India-Japan,Indo-Pacific

EAM Sushma Swaraj & Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono giving a joint press statement after 9th India-Japan Foreign Minister’s Strategic Dialogue

Indo-Pacific cooperation has been boosted considerably by two important meetings held recently within a short span of one week. The first one was the India-Japan Strategic Dialogue held in Tokyo on 28-29 March this year and the second one was the US-Japan-India trilateral meeting held in New Delhi on 4 April.

The India-Japan Strategic Dialogue is an annual event held between the foreign ministers of the two countries. As is well-known, one of the reasons for the growing strength of the Indo-Japanese bilateral should be seen in the wide range of institutional mechanisms that both countries have carefully built to support their partnership. In this sense, the strategic dialogue between the two foreign ministers ranks  perhaps next only to the annual summit meeting between the two prime ministers.

Though the Strategic Dialogue between the two foreign ministers has been held in Japan and India alternately each year since 2007, the present ninth dialogue was held in Tokyo on 28-29 March after a gap of almost three years. No specific reasons were given for this delay, but many believe that the health conditions of Indian external affairs minister could have delayed the dialogue.

Bilateral engagements have witnessed remarkable strides in all directions under Prime Minister Modi. In 2014 his first summit meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe resulted in transforming the bilateral ties into a special strategic and global partnership. Both leaders then came out with a Japan-India Vision 2025 and called for an action oriented partnership. Since then, major developments such as expanding defence cooperation engagements, deepening of Japan’s involvement in  key infrastructure projects and greater people-to-people interactions have strengthened the bilateral relations. Both leaders share strong converging interests in promoting the open and free Indo-Pacific strategy.

The ninth Strategic Dialogue took place under these favorable circumstances. As the joint statement of Sushma Swaraj and Taro Kono stated, they had comprehensive talks covering bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest. Both reaffirmed their resolve to take their economic partnership to the next stage by implementing various projects in the sphere of infrastructure, space and environment.

 

They also strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and stressed that they would show no tolerance towards any form of violence. Both countries, they agreed, would work together in the elimination of terrorist havens, and terror financial channels.

On regional security, both leaders agreed to promote the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy by reaffirming their commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight and reemphasized the need to work towards an open, transparent, and rule-based regional order.

On the bilateral economic relations, both leaders recognised that the full potential of the partnership has still not been realised. Sushma Swaraj said for instance, “We believe that there is vast scope to combine our relative advantages whether of capital, technology or human resources and to work for mutual benefit.” Taking advantage of the meeting, both countries signed new ODA loan agreements concerning the construction of a subway system in Mumbai, seawater desalination plant in Chennai, and improvement of ecosystem in Himachal Pradesh. India continues to be the topmost recipient of Japanese economic assistance.

But what worried both foreign ministers is that the volume of the bilateral trade has been on the decline in recent years. Though a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) has been in effect since 2011, it has not produced the anticipated results. In 2011-12, the total volume of the bilateral trade was $18.43 billion, but it declined to $13.48 billion during 2016-17.

 

Taking into account the declining trend, it is necessary for both countries to review the working of the CEPA and see whether appropriate measures could be taken to review certain terms of the agreement to make it more effective in terms of boosting bilateral trade.

On the contrary, it is encouraging to note that Japanese investment in India has   witnessed significant growth in recent years. In 2014-15, it amounted to $2.084 billion, but jumped to $ 2.614 billion in the following year. In 2016-17, the figure rapidly increased to $ 4.709 billion. If the same tempo is maintained, India will emerge as a major destination for Japanese FDI in the coming years and one can say that Modi’s “make-in India” campaign has started yielding encouraging results.

The second meeting -- India-Japan-US trilateral – was held in New Delhi on 4 April at the level of officials of the three countries.  The trilateral was first instituted in 2011 by Hillary Clinton when she was the US Secretary of State and in the initial years, it met at the level of officials of the three countries. In September 2015, for the first time, it was elevated to the level of ministers and it was attended by John Kerry, Sushma Swaraj and Fumio Kishida. In September 2017, it was once again held at the level of ministers.

The officials of the three countries who met at the ninth edition of the trilateral in New Delhi explored several steps to enhance cooperation in the areas of connectivity, infra-structure development, counter terrorism, maritime security maritime domain awareness and disaster relief operations. They further agreed to remain engaged and enhance cooperation in supporting a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific through partnership the countries of the region.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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