Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Nov 01, 2018
At the bilateral level, both leaders have discussed a wide array of issues, including defence cooperation, connectivity programmes and Japan’s deepening involvement in India’s mega projects. As for defence cooperation, it has been steadily expanding in the recent years.
Tokyo summit consolidates India-Japan partnership

India and Japan held their annual summit in Tokyo on 28-29 October 2018. It was the fifth summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe. As expected, their joint statement, titled “India-Japan Vision Statement”, talks in detail about their converging security and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region, and the need for them to work together for a rules-based and inclusive world order that would ensure rule of law, unimpeded trade, and flow of people, technology and shared prosperity. While Modi emphasised that the bilateral ties have been transformed into a partnership with “great substance and purpose” and a cornerstone of India’s “Act East Policy”, Abe underlined the importance of the partnership for the regional order. Both reiterated the 2017 Gandhi Nagar summit’s theme on the Indo-Pacific concept and reiterated their determination to work together towards a free and open Indo-Pacific. What is important to note here is that while they considered the ASEAN unity and centrality as the core element of the Indo-Pacific concept, they showed great “willingness” to expand cooperation to the US and other partners as well. This has led some commentators to apprehend that the Indo-Pacific concept is meant to fashion a security architecture to counter China.

At the bilateral level, both leaders have discussed a wide array of issues, including defence cooperation, connectivity programmes and Japan’s deepening involvement in India’s mega projects. As for defence cooperation, it has been steadily expanding in the recent years. It has been buttressed by the regular annual Strategic Dialogue between the two foreign ministers, and the Defence Dialogue between the two defence ministers. In addition, both Modi and Abe have now agreed to create a new Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue (2+2) to further intensify defence cooperation. Both countries have strengthened their maritime security cooperation by conducting bilateral as well as Malabar trilateral with the US. Now they conduct joint exercises in all three wings of the defence forces. There are reports that India, Japan and the US are set to start air exercises in a trilateral format. At the annual Defence Dialogue held in August 2018, India’s Nirmala Sitharaman and her Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera agreed that Japan would send its observers to the next round of Cope India Exercises between India and the US. The level of interoperability in the exercise, both bilateral and trilateral, is expected to be boosted with India recently signing the Communications Capability and Security Agreement with the US. In this context, it is important to note that both Abe and Modi announced the commencement of negotiations on an Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement. This agreement, as and when it comes into effect, would enable Japanese ships to get fuel and servicing at Indian naval bases.

Another subject of mutual interest relates to the question of how to facilitate transfer of Japanese defence technology to India. An agreement on the subject between the two countries is already in place. Cooperation on defence equipment and technology carries great potential for strengthening technological capability and industrial infrastructure through joint efforts between public and private sectors. Both leaders, in recent defence-related talks, have discussed the possibilities of India acquiring Japanese technology in the production of submarines. In the present summit, both Modi and Abe supported the commencement of cooperative research in areas like Unmanned Ground Vehicle and Robotics. Significantly, Modi visited a robotics plant during his trip this time. Now that the Japanese government has relaxed its rules governing the export of Japanese defence technology, there is great scope for enhancing mutual cooperation in defence. It is also encouraging to note that both leaders have agreed to continue to make efforts to cooperate on the issue of US-2 amphibian aircraft. A speedy agreement on the issue will no doubt give a tremendous boost to bilateral defence cooperation.

Another promising area of mutual interest and cooperation should be seen in Japan’s keenness to extend its financial and technical assistance to the development of India’s Northeast region. Abe continues to show his keenness to get Japan involved deeply in several projects.

Following the announcement of the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGR ) by the two leaders in the 2017 summit, they would also like to undertake joint projects in some third countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and in Africa as well.

Japan has been a leading financial donor country to India for decades and Abe continues to maintain a high degree of interest and support t for India’s mega infrastructure projects like the Delhi-Mumbai Freight Corridor, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor and the Ahmedabad-Mumbai High Speed Rail system. The joint statement underscores the importance that Japan attaches to these projects.

As for regional and global relations, both India and Japan are experiencing the impact of policies pursued particularly by the US and China. President Donald Trump’s actions on tariffs, sanctions against Russia and Iran and also US exit from several regional and global forms have affected both India and Japan though in different ways. The present summit provided a golden opportunity to both Modi and Abe to cooperate and discuss common strategies to address these challenges.

China is certainly another issue that calls for close consultations between India and Japan. In this context, one should note that Sino-Japanese relations are poised for a significant improvement and Abe had made an official visit to Beijing for the first time in 11 years. Since both India and Japan are facing similar challenges from China, Abe’s perspectives on China would be of considerable value to Modi.

In the 2017 summit, both India and Japan took a very strong position against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. But in the last one year, there has been a dramatic change in the Korean situation and both leaders, while welcoming these developments, underscored the need for ensuring North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction.

In sum, the Tokyo summit provided a great opportunity for both leaders to review the progress of the bilateral partnership in the last one year. They took stock of the various challenges they faced at home and also in regional and international politics. While they addressed a wide range of issues, one feels that they perhaps could have shown greater concerns regarding issues like India-Japan trade, bilateral civil nuclear cooperation, and promotion of discussions on regional comprehensive economic partnership (RCEP).

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


K. V. Kesavan

K. V. Kesavan

K.V. Kesavan (1938 2021) was Visiting Distinguished Fellow at ORF. He was one of the leading Indian scholars in the field of Japanese studies. Professor ...

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