Japan, which has emerged with a brand value of high quality, provides enormous opportunities for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Made in India’ initiative, felt Mr. Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Government of India while delivering the keynote address at the conference on ‘Indo-Pacific Region: Converging India-Japan Relations’ organised by Observer Research Foundation on February 13, 2017.
The Minister also felt that till date, India and Japan are yet to realise the full potential of their strategic partnership. He said in an affirmative stance, India has extended visa on arrival for Japanese citizens traveling to India, remarking ‘every Indian has found Japan very close to his/her heart’. In the 1950s, as Japan was recovering from the debris of the Second World War and India from the British colonial rule, historical opportunities were missed by both the countries.
According to him, a perceptible change in India’s approach has been through the ‘Act East’ policy — a transformed version of the ‘Look East’ policy. Additionally, Japan and India share common features like ancient culture and ideals of democracy and peace.
The one-day conference, organised in the backdrop of bolstering global attention on strengthening India-Japan partnership, had three sessions: ‘Geo-strategy in the Indo-Pacific’, ‘Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific’ and ‘Connectivity and Economic Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific’.
Delivering the welcome remarks, Mr. H.K. Dua, Advisor, ORF, shed light on closer India-Japan relations. Highlighting multiple arenas where India and Japan have collaborated, or have plans to work together, including maritime security and trade negotiations, Mr. Dua set the context for the guest speakers to intervene.
Japan’s Ambassador to India, Mr. Kenji Hiramatsu, reflected upon the dynamic relationship between India and Japan. Undergoing rapid economic progress, India led by Prime Minister Modi and Japan led by Prime Minister Abe are extensively action-oriented nations, he noted. He exhorted the need for both India and Japan to cooperate on improving connectivity. The Ambassador went on to emphasise Japan’s proactive Africa strategy. In the 6th Tokyo Conference on African Development, Prime Minister Abe stressed on improving intra-regional connectivity and providing strategic fillip to the stretch connecting Asia and Africa.
Delivering keynote address, Dr. Arvind Gupta, Deputy National Security Advisor to the Government of India, enumerated certain future initiatives for emboldening Indo-Japan ties. First, the need for both the countries to boost economic cooperation is evident since PM Modi’s ‘Act East’ is in tandem with the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ strategy of PM Abe. Secondly, connectivity is a key concern; there is a need to link up India’s North-east region with other parts of the Indo-Pacific. Alongside, India has developed effective space security programmes that can be taken advantage of by the Japanese counterparts. He noted that as an aid giver, Japan has given maximum funding to India’s development projects.
Geostrategy in the Indo-Pacific
The opening session focused on the topic ‘Geo-strategy in the Indo-Pacific’. Several contemporary global changes impacting the dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region were highlighted in this discussion, which was chaired by Dr. Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
Mr. Bilahari Kausikan, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore, focused on two main developments in the world. First, the election of Donald Trump as the President of United States: an indication of a collapse in the liberal international order. He stated that Trump’s election, an event that should neither be exaggerated nor downplayed, is one from which China reaps the maximum benefit. It enables China to increase its expansionist and imperialistic outlook, the biggest victim of which is the peace within the Indo-Pacific region. In light of this situation in the world order, it is the prerogative of India and Japan to maintain a coherence in the region vis-à-vis the dynamics between USA and China. He then came on to the developments in China. The main issue of concern regarding China is that of internal security which is characterised by social unrest and mass protests in view of the anti-corruption policy and the Communist Party’s assertive form of nationalism. Mr. Kausikan also highlighted that China’s narrative of self-rejuvenation is a farce that has been created in order to re-instate its centrality within the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, China’s rise as a geopolitical power, its encroachment in the South China Sea and its construction of islands for military purposes is another hotspot that is causing unrest within this part of the world.
