Event ReportsPublished on Feb 12, 2021
India, France and Japan — despite different geographies — share similar interests in the Indo-Pacific.
The India-Japan-France trilateral cooperation to tackle the rising Chinese hegemony

The increasing geostrategic significance of the Indo-Pacific region and the shift in economic power from the West to the East has resulted in increasing cooperation and competition among various countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific is witnessing various rebalancing of powers and over the last few years, though the economic cooperation has significantly grown, the geopolitical frameworks remain uncertain. India, France and Japan despite different geographies share similar interests in the region and should explore new opportunities for trilateral cooperation especially in areas of maritime security and digital connectivity. France was one of the first European countries to announce its Indo-Pacific policy and both Japan and France advocated a rules-based, multilateral regional order and free of hegemony Indo-Pacific region where countries with similar goals can engage in formulating cooperative policies. This was the core idea behind the virtual event on ‘India-Japan-France workshop on the Indo-Pacific’ co-organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and the embassies of Japan and France in India on 19 January 2021.

The workshop was opened by Foreign Secretary, Harsh V. Shringla; Ambassador of Japan to India, H.E Satoshi Suzuki; Ambassador of France to India, H.E Emmanuel Lenain; and the director of ORF, Samir Saran. Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla highlighted that the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region is important for the prosperity of the world as it is home to 64% of the world population, and accounts for 62% of the world’s GDP. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) and laid down the seven pillars to ensure safety and security in the maritime domain in November 2019 at the East Asia Summit in Bangkok. The seven pillars include Capacity Building and Resource Sharing; Disaster Risk Reduction and Management; Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation; and Trade Connectivity and Maritime Transport. The workshop focuses on two of the most important pillars mentioned in IPOI.

Partnership in the domain of maritime security is influenced by commitments to international law, unhindered maritime access, trade and energy security. This aspect has led to bilateral ties between India and Japan which encompasses naval joint exercises, the collaboration between coastal guards as well as maritime domain awareness cooperation. Bilateral ties between India and France encompass the annual naval exercise, exchange of information and industrial cooperation. The strategy of France to establish a free and open Indo-Pacific is similar to Japan and they have conducted joint exercises in the past. The region around the Indian Ocean is important as it connects Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and historically it has been an important trade route. There are, however, various problems that have emerged in the last few years with the increase in Chinese presence and the rapid modernisation of the Chinese navy. Several countries have fallen prey to the Chinese encroachment and expansionist policies in the region. The Chinese coast guard, which was supposed to be a law enforcement body, has become a military organisation and it is important to address the issue of China’s grey zone politics through various multilateral forums like QUAD and ASEAN. Furthermore, China has built a network of bases in South Asia; anti-ship ballistic missiles, particularly if forward-deployed, would allow the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to defend the bases against the Indian, US, or other navies in the region. There has also been an increase in the number of Chinese research and fishing vessels in the region and China uses fishing to serve a revisionist agenda.

There are other growing problems in aspects of maritime security like piracy, terrorism, territorial claims, jurisdictional disputes, illegal fishing, migration criminal trafficking, rising of sea level and the loss in marine life.

Japan, being an island country, depends a lot on maritime trade and being surrounded by three nuclear powers needs cooperation from other like-minded nations like India and France for its survival and prosperity. India has also partnered with France to do one of the biggest joint patrols with six Indian ships deployed. It has also improved its relations with Japan and has performed several anti-submarine warfare exercises in the past.

India, Japan and France as members of the G20 can play an important role to develop multilateral norms for the digital economy and promote sustainable growth by using digital technology. A lot of smaller businesses in these countries can benefit immensely by using digital technologies for advertising their products. France and Japan can also provide long-term loans for developing digital technologies and infrastructure to protect against cyber-attacks. One of the major security challenges that the world is currently facing is the sharp increase in the number of cyber-attacks and cybercrimes. The pandemic also made people more reliant on digital applications with remote working for a prolonged period. The internet is also used by malicious actors to spread hate and radical content through which a lot of people have been manipulated across the globe. States and companies have also violated human rights by using mass surveillance techniques and tracking technologies.

Digital sovereignty should also be given importance as it gives the country the right to protect privacy, to decide whether to incorporate or research some ethical AI and other important decisions about the future. With open-source software, there should also be options for open-source hardware to track the 5G infrastructure to be sure that there is no backdoor on spying.

The Indian government might be affected by strategies of disinformation and destabilisation since it has a huge market for telecommunication, and it must strive to protect individual data. The government can’t always rely on private companies to moderate content. Lastly, the government needs to find ways around whatever reservation it might have on the Paris call for trust and security in space and the Budapest convention for common action (which both France and Japan are part of) and get into an international agreement which covers some of the most critical aspects.

The future of digital technology at the moment is determined by the confrontation of China and the US, and there is an opportunity for India, Japan with other ASEAN countries and France with the other members of the European Union to organise itself to influence the future of the digital revolution.

The three democratic countries can further find mutual interests and promote effective modes of trilateral partnership not only for a rules-based inclusive Indo-Pacific region or work towards digital inclusivity but also on multiple sectors in the future and challenge the growing Chinese hegemony.


Samir Saran, President, ORF

Harsh V Shringla, Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India

Satoshi Suzuki, Ambassador of Japan to India

Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France to India

Frédéric Grare, Non-resident senior fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Hideshi Tokuchi, Visiting professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

Abhijit Singh, Senior Fellow & Head, Maritime Policy Initiative, ORF

Raji Rajagopalan, Distinguished Fellow & Head, Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative, ORF

Henri Verdier, Ambassador for Digital Affairs, Government of France

Naoyuki Yoshino, Professor Emeritus, Keio University, Tokyo & Head of Financial Research Centre

Vijay Latha Reddy, Co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace and Distinguished Fellow, ORF

Trisha Ray, Associate Fellow, Technology and Media Initiative, ORF

Harsh V. Pant, Director, Studies and Head of the Strategic Studies Programme, ORF

This event report has been compiled by Ratnadeep Chakraborty, Research Intern at ORF.

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