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Insights into Editorial: The arc to Tokyo: on India-Japan ties


Insights into Editorial: The arc to Tokyo: on India-Japan ties




Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to India, part of annual summits between the two countries, has set strategic ties on a fast track. This is best symbolised by the 508-km Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project that was launched by Prime Ministers of India and Japan.

This is a significant success for Japanese PM’s signature Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (EPQI) initiative. The EPQI, which is critical to achieving Japan’s national growth strategy and facilitating expansion to emerging Asian markets, intersects with Prime Minister India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative and ‘Act East’ policy.

Last November, Prime Minister of India got an opportunity to understand first-hand the value of Japanese technology when he travelled to Kobe by Shinkansen to visit a bullet train plant of Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.

While the HSR(High Speed Rail) project and mega-industrial corridors lay a strong foundation, the depth and scope of bilateral relations has been redefined with ‘India-Japan Vision 2025’ underscoring an ‘action-oriented partnership’, founded on the pillars of mutuality of interests, shared universal values and commonality of vision in the Indo-Pacific.


Shared Universal Values and Vision

2017 holds special significance since it marks a decade of Japanese Prime Minister’s celebrated speech at the Indian Parliament— ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’, underscoring shared universal values and interests.

  • Ten years down the line,India is envisioned as a critical strategic anchor in Abe’s latest ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’.
  • India-Japan ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’, aimed at securing strategic stability and economic prosperity of the Indo-Pacific space, culminated into the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) this year.


Asia-Africa Growth Corridor

  • The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC is an economiccooperation agreement between the governments of India and Japan.
  • India on 25 May 2017 launched a vision document for Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC at the African Development Bank meeting in Gujarat.
  • It aims for Indo-Japanese collaboration to develop quality infrastructure in Africa, complemented by digital connectivity, which would undertake the realization of the idea of creating free and open Indo-Pacific Region.
  • The AAGC will give priority to development projects in health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture and agro-processing, disaster management and skill enhancement. The connectivity aspects of the AAGC will be supplemented with quality infrastructure.
  • Unlike OBOR, now BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), which entails development of both land corridor and ocean, AAGC will essentially be a sea corridor linking Africa with India and other countries of South-East Asia and Oceania by rediscovering ancient sea-routes and creating new sea corridors that will link ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) with Djibouti in the Gulf of Eden and similarly the ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar will be connected to ports near Madurai; Kolkata will be linked to Sittwe port in Myanmar.
  • As the rationale of value-oriented foreign policy (based on universal values like democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and so on) gained traction, Indiahas been accorded space in Japan’s value-based foreign-policy frameworks including  Arc of Freedom and Prosperity’, Confluence of the Two Seas’, ‘Quadrilateral Initiative’ and subsequently Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond’.
  • As India’s strategic thinking navigated through the policy discourse of ‘Look East’, ‘Look East 2.0’ which further culminated into ‘Act East’ policy, Japan graduated from a valuable friend to an indispensable partner and emerged as a ‘key player in India’s modernization’.


Action-oriented Partnership

In keeping with India-Japan Vision 2025’, robust bilateral relations have laid the foundation to expand the scope of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific theatre. Strong India–strong Japan will not only enrich two nations. It will also be a stabilising factor in Asia and the world.

Uncertainty in regional geopolitics paved way for greater strategic coordination on a few specific regional issues in trilateral frameworks and regional forums, including terrorism and violent extremism, North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile program, and peaceful resolution of disputes in South China Sea in compliance with international law, including the UNCLOS.

In addition, the latest US-Japan Security Consultative Committee Meeting in August 2017 identified India, along with South Korea, Australia, and Southeast Asian countries, as one of the priorities while pressing the significance of advancing trilateral and multilateral security and defence cooperation in the region.

The 2016 India-Japan Joint Statement underscores the importance of coordinating bilaterally and with other countries to develop better regional connectivity and facilitating industrial networks.


Securing the Maritime Commons

As maritime democracies, both nations have argued for rules-based international order, freedom of navigation and over flight, unrestricted lawful commerce, and peaceful settlement of disputes.

  • India, US and Japan conducted the annual Malabar Exercise in the Bay of Bengal in July 2017 aimed at enhancing interoperability between the navies of the three democracies and strengthening trilateral cooperation in the Indo-pacific region.
  • With the aim of augmenting cooperation, both Indiaand Japan are considering incorporation of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) training and exchanges by ASW aviation units such as P-3C in addition to mine-counter measures (MCM) training.
  • The ‘shared responsibility’ in securing the regional SLOC (Sea Lines of Communication) as a ‘public good’ reinforces India-Japan maritime cooperation.
  • Japan desires India’s cooperation in guarding the Indian Ocean SLOCs since it is critical for its energy shipments. With dependence on imports for 94 per cent of its primary energy supply, Japan is severely dependent on Middle Eastern oil imports, and the Indian Ocean is, therefore, vital for Japanese energy imports from the region.
  • While Japan has depended on the US Navy for safeguarding critical SLOCs, it is increasingly cognisant of India’s capabilities in playing a productive role in defending the regional sea lanes.
  • At the India-Japan shipping policy forum, launched in 2010, both countries focus on cooperation in maritime sector such as development of ship recycling facilities, ports and inland water transport, ship building and repair, and cooperation on International Maritime Organisation (IMO) issues.
  • Besides, there is a 2+2 dialogue framework between the Foreign and Defence Secretaries of both countries since 2010, as mandated by the Action Plan to Advance Security Cooperation concluded in December 2009.


