According to the Japan Times, government sources indicated on Thursday that India and Japan are currently finishing negotiations to create a formal bilateral framework between their foreign and defense ministers, or a “two-plus-two” dialogue mechanism. Japan currently only has this type of relationship with the U.S., France, Russia and Australia. The agreement is expected to be finalized during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan, when he holds a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 1. India and Japan currently hold defense and diplomatic talks at the vice-ministerial level.
The new dialogue agreement will likely occur amidst other deals, such as sea lane cooperation, joint drills between India’s navy and the Maritime Self-Defense Forces, and the export of the Japanese US-2 amphibious aircraft, all of which are likely to draw significant suspicion from China, as it sees these two countries as collaborating over sea lanes vital to Beijing’s supply chain. Additionally, the last “two-plus-two” dialogue Japan conducted resulted in significant defense deals with Australia. Aside from security, the two sides are also likely to reach an accord on the “peaceful use of nuclear energy,” which is required before Japan’s nuclear reactor technology can be exported, and Abe is expected to try to propose Japan’s bullet train technology for India’s proposed rail link between Mumbai and Ahmadabad. However, high-speed rail is not likely a viable option given India’s budget restraints, and the much higher consumer cost it would entail.
In a rare conciliatory statement from the top level of Chinese leadership, the Asahi Shimbun reported that Vice President Li Yuanchao told a group of Japanese Diet members in Beijing on Tuesday that “It is required for both Japan and China to lay minor differences aside and aim for unity on the main points.” The meeting between Li and the Japanese lawmakers was reportedly at China’s request, as well as being Li’s first meeting with Japanese politicians since taking office last March. Li acknowledged the negative economic impact of the ongoing dispute in the East China Sea, and when a mutual reporting system was proposed to prevent air and sea clashes by the Japanese side, Li said “We have put a high priority on risk management in the sea and the air. We will be tackling the issue of enhanced communication aggressively.” China’s recent warming to dialogue with Japan could indicate it is willing to have President Xi Jinping meet with Abe on the sidelines of the upcoming APEC summit in Beijing scheduled for November.
Japanese government sources also informed the Jiji Press on Thursday that a report on Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s and 80s will likely be submitted by North Korea during the second week of September. The timing of the report is significant, as during the preceding week Abe will be meeting with Modi, announcing his new Cabinet, and making trips to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Japan will send a team to Pyongyang to review the report when it is completed. Tokyo has told North Korea to undertake the investigation carefully since the two sides agreed in Beijing on July 1 to release the report by early fall. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida repeated this request during a rare meeting with his North Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Myanmar on August 10. The results of the investigation will reportedly be presented “at a high level meeting” once Abe’s foreign tour is completed, which might indicate that Abe himself could be present, as has been hinted at since the negotiations over the abductees began in early summer.
Finally, Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said on Friday that Abe should not undermine the apology for Japan’s colonial past in Korea that Murayama’s government made in 1995, and that South Korea and Japan’s leaders need to resolve the comfort women issue, which still impedes their ability to cooperate. Abe’s government reaffirmed the Kono apology, but only after first reviewing it for possible South Korean influence, which further angered both Seoul and Beijing. Since the review of the Kono apology in July, Abe has attempted to mend ties with South Korea and has suggested a meeting with President Park Geun-hye. South Korea has also made moves to cool tensions, and has appointed Yoo Heung-soo as its new ambassador to Japan. Yoo has socialized with Abe and his father in the past, and has personal relationships with several former Japanese prime ministers and Cabinet members. However, whether the new ambassador and a meeting between South Korea and Japan’s leaders can lead to substantial progress on the highly inflammatory issue of Japan’s wartime past is questionable, and would certainly require a much more sustained effort than has been attempted by either side since Abe became prime minister in December 2012.