India-Japan Strategic Partnership: The evolving synergy in the Indo-Pacific
Ramanand Garge

Defence and security cooperation between India and Japan has evolved steadily over the years and constitutes a strong pillar of the bilateral relationship. There has been an increasing frequency of defence exchanges along the entire spectrum, from regular meetings between the Defence Ministers, Defence Policy Dialogue at the level of Defence Secretary and Vice Ministers, visits by Service Chiefs, Comprehensive Security Dialogue, Military to Military talks, Service level staff talks and exchange of student officers on training courses. India also views Japan as a potential source of considerable investment that can offer significant partnership opportunities for India to deepen its relations with the East.

The historic preview of the bilateral relations suggests that the recent visit of Prime Minister Abe to India and prior visit of Prime Minister Modi to Japan has strengthened the roots of India-Japan relations underscoring its strategic significance. During the Prime Minister Abe’s visit to New Delhi, the vision statement 2025 added a qualitative depth to the evolving strategic partnership between these Asian democracies. It also signifies the commitment to cultivate a robust political, economic, strategic and defence co-operation between two countries. The successive meetings between heads of states of both the countries indicates their strong desire to further strengthen India-Japan relationship.

Strategic domain: defining the dialogue

The recently inked India-Japan Civilian Nuclear Deal is one of the crucial elements of cooperation between India-Japan relationship and is expected to play a significant role which was long overdue as a prerequisite for a serious strategic rapprochement. The civilian nuclear deal is a landmark in the bilateral relations, especially, from the Japanese perspective because Japan was always uncomfortable with India’s status as a non-signatory of Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). Post the 2008 India-US Nuclear Deal the Nuclear Suppliers Group also has provided India specific waiver in 2008. India being the only non-NPT state to receive this status amongst the global community of nuclear states. Through this deal Japan endorses India’s excellent track record of non-proliferation in practice and recognize India as a responsible nuclear power. Both India and Japan have similar consensus over nuclear deterrence and have common views for the global elimination of nuclear weapons. While signing the deal both the prime ministers affirmed their commitment to work toward India becoming the official member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (Research Team, 2015). The Abe administration identifies India as a prominent partner and imagines India and Japan at the “Confluence of the Two Seas” in the homogenization of the Indian Ocean with the Pacific. Thus, this agreement signifies the strong will of the Japanese government to provide unconditional support to India’s economic rise. In the dearth of hydrocarbons and global pressure of reducing carbon footprints nuclear energy appears to be the only credible option for India to fulfill its energy needs and curb its carbon emissions. In this direction the deal with Japan is said to be crucial. Nearly 80 per cent of vital nuclear power plant components are manufactured in Japan which makes India dependent on Japan indirectly. Hence, the recently concluded deal will provide access to India to huge energy resources helping India to maintain rapid development and establish positive bearing in the region. While responding to Japanese hand of cooperation, India too has responded constructively. While addressing the 8th India-Japan Energy Dialogue at Tokyo, Indian Minister of State (IC) for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy, Piyush Goyal said “the potential for bilateral co-operation in this sphere has enormous positive implications in our quest for sustainable energy growth and consumption, and improving the quality of life for our peoples. The use of energy efficiency measures as well as promotion of cleaner and renewable sources of energy in India is a step in this direction and this is reflected in the wide scope and agenda of the bilateral energy dialogue. India is committed and is steadily moving away from its dependence on fossil fuels while adopting advanced technologies to start 'smart' from the beginning while addressing its developmental priorities.”

How is this deal significant for the newly evolved strategic geography of the Indo-Pacific? Due to recent Chinese assertive behaviour this deal is considered as a counter-balance to China’s expanding activities in the Indo-Pacific. India and Japan shares similar anxieties pertaining to Chinese assertive posture and are equally concerned about the rapidly changing US-China power balance in the Indo-Pacific. Thus, both the countries rightly recognize the power vacuum developed due to relative decline of US influence on the region and filling this gap through mutual cooperation. It is especially relevant at this juncture when China is exporting nuclear power plants to the volatile state of Pakistan.

Along with the intense interaction at strategic level, the co-operation in defence and economic sector is also a prominent and defining factor of any bilateral relationship in today’s world. In this context, maritime domain constitutes a core of evolving strategic ties between these Asian powers with a largest potential of co-operation in the world. After achieving such assuring synergy in relations, in light of exploring the scope for expansion of military ties both the countries are keen to achieve prominent control over the information at high seas and enhance discussions on future co-operation in defence equipment and technology. This makes the objective for bilateral exercises between Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) and Indian Navy (IN). The permanently designated trilateral nature of the naval exercise MALABAR from 2015 between India, United States and Japan also implies the change in India’s approach in view of the contemporary security calculus in the Indo-Pacific. Japan earlier participated in Malabar exercise in the year 2007, 2009 and 2014. Along with the US Navy the MALABAR naval exercise gave mature depth to interoperability of Indian Navy with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force strengthening defence tie-ups between both the countries came together in tune with the emerging security architecture of the Indo-Pacific.

As two of the most prominent maritime states in the Indo-Pacific, maritime security remains a natural area of cooperation. Recently 15th edition of ‘Sahyog-Kaijin’, a joint exercise between Indian Coast Guard and Japan Coast Guard in the Bay of Bengal off the Chennai Coast was concluded on 15 January 2016. In the span of three months a ship from Japanese military forces has jointly exercised with Indian ships second time.

