered. First is the military option which could lead to destruction of North Korea’s nuclear installations. In this case North Korea would retaliate against South Korea which has its capital Seoul close the De-Militarised Zone, possibly resulting in destruction of the city and about half a million casualties. There are approximately 40,000 United States troops located along the De-Militarised Zone who would face the onslaught of North Korean fire power. It is obvious that this is not a workable option.

The next option would be to apply strong sanctions which would make the current regime to bend. This can be done only with the assistance of China. North Korea is a country which owes its creation and survival to China and to some extent the former Soviet Union. China is adept at making promises and thereafter not sticking to them. In such an eventuality sanctions would not have the desired effect. Despite the United States threatening China nothing would happen which would cause North Korea to revert its stand.

The third option is negotiations. It is the greatest strength of the United States that it could negotiate with the Vietnamese, end the War, break up the Soviet Union, become friends with Vietnam and also negotiate a nuclear treaty with Iran. However, it would require shrewd diplomacy and tenacity to deal with North Koreans. The negotiations would demand skill and dexterity. China would continue to be an important player but could be tactfully dealt with. Both China and North Korea have their demands which could be resolved. Being a trusted democratic friend of both United States and Japan, India could also be consulted on this issue.

The next issue that irks Japan vis-a-vis China is the dispute regarding the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The archipelago consists of five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks ranging in size from 800 square metres to 4300 square metres. The islands are officially controlled by Japan though fishing rights have been extended to China and Taiwan. The islands are claimed by all three countries. In September 2012, the Japanese government purchased three of the disputed islands from their owner resulting in large scale protests in China. On 23 November 2013 China set up the East China Identification Zone which includes the Senkaku Islands, and announced that it would require an aircraft entering the zone to file a flight plan and submit radio frequency or transponder information. Since the imposition, United States, South Korea and Japanese have violated it. On 28 March 2016 Japan has installed radar on Yonaguni Island causing serious protest by China. On 17 May 2017, Japan scrambled fighter jets after four Chinese coast guard vehicles and an UAV was noticed in the contested waters. The Chinese claimed that the UAV belonged to the media and was undertaking aerial photography. Viewing all this, Japan has bolstered its defences and undertaken the following measures to protect the Senkaku islands:-

• The Japanese Coast Guard has established a special Senkaku patrol unit of 600 personnel. The unit is based on Ishigaki Island which is 170 Km from the Senkaku islands. They are utilising 10 new Off Shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) which are equipped with 20 mm Guns, water cannons and some with a flight deck for helicopters.

• Apart from the radar station, they have deployed 800 personnel and missiles on Miyako Island and 600 combatants on Amami Island.

• Further, they have deployed a new squadron of E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning aircraft on Naha Air Base off Okinawa to increase early warning and detection of aircraft and missiles. The new squadrons of Fifth generation F-35 aircraft will also be deployed here.

Apart from this, the United States has committed assistance while India has unequivocally stated her policy of freedom of navigation in the high seas and settlement of disputes peacefully.

Countering China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) by Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC)

As elucidated by the Indian Express of 31 May 2017, the AAGC is an attempt to create a free and open Indo-Pacific region by rediscovering ancient sea routes and creating new sea corridors that would link the African continent with India and countries of South Asia and South East Asia. In comparison to a land corridor, it is hoped that the sea corridors would be low cost and have less carbon footprint. Under this project there is a proposal to link Jamnagar with Djibouti, Mombasa and Zanzibar will be connected to ports near Madurai and Kolkata will be linked to Sittwe port in Myanmar. The Sagarmala project of India is developing ports specifically for this purpose. Apart from developing the sea corridors, the AAGC also proposes to build robust institutional, industrial and transport infrastructure in growth areas among countries in Africa and Asia. The concept is to enable economies in Asia and Africa to further integrate collectively and emerge as a globally competitive economic bloc. Contribution of Japan will be to infuse state-of-the-art technology and ability to build quality infrastructure while India will bring-in expertise of working in Africa. A major role will be played by the private sector of both countries by coming together to form joint ventures and consortiums to undertake infrastructure, power or agro business in Africa.

