10 ways the India-Japan relationship is creating a 'free and open Indo-Pacific'
The two Asian giants have grown closer than ever and their partnership, in strategic and economic terms, is changing the region.
1. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent visit to India marked an important point in the bilateral relationship between India and Japan. The visit has been largely termed fruitful in terms of Japan articulating India’s central position in the realisation of its newly developed Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy. This Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy is likely to bring the two countries far closer in terms of cooperation between the Indian Ocean Region and the Pacific. The three significant pillars of this strategy include promotion and establishment of the rule of law and the advancement of free trade in the Indo-Pacific region; pursuing economic development and prosperity through interconnectedness across the region and commitment to peace and stability through safe and secure use of the maritime domain.
Japan’s FOIP seeks to develop connectivity across the ASEAN region, South Asia and the Indian Ocean states of Africa. Source: https://www.asean.emb-japan.go.jp/files/000352880.pdf
2. In order to realise this ambitious goal over the next few decades it is also important for Japan to build partnerships both bilaterally and multilaterally across the region. The region in itself is too vast and culturally dynamic however, also bound by the shared understanding of the need for peace, stability and prosperity. This is where the importance of a robust India-Japan partnership comes in.
3. Japan’s relations with India have transcended across economic, diplomatic and cultural spheres and continue to strengthen. The convergence of India’s Act East Policy with Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific is an important focal point when tapping into the potential of this partnership. While India seeks to increase its sphere of influence in the region by developing deeper partnerships with the key states and multilateral entities like the ASEAN, Japan is also driven by the objective of benefiting from a stable interconnected network across the region. The shared concerns over China’s aggressive inroads in the region also add to the need for cooperation.
4. This points to the development in the strategic relationship between India and Japan. As a part of the multilateral QUAD grouping, Japan and India have engaged more deeply on strategic terms in the past few years than ever before. The mutual interest in developing capacity in the maritime security sector and also participating in the joint naval exercises such as Malabar point to a shared strategic outlook for both the countries. The 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministerial Dialogues between Japan and India indicate an interest towards building defence partnerships with each other. Even though these developments can be attributed to the threats imposed by China to a certain extent, the domestic changes happening in Japan also have a lot to do with the changing strategic posture of the country. The recent national security strategy which pointed to the development of Japanese counter strike capability is a case in point.
5. In another attempt to diversify the strategic partnership between the two countries from the maritime domain, the Indian Army and the Japanese Self Defence Forces have also been engaging in joint military exercises since 2018, called the Dharma Guardian. The Indian Air Force and the Japanese Air Self Defence Forces also engage in Shinyuu Maitri to encourage cooperation in the air space as well. These joint military exercises not only promote interactions between the defence forces of both the countries but also aim towards building capacity through mutual exchange of information and technology. The Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services Agreement, signed three years ago, is an important milestone with regards to mutual exchange of information. The agreement brings together the two countries to enhance the interoperability of their armed forces through bilateral training activities, engaging in the operations of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces and cooperation in Humanitarian Relief Operations.
6. This suggests that the India-Japan Defence ties have been building rapidly over the past few years and the current geopolitical scenario is giving all the more impetus to the two countries to come together and diversify their partnerships. The economic partnership between the countries is also an important indicator of the massive potential that lies in this relationship. In the context of the currently relevant Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy of Japan, the strategic stability is aimed to be accomplished through economic interconnectedness. The Japanese leadership sanctioned about $75 billion through private investments and loans for infrastructural development projects across the Indo-Pacific region. Japan’s attempts to ramp up connectivity projects across India have also contributed to their strong economic partnership over the years.
Source: Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence and Strategic Analysis
7. The new investments aiming to improve connectivity across India’s northeast towards Bangladesh all the way through to the Bay of Bengal is only one part of the whole set of infrastructural projects that Japan has invested in all across India. Japan is the fifth-largest investor to India as per the recent statistics. The Japanese investments in key strategic projects like the Kaladan Multimodal Project or the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway will drive the long term economic partnership between Japan, India and the other key states in the Indo-Pacific.
8. Apart from the overseas Japanese investments, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between India and Japan seeks to liberalise the trading practices between
the two countries.
The bilateral trade between the two countries gained significant momentum in the last few years. Source: https://www.indembassy-tokyo.gov.in/eoityo_pages/NjA,
9. The India-Japan Digital Partnership launched in 2018 is another very significant tool in the bilateral relationship between the two countries that caters to improving cooperation in the digital and information technology infrastructure. This partnership also involves setting up a ‘startup hub’ that aims to connect the rapidly growing Indian and Japanese startup ecosystems. This endeavour gives an opportunity for these countries to explore their digital and technology infrastructure which would in turn contribute towards a digital connectivity across the Indo-Pacific region.
10. Common goals breed common opportunities for cooperation. India and Japan share a range of goals regarding the stability and connectivity across the Indo-Pacific. Even though the aims are also driven by the threat perception of the Chinese presence, this partnership has a strong potential to develop into a long lasting relationship contributing to a peaceful order in the region.