Both the countries are strong supporter and keen to develop a specialized 24-nation maritime construct enabling real-time sharing of data of all shipping – merchant and naval warships – operating in the Indian Ocean, parts of the Pacific Ocean and disputed waters of the East Vietnam Sea. These countries in this maritime setup would be from the Indian Ocean and also neighbours of China, some of whom have running territorial disputes with Beijing and are located east of the Malacca straits, a crucial shipping lane passing east of the Andaman Nicobar Islands. In light of the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and South China Sea territory, India has taken a firm stand. Thus, these discussions are considered of a great significance.

Make in India and Japan

India has also identified Japan as privileged partner in its flagship program of Make in India and is keen on joint development and production of defence hardware. Make in India an ambitious flagship program of the Indian Government along with new Act East foreign policy directive fits in well with the newly evolved security policy of Japan. The reinterpretation of Article 9 of Japanese constitution enabled Japan to export defence hardware and conduct military operations in foreign land.

The leading contender in the area of defence co-operation is Utility Seaplane Mark II (US-II) amphibian aircraft which India is willing to procure for patrolling of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Proven capabilities of US-II in the areas of Surveillance, rough seas operations, lake/riverine landing capacity are best suitable characteristics Indian Navy is looking for. It will not only strengthen its safeguarding capabilities for securing its critical SLOC’s but also enable Indian Navy to conduct various constabulary operations and Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) along with humanitarian aid assigned. After Japan has eased its rules on exports of defence equipment and technology since April 2014, Japan and India have accelerated talks about India’s possible purchase of US-2 and a possible joint venture in production its production in India under ‘Make in India’ initiative and are now in final stages. This would be the first export by Japan of finished defence equipment to any country.

Though the leading names in aviation such as Beriev (Russia) and Bombarider (Canada) have expressed their interest and responded the request for information, the Japanese manufacturer ShinMaywa Industries initiated discussion with various Indian aviation manufacturers for the possibility of assembly of the aircraft under Make in India programme.

In the areas of defence technology co-operation, India has already expressed its willingness to acquire Soryu-class diesel-electric submarines which are realized as the most advanced non-nuclear attack submarines in the world. Indian Defence Minister Parrikar has also endorsed it before beginning his maiden international visit to Japan in March 2015, “We are very much interested in Japan’s technologies and we are looking at all kinds of defense co-operation with Japan in all fields,” he has been quoted as saying. This clearly underscores India’s high priority of subsurface fleet buildup for comprehensive maritime security especially, in sight of growing assertive activities of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean.

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said: “A strong India leads to a strong Japan, and a strong Japan leads to a strong India,” underscoring the necessity of India-Japan relations for the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. Japan also has acknowledged India’s long tradition of credible practice of democratic values and its commitment towards the freedom of navigation which makes India a suitable strategic partner of Japan. Hence, the strong security relationship between these Asiatic giants can play a crucial role in framing the security architecture and will define the stability of the rule based global order of the newly evolved strategic geography of the Indo-Pacific.

In the economic domain, Asia’s second and third largest economies signed Japan-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in August 2011 and agreed to eliminate nearly 94 per cent tariff for next ten years to boost the trade between. Japan is strongly seeking alternative credible market following its relations with China which is comparatively not liberal. India’s low-wage economy and availability of skilled workforce fits perfectly in Prime Minister Abe’s vision to develop India as a manufacturing hub for Japanese Industries which are also facing new challenge of aging human resource to cope with the market demands.

An independent analysis of bilateral trade suggests that India needs to concentrate on the issue of trade deficit in favor of Japan which covers merely one per cent of Japan’s overall foreign trade. Moreover, the Japanese FDI in India is credibly improving from 29.9 billion Yen in 2005 to 219.3 billion Yen in 2014. India’s exports to Japan also have seen some rise from 352 billion Yen in 2005 to 739 billion Yen in 2014. Similarly, Japanese exports to India are consistently rising from 388 billion Yen in 2005 to 861 billion Yen in 2014.

Japan has contributed significantly in India’s comprehensive development by providing Official Development Assistance (ODA) to various projects in the field of infrastructure, education, agriculture etc. The Delhi Metro and Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) along with Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) are some of the projects initiated in co-operation with Japan and has continuously encouraged India’s efforts to strengthen its socio-economic sector. While responding to the ‘Make in India’ initiative, Japan has assured a commitment to invest around $US35 billion in Indian infrastructure development over the next five years.

Image Courtsey – Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan, Overview of Japan’s ODA to India – available at -

'A natural convergence'

The friendly initiative between the oldest democracies and biggest economies of Asia in such constructive spirit make them natural partners. The absence of serious disagreement such as territorial disputes gives a mature depth to the bilateral relations. Thus, Prime Minister’s Modi’s ‘Act East’ initiative is expected to pursue India’s quest for multi polarity, a great power identity and pragmatically strengthen India’s relations with its Asia-Pacific countries like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam which are the key players in the global affairs. This leap will help India to build up strategic convergences on global issues serving its economic and strategic interests.

Works Cited

Published Date: 23rd March 2016, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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