After the United States hosted India and Japan on December 19 for the first ever trilateral dialogue, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshohiko Noda visited India ten days later to further the discussion and focus on building a closer economic relationship. With the scope and specificity with which the bilateral engagement is progressing, it is becoming clear that Japan has become one of India’s most valued foreign partners.
Most noteworthy was perhaps Prime Minster Noda’s offer to invest another $4.5 billion in the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project that India is developing with Japan. This comes in addition to the $125 million Japan has already invested since the collaboration began in 2007. In parallel, the Japanese government has also expressed interest in investing in phase III of the Delhi Mass Rapid Transport System, and in developing the Chennai-Bangalore corridor, where most of the Japanese companies are housed. These developments, coupled with the recently signed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) on August 1, 2011 – that is expected to remove up to 95% of tariffs – is proof that the economic engagement between the countries is developing extremely well.
The defence partnership, on the other hand, has also reached new heights. The Indian Coast Guard and the Japanese Coast Guard are going to hold their first ever joint exercise in January 2012. The Japanese Self Defence Forces and the Indian Army have worked together in peacekeeping operations under United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Syria and United Nations Mission In Sudan (UNMIS), and in disaster relief operations after the tsunami hit the Indian Ocean in 2004. With more frequent military exchanges, and the lifting in December 2011 of the ban on the 44 year-old arms export by Japan, the partnership in defence will continue to grow.
What makes the Japan-India partnership especially unique is that both nations have designed their collaboration to be win-win for both sides, and they are willing to collaborate on long-term initiatives. Japan has the capital, technology and experience in energy-saving manufacturing processes that India can use to meet its international climate-change obligations. On the other hand, India has the opportunities in infrastructure and power that can provide Japanese companies high returns for their investments. The investment in DMIC is one such investment. The Japanese Prime Minister’s recently announced support for India’s civil nuclear energy initiatives could be another. Then there are other successes such as the construction of National Highway 83 in Bihar and the construction of Metro Rail in Bangalore with the help of Japanese aid, and the joint collaboration to establish an IIT in Hyderabad.
This engagement comes at a time when the world is witnessing a shift in the balance of power – away from the United States. In Asia, specifically, the two countries have been working together in multi-lateral organizations such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the East-Asia Summit (EAS), and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to promote democracy and free markets.
With these developments, both countries have clearly moved beyond the obstacles that have hindered progress in the past. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s visit to India in August 2000 was the first state visit in ten years. That was the initial attempt to restart the stalled process of strengthening ties. During his visit to India, Mori and his counterpart, then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, discussed nuclear proliferation and the reform of the UN Security Council, and agreed on naming their relationship the “Global Partnership in the 21st Century.” That was the first time both nations publicly came together to stress the need for democracy, market economy, and the spirit of tolerance.
Later in 2005, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh furthered the discussion through the Eight-fold Initiative to include security. Japanese Defence Minister Fukushiro Nukaga and the then Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee agreed to work together on security matters concerning countering terrorism, transnational crimes, non-proliferation, safety of maritime traffic, and cooperating in disaster relief operations. This was followed by ministerial, secretarial, defence and student level exchanges.
The idea of quadrilateral dialogue between Japan, United States, Australia and India first came from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He wanted a common platform for the major democratic countries to promote economic development and democratic stability in the region. However, his idea led Beijing to declare the proposal as being hostile to China. Tamed by Beijing’s protest, the proposal fell through, and then Abe himself had to resign due to lack of domestic backing for his support for the United States in Afghanistan. His successor, Yasuo Fakuda, showed no inclination to pursue the initiative, choosing instead to focus on improving relations with China.
With this uneven history past, and Japan-India relations on even keel, the recent trilateral hosted by United States on December 19th 2011, indicates that the United States sees the advantage in joining with the Asian nations. The U.S. already has a similar trilateral dialogue with Japan and Australia and is keen to draw in India to create a quadrilateral dialogue with Australia. The U.S. has evinced considerable interest in closer security ties with Asian nations especially with regard to the security of sea-lanes and terrorism. The first trilateral maritime exercise by the U.S., India and Japan was held in April 2007 in the Pacific Ocean off the Boso Peninsula, off central Japan. This was followed by a five-power joint exercise, including Australia and Singapore in the Bay of Bengal in September 2007. Earlier, in 2004, the U.S., Australia, Japan and India coordinated relief operations following the tsunami in December 2004.
A 2007 report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies “The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Getting Asia Right through 2020” recommended that the U.S. and Japan seek appropriate opportunities for trilateral cooperation with India based on a shared belief in democracy and human freedom. However, it also noted that the United States and Japan should move forward without expecting India to act as either Japan’s or the United States’ counterweight against Beijing. Nevertheless, the Joint Statement of the U.S.-Japan 2+2 meeting held in June 2011, involving the foreign and defence ministries of United States and Japan, indicates that India continues to be wooed as a strategic partner by both countries.
As for more collaboration in defence, perhaps the next step is to establish frameworks such as the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) for interoperability. ACSA makes it possible for signatory countries to exchange major goods and services necessary during operations such as food, fuel and transportation. GSOMIA, on the other hand, obliges signatories to treat confidential information obtained from the other country respectfully, and as a result facilitates exchanges of information. Japan already has such agreements with the United States, South Korea and Australia; a similar agreement with India will bring India
into the circle of these developed nations.
To make all this successful, Japan has to make some policy changes. Japanese legislation for peacekeeping is one that should be modified. Under the current law, a Japanese Self Defence Force can use force only to protect itself and people under its protection, but cannot use force to protect troops from other countries. This makes it difficult for Japan to join current peacekeeping operations that require robust forces.
The greatest challenge for the Japan-India partnership and the Japan-India-U.S. trilateral partnership is how to respond to a rising China. The rapid modernization and increasing budget of the Chinese military is of concern to other countries in this region, including Vietnam and Philippines. China’s intensifying maritime activities, including the buzzing of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force’s ships by a helicopter during a large naval exercise have caused a diplomatic strain between Japan and China. In September 2010, Japanese authorities arrested a Chinese fishing captain whose trawler had rammed a Japanese coastguard vessel near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The Chinese responded by cutting supplies of rare-earth materials to Japan. That the United States, Japan and Indian officials were quick to defend the dialogue as not anti-China, and that the Japanese Prime Minister proposed to introduce a United States-Japan-China trilateral dialogue on the same day, shows that confidence in this relationship is yet to grow and that these countries are wary of antagonizing China.
Skirmishes between China, and the four democracies – Japan, United States, Australia and India – are likely to continue. What is most assuring for India is that the Japan-India relationship is based more on intrinsic factors of inter-dependent competencies rather than on the defence of an extrinsic threat of a common enemy. In that, Japan and India are providing a new model for bilateral engagement for themselves, a model that India can adopt with others in the international arena.
Yuri Higashi is a Research Intern at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.
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