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Japanese PM Fumio Kishida recently was on an official visit to India. The visit consolidated the increasing proximity between the two countries and enhanced economic and defence ties. From the revival of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ by Shinzo Abe in 2007 to the evocation of the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ in 2016, India and Japan have been interacting both intensively and extensively over the last two decades. Though the term is a geopolitical construct, it has acquired multi-dimensionality over the years. Bilaterally, India is the largest recipient of Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) in recent years. Japan’s investments in the Indian industrial sector are reflected in the several special economic zones (SEZs) across the country. New Delhi and Tokyo are also collaborating on matters of defence and security.

In the geostrategic context, Indian and Japanese security perceptions converge in the region with China being the primary driver of common apprehensions. Though a bigger and formidable trading partner of China, Japan faces issues related to territorial claims in the Sea of Japan.

These challenges are like India’s territorial and border claims, the major difference being that they are maritime. Chinese actions regularly threaten Japanese sovereignty in the Senkaku islands, just as India’s northern border and territories witness Chinese aggression. These issues, however, are peculiar to sovereign territorial assertion in their respective regions. For Japan, however, the threat is complex in nature with presence of North Korea, China and Russia in the region. Northeast Asia, from a geostrategic perspective is an arc of instability with three major realms (Trade Dependent Atlantic-Pacific Realm of the United States (US), Heartlandic Realm of Russia and East Asian Realm of China) converging in the region.

In Indo-Pacific, the maritime mega-region, India and Japan have joined the reinvented QUAD with Australia and the US. Initially a humanitarian partnership in the wake of Tsunami of 2004, it is now clearly a strategic grouping. With Japan, India and Australia being natural stakeholders in the region, the US perhaps provides the connect and military muscle to the regional powers. New Delhi, Tokyo and Canberra also are part of the Trilateral Supply Chain Resilience Initiative in the wake of the pandemic.

For India, a traditional economic beneficiary of the Japan led Asian Development Bank, the burgeoning partnership could reap tangible benefits. Modi Government’s quest to create world class infrastructure in the country already has significant Japanese imprint. The much-touted Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Corridor, multiple metro projects and the Dedicated Freight Corridor are being constructed with Japanese investment and technology. PM Kishida announced USD 75 Billion as ODA to India. Furthermore, bilateral defence and technology cooperation with India featured prominently in statements released after the summit meeting. Japan’s cooperation in enhancing technological competitiveness of the Indian industry is crucial for India. Such collaboration will be more effective and beneficial when combined with the fact that Japanese industry are gradually shifting their manufacturing bases from China. India could provide a robust alternative.

India and Japan in their respective regions (Indian Ocean and Northwest Pacific) are naval powers of repute. India with its dominant strategic location and a strong navy aspires to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region. Similarly, the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force or the Japanese Navy is one of the most powerful in the world and is likely to make an impact on the international security architecture sooner than later. Early signs of closer defence cooperation are visible between the two. Military exercises, namely ‘Exercise Veer Guardian’ (Air Force) in January 2023 near Tokyo and another named ‘Exercise Dharma Guardian’ (Army) in February 2023 in Shiga province were conducted. Over the years Japan and Australia have participated in the India led MALABAR naval exercise in the Indian Ocean.

With cooperation between G-7 and G-20 as Japan is the current president of the former and India of the latter, this partnership could acquire global dimensions. In the strategic calculations in the Indo-Pacific and global geopolitics, India can be ‘an indispensable partner’. Assertions like ‘the rise of countries like India’ in the Global South could be a signal that New Delhi is considered for a leadership role among the developing countries. Lastly, the Chinese may aspire to be a global power, India and Japan will play prominent role in the Asian Century.


DR KRISHNENDRA MEENA The writer is Associate Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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