Special Strategic and Global Partnership

In the run up to Prime Minister Abe’s visit to India, the annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue was hosted in Tokyo on September 5-6. There is a shared recognition that a stronger bilateral strategic partnership entails wider cooperation while responding to global and regional challenges and jointly contributing to the stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

While regional concerns such as the security challenges emanating from Pyongyang and the proliferation network including North Korea-Pakistan nexus featured as a top priority, bilaterally furthering defence technology cooperation under the framework of the ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ was underscored during the annual dialogue.

  • Both defence ministers stressed the value of deepening interaction between the respective governments and defence industries with the aim of enabling collaboration in defence and dual-use technologies.
  • The difficult negotiation over cost and technology transfer with regard to the US-2 amphibious aircraft has not restricted the two countries from exploring and identifying specific items and future areas for cooperation.
  • Building on the ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’, Indian navy has issued Request for Information (RFI) to six overseas manufacturers including Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries to build six advanced submarines with air-independent propulsion (AIP) technology under the Project 75 (I) initiative.
  • Two agreements signed in December 2015 — ‘Agreement Concerning Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology Cooperation’ and ‘Agreement Concerning Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information’, marked a new beginning in bilateral defence cooperation.


The outcomes of the 12th India – Japan Annual Summit and its Significance

  • Prime Minister and his Japanese counterpart jointly laid the foundation stone of the country’s first bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The train will cover a distance of over 500 kilometres in around two hours. The project is expected to be completed by 2022
  • The two leaders also laid the foundation stone of a dedicated High Speed Rail Training Institute for the bullet train to be established inside the existing campus for the National Academy of Indian Railways at Vadodara.
  • Four locations have been finalized for development of Japanese Industrial Townships in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
  • India and Japan signed 15 agreements for enhancing bilateral co-operation in several key areas including investment promotion, civil aviation and science and technology, disaster risk management, skill development besides other Economic and Commercial agreements.
  • Both the leaders condemned the growing menace of terrorism and violent extremism in the strongest terms. In a joint statement, both the leaders shared the view that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is a global menace that must be forcefully combated through concerted global action with the spirit of zero tolerance.
  • The two Prime Ministers also called upon Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of attacks including those of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai and the 2016 terrorist attack in Pathankot.
  • They also called upon all countries to work towards rooting out terrorist safe havens.



  • PM of India said the bullet train the biggest gift from Japan to India. The high speed rail corridor will give a new momentum to the development of New India.
  • The bullet train will not only bring about economic transformation but will also lead to social transformation of the country.
  • The project will strengthen the Make in India initiative as large number of employment opportunities will be created in the country.
  • The economic aid, technology and skill transfer by Japan will not only benefit the Indian railway sector but will be beneficial for human resource development of the country.
  • The growing convergence between Japan and India on strategic and economic issues has capacity to stimulate the global economy.
  • Prime Minister said that the civil nuclear pact between India and Japan would open a new chapter in cooperation in the clean energy sector between both countries.
  • The Japan Prime Minister called this historic moment as a confluence of the Indian ocean with Pacific Ocean and vowed for developing a new world order based on these oceans.
  • Strong India is in the interest of Japan likewise a Strong Japan is in the interest of India.
  • Indian Human Resource coupled with Japanese skill and technology, will make India a manufacturing hub of the world.
  • Japan will share with India the expertise of safe transport which will help the entire Indian rail network. The Bullet Train project will be a stimulus for India’s manufacturing and construction sector while creating new job opportunities.


The Way Ahead

India-Japan relations are witnessing the most productive period in history. Mutuality of interest in each other has become irreversible. Prime Minister of India and his Japanese counterpart have unveiled an era of high-powered diplomacy.

It is clear that the present Indian government has set India-Japan ties on an accelerated geopolitical course that will be a major factor in its dealings with the rest of the world, especially China, at a time when the U.S. is perceived to be retreating from the region.

  • Having made this leap, it is imperative that India and Japan also look beyond their lofty geopolitical aims, at the more basic aspects of bilateral engagement.
  • While Japan is India’s largest donor and the third largest provider of FDI, bilateral trade has steadily declined since 2013, and is down to $13.61 billion in 2016-17 from $14.51 billion the year before. The contrast with India-China trade, at $71 billion a year, and Japan-China trade, at $279 billion, is stark.
  • Bilateral and regional ambitions in the Indo-Pacific have been clearly laid out in ‘India-Japan Vision 2025’. However, history will judge this ‘special’ partnership based on how the political will translates into tangible deliverables.
  • Synergizing their resources and capabilities, and ensuring the efficient implementation of joint projects will be critical.
  • As the Indo-Pacific construct assumes greater space in policy designs given its geo-political and strategic dimensions, it is imperative for both Indiaand Japan to engage in forward thinking to accomplish the full potential of this ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’.
  • Indiaand Japan must coordinate and cooperate on connectivity projects in South Asian neighbourhood including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and even Myanmar.
  • Indiaand Japan will benefit by exploring the potential for joint projects in Africa, including in countries like Nigeria, Mozambique, and Angola and elsewhere, given common energy interests.
  • For securing the global commons and realizing a stable Indo-Pacific, Indiaand Japan both have to work individually, bilaterally and at a regional level in order to guarantee a rules-based order in accordance with international law.