A Vision Document in terms of a 30 pages booklet was unveiled by the India and Japan at the African Development Bank Meeting at Gandhinagar on 24 May 2017. The Vision Document was prepared by three think tanks, the New Delhi based Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) linked to Ministry of External Affairs; the Jakarta based Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the Japanese Research Organisation Institute of Developing Economies-Japan External Trade Organisation (IDE-JETRO). Apart from these research institutions from Africa were also consulted in formulating the Vision Document. The African Development Bank has welcomed the AAGC Vision Document. There would be more studies undertaken to work out the details of the project and the road map for its implementation. Seeing the will of both countries, the project will optimise growth of Asia and Africa.

It is indeed heartening to witness the Japanese Prime Minister attired in Indian clothes participate in a 9 km road show in Ahmedabad on 13 September 2017. The visit has further strengthened Indo-Japanese strategic relations.

Cooperation in other fields

The decision by India and Japan to boost strategic cooperation comes amid escalating tension in the region in the wake of the nuclear test by North Korea and China’s growing assertiveness. The Foreign Secretary of India recently stated that cooperation with Japan would focus on two main areas. The first would be civil nuclear cooperation and the second would be defence. As regards civil nuclear cooperation, the Agreement has been signed in July 2017, thereby enabling reactors from Japanese civilian companies to be established in India.

India and Japan can closely cooperate in the field of defence production. The first is the ongoing procurement of the US-2 amphibious aircraft. Efforts are being made to conclude negotiations and acquire the aircraft. Further, there is a need to encourage industries from both countries in the areas of dual-use technologies to enable co-design, development and production of equipment. There is also a need to undertake interaction between Japan’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Japanese ATLA could assist us in areas of critical technology, particularly Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. All this could see India expanding its Defence Industrial Base. This is a major step which would lead to the DRDO designing and developing defence products in India.

In the field of cooperation by the Armed Forces, there is a scope for enhancing counter- terror cooperation and intensifying engagement between the armed forces of both countries. The Navies have had joint exercises during Exercise Malabar and similar joint exercises could be planned with the Army and the Air Force. Further, training Courses could be attended by personnel of the three services of both countries. During the recent visit of Mr Arun Jaitley to Japan from 04 to 06 September 2017, it was agreed that the two sides will consider inclusion of anti-submarine warfare and have state of the art Japanese assets like P-1 maritime patrol aircraft and P-3C participating during the ensuing Exercise Malabar exercises.

To intensify the cooperation, the current interaction must include exchange of visits between the armed forces of both countries. Currently these visits are sporadic and intermittent. To intensify strategic cooperation there is a need for armed forces of both countries to speak the same military language and enhance their interaction by structured periodic visits by delegations from the three services of both countries. This will lead to institutionalised cooperation, thus enhancing the cohesiveness of the armed forces of India and Japan.


Japan has demonstrated its deep friendship by supporting India during the recent Doklam crisis. India and Japan need to enhance their strategic partnership by building the capabilities of their armed forces. The visit by Prime minister of Japan to the city of Ahmedabad and his inauguration of the bullet train project will further strengthen economic relations.

The important aspect of the relationship is the strategic component which has made both these countries upgrade their levels of friendship. Currently there are only two countries which have mechanisms to meet at the highest level annually to discuss strategic issues with the Government of India. These two countries are Russia and Japan. Russia, as everyone is aware, is a major supplier of weapons and technology to India. It is creditable for Japan to reach the same level through a process of understanding of India’s strategic position in Asia.

Both India and Japan need to contest the recent assertiveness of China. China has been at odds with its continental claims against India and maritime claims with Japan. It is pertinent that both these countries integrate their strategic assets to counter Chinese assertiveness. China has an economic and military relationship with Pakistan and North Korea. Both these countries are irritants to India and Japan respectively. As Pakistan and North Korea have nuclear weapons, there are a lot of deliberations required in dealing with them. One can best deal with China and its military partners through alacrity and patience. Keeping this in mind it is important for India and Japan to think out of the box and cooperate in responding to the BRI by the AAGC. Further, Japan and India must closely integrate with Vietnam and Australia to strengthen their moves to counter Chinese assertiveness.

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