I recently spoke to a high-ranking Indian diplomat about the future of Indo-Japan relations in light of Shinzo Abe’s return to the premiership. The response was unwavering: India places “great importance” on its relationship with Japan and wants it to go “higher and higher.” With Abe at the helm, the time is ripe for this relationship to advance.
Abe is known to be staunchly pro-Indian. Not only did he describe strengthening bilateral ties as extremely important to Japan’s interests in his 2006 book Utsukushii Kuni E (Towards a Beautiful Country), but one of his major foreign policy initiatives during his previous tenure as PM was establishing a new vision for bilateral ties with India. To that end, he advocated emphasizing India and Japan’s shared values and overlapping security interests. He has also argued that both countries have a responsibility to work together in the Indo-Pacific region, which he refers to as “broader Asia.” In the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) recent campaign pledge, India was listed as a country with which Japan should enhance cooperation with on issues of national security and energy. With such support, it can be expected that Abe will look to India as a partner for greater Japanese activism in the region.
None of this should be a problem because the two already cooperate on a wide array of issues. Economically, relations have never been better. Over the past five years, bilateral trade has doubled. Things moved forward rapidly after the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) went into effect in August 2011, removing duties on 94% of products over the next ten years and ensuring greater movement of goods, services, capital, and people between the two countries. Japan offers India a wealthy, sophisticated market for Delhi’s textiles, seafood, IT, pharmaceuticals and services. Japan, on the other hand, looks to India as an export market for its auto components, high-end technology, and capital goods. Indeed, within a week of Japan’s tsunami and nuclear disaster in March 2011, India’s auto industry was expressing concern that an anticipated disruption in Japanese manufacturing would significantly hurt its business.
Additionally, Japanese companies have been investing in Indian IT and other technology projects, and the Japanese government has been sending India significant amounts of Official Development Assistance (ODA). In fact, India was the first country Japan ever extended an ODA loan to back in 1958; and since FY 2003-2004 India has been the single largest recipient of Japanese ODA. Japan also exempted India from the cuts it made in ODA following the March 2011 disasters.
Japan and India work together diplomatically to promote common interests. At the UN, they actively champion reforming the Security Council. Additionally, they cooperate in promoting the G-20 and East Asia Summit as the primary venues for international economic cooperation and regional multilateralism, respectively. Within these institutions, Tokyo and Delhi cooperate on a number of issues including nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, counterterrorism, and climate change and energy security.
Japan and India’s security cooperation over the last six years has been greater than in the previous sixty years combined. This cooperation includes: building naval capacity through port calls, naval and coast guard exchanges, joint naval and coast guard exercises, and greater cooperation in information sharing and technical assistance; the protection of sea lines of communication (SLOCs) and anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden; and extending patrol boats and capacity building training to the littoral states in the Strait of Malacca. Along with their strategic dialogue, the two sides have launched a bilateral Shipping Policy Forum, a Maritime Security Dialogue, and a Cybersecurity Dialogue.