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India-Japan Annual Summit: FORGING TIES AGAINST CHINA, By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd), 4 June, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 4 June 2013

India-Japan Annual Summit


By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd)


Close on the heels of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Tokyo for defence and nuclear collaboration a fortnight back. Whereby, the focus shifted from cooperation with China to balancing Beijing in which Tokyo would play an important and crucial strategic role.

Notably, the Annual Summit not only received more than its share of attention but also gave a boost to “India’s Look East policy”. Pertinently, the joint statement was titled, “Strengthening Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan beyond the 60th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations”. 

In fact, defence cooperation was a key strand of the Summit with the Japanese media asked Manmohan Singh what steps need to be taken to enhanced maritime cooperation “in view of maritime threat from China?” Predictably, the Prime Minister did not respond to this question, instead he asserted that the safety of sea-lanes of communications was a vital issue for both New Delhi and Tokyo as “important maritime nations”.

Adding, “India supports freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce in international waters, and right of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law”. About disputes he stated that these should be resolved through dialogue, “We believe they should be peacefully resolved by concerned parties through negotiations”. Towards that end he reiterated that India and Japan had launched a bilateral Maritime Affairs Dialogue on 29 January last in Delhi.

In addition, the Prime Minister articulated the ongoing defence cooperation between the two countries and said, “Maritime cooperation and coordination between India and Japan has grown. India and Japan launched bilateral naval exercise last June off Japan’s coast and decided to conduct such exercises regularly.

More. They also decided to establish a Joint Working Group (JWG) to explore modality for the cooperation on the US-2 amphibian aircraft Shinmaywa. They also underscored the ongoing bilateral exchanges on maritime security including counter-piracy activities, participation in bilateral and multi-lateral exercises as well as sharing of information.

In this context, he welcomed the joint exercises between the Coast Guards of India and Japan held off Chennai in January last year and subsequently in Tokyo Bay in November last.  

Undoubtedly, on the larger plane there are many strands to defence cooperation between India and Japan. This emanates from a dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministers and the 2 + 2 dialogue process between the Foreign and Defence Secretaries on both sides. Remember, high-level exchanges are on-going with Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh visiting Japan in March last. Thereafter the Chief of Japanese Self Defence Forces visited India. He also visited the Eastern Army Command amongst other Headquarters to strengthen defence cooperation.

At the same time, New Delhi is not in favour of a trilateral exercise along-with US defence forces.  While the Indian media is rife with news of us chickening out of such an exercise, the Foreign Secretary Rajan Mathai was more circumspect when asked if India had pulled out of such an exercise in a pre-visit media briefing. Asserted he, “India did not pull out of a trilateral exercise. There was some planning between India and the US for an exercise and at some stage it was felt that this could be converted into a trilateral exercise. That did not quite work out. However, Japan and India will continue maritime exercises.

On the nuclear front both countries are keen to expand the dialogue to trade and power production but the talks are at a preliminary stage and might take time to fructify. On the other hand India is interested in reactors vessels produced by Japan Steel Works, a highly specialized technology which the country is conversant with.

Further, the joint statement reaffirmed the two leaders shared commitment to total elimination of nuclear weapons. While Prime Minister Abe stressed the importance of bringing into force the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) at an early date, Prime Minister Singh reiterated India’s commitment to its unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing.

The two Prime Ministers also reassured their commitment to working together for immediate commencement and an early conclusion of negotiations on a non-discriminatory, multi-lateral and internationally and effectively verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). They also supported the strengthening of international cooperation to address the challenges of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. 

Needless to say the security dimensions of Indo-Japan relations need to be emphasised against the backdrop of New Delhi’s apprehensions vis-à-vis Beijing’s aggressive intent on the Line of Actual Control. News of another transgression and road construction activity as well as a patrol face-off in Siri Jap last month underlines the need for creating elbow room for which Japan might be an ideal foil.

All in all, both Prime Ministers Abe and Manmohan Singh highlighted their respective countries commitment towards a common goal of stability in the Asia Pacific region which is one of the key challenges especially given a belligerent China threat.

As Japan and India, the third and fourth largest world economies in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) engage with each other, there is likely to be a contest of sorts with China which might metamorphose as competitive economic coercion given India’s lower economic status compared to the other two economies. Alas, India’s GDP is much below in the pecking order.

Additionally, India is upbeat about better cooperation in the field of fast moving trains like bullet trains and assistance in the field of industrial growth. Significantly, strategists view Japan’s greater proximity to India a result of resurgent nationalism and increased tensions with China.

On the flip side it is debateable how far this has support of all Parties notwithstanding the substantial investments that the Japanese plan to make in India. Clearly, this would determine the future trajectory. In sum, hesitation in engaging with each other will not help India or Japan fulfil their ambitions or protect their interests for a lasting peace in the region. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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