Following this, Prof. Yoichiro Sato, Dean of International Cooperation and Research at the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan, addressed the present relations of India and Japan with the US, and analysed the future course that these relations must take. Prof. Sato stated that the US requires a burden sharing in its offshore balancing for security interests, a vacuum that can be filled by India and Japan. Both the countries possess very strong relations with the US, which further strengthens the strategic cooperation between the two. Prof. Sato also highlighted Japan’s support of the US in the coalition mission in Iraq, and its work in the Indian Ocean that initiated the reconstruction mission in Iraq.
Prof. K.V. Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, focused upon the shifting geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific region, the developments between India and Japan based on the nature of the region, and the growing India-Japan partnership. The Indo-Pacific region integrates two oceans, bringing together a region rich in resources — an aspect that is expected to make it the biggest contributor to global output by the year 2050. This area enjoys a system of interdependence between countries. However, strategic threats still do exist like North Korea, territorial issues like Taiwan, non-traditional security threats and the rivalry between the US and China. Talking about China, he highlighted the various factors that are responsible for making it the biggest driver of strategic shift within this region. China’s military capacity, its economic status, its position as the biggest trade partner for most countries in the region, its strong maritime activities and its various partnerships throughout the world continue to make it the central focus of the region — a challenge that Japan and India need to overcome together. Prof. Kesavan proposed that this be achieved by promoting a free and open strategy in terms of maritime security, which can help settle disputes within this region and increase prospects for growth.
The session ended with Dr. Renato Cruz De Castro, Professor at the De La Salle University, providing further emphasis on US-China dynamics, and its impact on the Indo-Pacific region. Alluding to World War II, Dr. Castro said that the biggest challenge for nations is to create peace during a systemic change i.e. during the sudden rise of a power which was expected to decline. This systemic change- the rise and rise of China, so to say, is the biggest challenge that is being faced by countries of the Indo-pacific region. This is the age that has witnessed the end of unipolarity and the emergence of two continental powers — Russia and China against USA. The role of Japan, a US ally and China’s rival, becomes very important as it is providing equipment and support to both the US and Philippines in an attempt to drive out China. Japan is playing an important role in peace balancing within the region by curbing China’s great game in the South China Sea. Similarly, the smaller powers of the region like Philippines are engaging with power balancing and bandwagoning, a reaction evident in their policies. With China and Russia on one hand, and the US, Philippines along with countries like India on the other, both sides are investing into sophisticated technology in order to counter each other’s growing capabilities. Dr. Castro ended his speech by asserting that unless countries like India and Japan do not join the cause of destroying China’s expansionist policy, Europe’s violent past may become Asia’s future.
Maritime security in Indo-Pacific
The second session addressed issues of maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. During the discussion, the panellists highlighted the need for a new security architecture in the region given the increasingly uncertain nature of the world order.
Dr. Eiichi Katahara, Professor and Director of International Exchange and Libraries at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Japan, began by focusing on the position of Japan. He stated that while the US-Japan alliance serves as a deterrent, it is not enough; Japan, a small country with an aging population, is surrounded by nuclear powers and its neighbours are expanding their military capabilities. According to him, a major area of contention is the South China Sea where China is increasing its influence and activities. He stressed on the lack of crisis resolution mechanism in the region and the need for a new security architecture which should be based on cooperation. In the context of probable arms race in the region and an unpredictable US administration, the Indo-Pacific region is set to be turbulent. However, conflict must be avoided at all costs.
Dr. David Brewster, Senior Research Fellow at the Australia National University, Australia, also emphasised on the need for a new regional security architecture. Considering the uncertain role that the US will play in the region, the current alliance system does not seem strong enough. Trilateral alliances, notably between US-Japan-India and Australia-Japan-India have been the norm. Dr. Brewster went a step further and made the case for quadrilateral alliances, as these alliances would be important in connecting India to the East Asian security architecture. Like Prof. Katahara, Dr. Brewster also advocated for more cooperation in the region; a cooperation that could include Indonesia and other nations.
