India and Japan are holding their inaugural 2+2 defense and foreign minister level dialogue on November 30, ahead of the annual summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in December. While the dialogue will be heralded as yet another step that advances India-Japan bilateral relations, it also has broader implications as well.
The decision to hold a ministerial level 2+2 dialogue was taken this summer during a telephone call between India’s new foreign minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, and his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono. The inaugural US-India 2+2 dialogue was held in September 2018.
The mechanism itself is quite significant. Japan is only the second country (after the United States) with which India has such a dialogue format. The India-Japan 2+2 dialogue is an endorsement of the special strategic partnership between New Delhi and Tokyo.
More broadly, the dialogue has been driven by the mutual desire to frame an Asia that is not dominated by a single country and to see the emergence of a multipolar Indo-Pacific that is free, open, and inclusive. India and Japan have both approached the emerging Asian strategic framework with that goal in mind and both want an inclusive approach in the region. Both see China’s approach in the region as being exclusivist. There is a clear clash between these two visions of the region.
The idea of such a 2+2 meeting was initiated during the summit meeting between Modi and Abe in Tokyo in October 2018. The joint statement following the summit meeting recognized the need for such a dialogue. This would be in addition to existing strategic dialogue formats such as the Annual Defense Ministerial Dialogue, Defense Policy Dialogue, the National Security Advisers’ Dialogue. Most recently, the India-Japan defense ministerial level dialogue held in September also acknowledged the importance of a 2+2 ministerial level strategic dialogue.
Similar, but lower level, India and Japan dialogues have gone on for close to a decade now. The two have had a 2+2 foreign and defense dialogue led by secretary level officers from 2010. This dialogue was established as per the Action Plan to Advance Security Cooperation agreed between the two countries in December 2009. Discussions on global commons including maritime, outer space, and cyber space have been key themes in this dialogue.
While peace, prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific will be key themes in the upcoming 2+2 ministerial level dialogue, Japan will also be making a big push to convince India to join the RCEP, the mega regional trade agreement of which Japan is a part. In discussions with me, Japanese analysts say that Tokyo wants India in RCEP to more effectively push back against China. But it remains unclear if India is willing to change its stance on the RCEP. This was discussed during the last Japan-India Foreign Minister’s Strategic Dialogue held in June this year.
With an eye on China, India and Japan are also trying to finalize the military logistics agreement called the acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA) at the 2+2 dialogue so that it can be signed during Abe’s visit to India in December. Such an agreement could expand the strategic reach and influence of both the militaries: Japan could gain access to Indian facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and India could have access to Japan’s naval facility in Djibouti. India took more than a decade to finalize such an agreement with the United States, but now that it has been done once, New Delhi has found it less problematic to do others. It has now concluded such deals also with France and South Korea; talks for a similar deal with Australia are at an advanced stage.
Some of these themes were also mentioned at the 5th India-Japan 2+2 Dialogue held at the vice-ministerial level. The last such dialogue was held in June 2018 and was co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and Defense Secretary Shri Sanjay Mitra on the Indian side and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Takeo Mori and Vice-Minister of Defense for International Affairs, Ro Manabe on the Japanese side. At that meeting, the two sides also discussed strategic infrastructure projects in third countries such as Sri Lanka as well as in India’s northeast (except in Arunachal Pradesh).
Defense relations between the Indian military and the Japanese Self Defense Forces are quite intense with all the different wings of the militaries engaged in joint exercises. These include the Dharma Guardian land exercise, the Shinyu Maitr air exercise, and the Japan-India Maritime Exercise. Areas that require further attention are defense trade and technology transfer.
One of the much-talked about cases is that of the sale of the ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft for the Indian Navy, but an agreement is yet to be concluded. India’s purchase of the aircraft could see enhancement of India’s capability mix in the context of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) efforts, but it will also be a good addition to India’s recent maritime capability acquisitions including the P-8I maritime patrol aircraft and the potential acquisition of the Sea Guardian armed drone.
Incentivizing India to make progress on this acquisition, Japan has committed to manufacturing 30 percent of the aircraft in India and this could eventually help improve Indian defense manufacturing. Further, the two have established a working group to study the possibilities in Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) Based Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Augmentation Technology for UGV/robotics.
Opportunities in the areas of technology collaboration is significant. Defense electronics is particularly important for India since New Delhi. India’s domestic defense electronic manufacturing segment is still at a nascent stage and it has to partner with its strategic partners in building a domestic capability base but also direct procurement of those capabilities in the interim.
Overall, the India-Japan ministerial level 2+2 strategic dialogue is an important initiative emphasizing the deep interest in both India and Japan to further strengthen their security and strategic engagements. The two countries have built a strong strategic partnership in the last decade. While China may have been a factor, building this relationship was easier because of the absence of any baggage, unlike, for instance, with the United States. But India and Japan also need to build a larger coalition if they are to balance China effectively.