Commentary: Japan’s Challenges and Indo-Japanese Connection - Perspectives for 2018
Aftab Seth

In the new year, Japan under Shinzo Abe faces many challenges on the foreign policy front. Some of these are perennial problems and others are relatively new.

Among the continuing challenges is the threat of North Korea and its ballistic missile and nuclear arsenals. Japan has had bitter experience in this regard as the Kim regime has regularly shot missiles directly over the Japanese islands and into the Japan Sea. In this context, India has been a staunch supporter of the Japanese position; this was witnessed in the joint statements issued after Abe's visit to India in September and during Modi's visit to Japan in 2016 November. This cooperation is set to continue.

China, and the delicate relations both India and Japan have with the Middle Kingdom will remain a focus of both countries. Japan needs China's help to rein-in Pyongyang, though Japan itself continues to face Chinese threats over the Japanese Senkaku Islands claimed by China. India has supported the Japanese position in this matter.

Though both Abe and Modi have good relations with President Trump, India and Japan will continue to exchange views on how to handle the somewhat erratic turns in US policy. They both have important defense and strategic connections with the USA, bilaterally and in a triangular way as well.

South Korea is one of the other problem areas for Japan. The recrudescence of the 'comfort women’ issue and the expressed intention of the Korean leaders to have a second look at the 2015 Agreement has caused widespread indignation in Japan. India has strong economic and strategic relationship with Korea. It will be in our mutual interest to help Japan and Korea overcome their differences on this emotive issue.

Russia has good relations with India going back decades but Japan has yet to sign a peace treaty with Russia since the end of the war in 1945! This is so despite good relations between Abe and Putin.

2018 will see a further strengthening of defence ties between India and Japan. Starting in 2000, with PM Vajpayee and Modi at the helm, the two countries have seen expansion of cooperation between the two navies, coast guards and other branches of our defence forces every year. The Malabar naval exercises among USA, Japan and India are now an annual event.

The largest ever was held in July 2017 and 2018 is likely to see an even more elaborate show of force.

Abe mooted a quadrilateral connection between India, Japan, Australia and the USA when he spoke to our Parliament in August 2007. His vision became a reality when the four powerful naval nations met on the occasion of the ASEAN Summit in Manila and the East Asia Summit which followed. With the Philippines too India has a growing naval cooperation programme.

Japan will continue to build on the foundations of its work in our North East where it is assisting in extending the infrastructure of roads, railways and waterways. The objective of both India and Japan in this strategically important part of India is to improve connectivity with Myanmar and the larger ASEAN region. Both Japan and India pay highest attention to strengthening ties with all ten ASEAN countries. Presence of leaders of all ASEAN countries in Delhi on the occasion of the Republic Day on the 26th January 2018 dramatically underlines India’s commitment to this vital region. Abe himself showed his seriousness of purpose when after his electoral victory in December 2012, he went to Vietnam in January 2013 and in the space of that one year went to all 10 ASEAN nations.

In November 2016 and September 2017, both Abe and Modi affirmed their partnership in the development of Africa. Mombasa has been identified as the port which will facilitate the entry of Japanese and Indian capital, matrial and human, to assist in growth of African economies.

The underlying principle of India's work with Japan is to ensure the safety and freedom of the seas, to advance the cause of open societies adhering to the rule of law and to discourage hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

(The author is a retired Foreign Service Officer and a regarded analyst)

(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)

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