Mr. Abhijit Singh, Senior Fellow, ORF, talked about the very inception of the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’. The notion had come into being because of shared interests and a need for greater maritime cooperation in a region that is inherently open to the world. Has the concept been embraced by Indians? Mr. Singh argued that it was not the case initially. There was a widespread view that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are very different; the former is a field for non-conventional conflict while conventional conflict remains the norm in the latter. Since 2011 however, there has been a homogenisation of both oceans leading to an increase in the acceptance of the concept of Indo-Pacific. He also stressed that Prime Minister Modi’s policies have contributed to this acceptance. But the underlining geostrategic importance of the Indian Ocean is not merely the objective of trade. Mr. Singh finished by noting that the current phenomenon of deglobalisation might affect the relevance of the Indo-Pacific in today’s world.
Connectivity and economic cooperation in Indo-Pacific
The final session addressed ‘Connectivity and Economic Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific’. The first speaker was Prof. Takahashi Terada of Doshisha University, Japan. He observed that the Indo-Pacific region needs a new framework for integration and development. Acculturation can turn out to be a new concept for regional cooperation, and all nations must agree on this. Socialisation through diplomacy and academic exchanges is mandatory, which will help foster a common agenda. Japan has initiated many of the existing groupings in the Asia-Pacific. He noted that trade integration is a more practical framework for cooperation. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) cannot crystallise without the US and Japan cooperating. As of now, there is more pressure on the US to consummate the TPP, because China is pushing for the alternative Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Professor Terada further observed that development is high on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s agenda as Japan has committed to spending 110 billion dollars on Asian infrastructure projects.
Mr. Asanga Abeyagoonasekara, Director General of the National Institute of Security Studies, Sri Lanka, pointed out that his country is very strategically located and cannot allow its territory to be used by others for military purposes. The Indo-Pacific is a herculean region and will be the most consequential in the next few decades. The One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is pivotal to China, thus making Sri Lanka important in this regard. Apart from its advantageous geostrategic location, Sri Lanka is also a major transhipment hub in container traffic. It is the richest nation in per capita in South Asia, and a tier two country which embraces a bipartisan political model. President Sirisena, according to the speaker, views China and India as rising powers. Therefore, Colombo has to maintain an equal distance from Beijing and New Delhi. Sri Lanka can develop peaceful relations with India and China without antagonising either one. Despite sharing a rich relationship, some speculative views undermine the ties between India and Sri Lanka. Resolving bottlenecks in regional integration should be a priority for India. Japan is also a major security partner and a contributor to Sri Lanka’s development. A Japan-Sri Lanka-India trilateral strategic dialogue needs to take place.
Dr. Prabir De, Professor, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), India, observed that the current period is an uncertain time in the global economy. Every country is pursuing a protective trade agenda. Sufficient trade is not taking place and quicker ratification of existing trade agreements is necessary. While the software side of connectivity has improved, customs and tariff duties are a constraint.
India faces a challenge in concluding regional FTAs, which has led to a decline in trade. Many FTAs are not being implemented properly. The speaker noted that merely removing tariffs is not sufficient. The Chinese had anticipated the current situation in global trade and are investing in infrastructure today. India is now following suit. Non-tariff barriers are also a major challenge and need to be removed.
With regards to connectivity, New Delhi’s initiative with Japan is a gain for joint infrastructure projects. India has liberalised, but trade has come down. Trade restrictions need to be removed as there are too many barriers, and trade procedures need to be simplified. The involvement of the private sector is quite essential. In the context of India-ASEAN relations, paperless trade, port networks, and skill development are important.
In conclusion, the major themes of the conference focussed on the following: the concept of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region, the Trump factor in the US, the need for connectivity — not just within the Indo-Pacific, but also between East Asia and the Indo-Pacific, and the growing Indo-Japan cooperation in multiple spheres.
This report has been prepared with inputs from Baisali Mohanty, Saumia Bhatnagar, Chahrazade Douah, Kartik Bommakanti and Avantika Deb.