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Previewing India-Japan Ties Under PM Kishida

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Previewing India-Japan Ties Under PM Kishida

Back in 2015, then-Foreign Minister Kishida helped shaped the India-Japan Indo-Pacific Vision 2025. Where do ties stand today?

Previewing India-Japan Ties Under PM Kishida

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) meets Kishida Fumio, then the chairman of the LDP policy Research Council, in Tokyo, Japan, Oct. 29, 2018.

Credit: Indian Ministry of External Affairs

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio will continue to hold the reins in Japan following his party’s success in the lower house election on October 31. Despite eroding political capital for some Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) heavyweights, including Amari Akira, Japan has avoided gliding back to its legacy of revolving-door prime ministers for the time being.

Domestic political stability is a necessary condition as Kishida stares at difficult policy decisions, be it rewriting the National Security Strategy (NSS) or sharpening economic statecraft. From a changing maritime balance to a fierce missile race, East Asian security is a pressing issue. As Japan recalibrates its strategic calculus, India will continue to be an important pole in Kishida’s pursuit of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).

Way back in 2015, long before FOIP caught the political lexicon and the Quad rose from the dead, let alone the geopolitical shocks of the pandemic, strategic foresight in Delhi and Tokyo culminated in the Indo-Pacific Vision 2025, their collective effort to secure the rules-based order. The objective was to engineer an action-oriented partnership by synergizing collective capacities and charting a collaborative Indo-Pacific agenda. Kishida, then Japan’s foreign minister, served an instrumental role in laying the building blocks of the India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership.

Scanning the state of play on the heels of the 70th anniversary of India-Japan diplomatic relations, this Vision 2025 has not only yielded rich dividends as a stabilizing force in securing geopolitical interests, but also demonstrated maturity in adapting to post-pandemic complexities. India and Japan incubated alternative solutions to pandemic problems together with friends, be it the India-Japan-Australia Resilient Supply Chain Initiative (RSCI) or the Quad’s Vaccine Partnership. Despite nuanced gaps on some verticals, including their respective approaches to Indo-Pacific economic architecture regarding mega-free trade agreements or data governance, the India-Japan partnership has become more consequential than ever.

As a fluid balance of power, order, and values defines the post-pandemic world, strategic trust anchors the India-Japan partnership. Between national interests and international responsibilities, both countries intend not to be bystanders as great power contest sharpens over defining rules and shaping regimes. The aim of India-Japan relations is to lead confidently in shaping strategic solutions as COVID-19 reorganizes the international power structures.

With the changing China-U.S. power equilibrium on the global stage, and a shifting balance between China and its Asian neighbors at the regional level, Tokyo’s strategy is rooted in internal and external balancing. Embracing a bolder security role, doubling down as a proactive ally of Washington, and stitching a network of strategic partnership with like-minded Indo-Pacific stakeholders define Tokyo’s desired path.

Tokyo’s FOIP cultivates India as a strong strategic partner. But long before FOIP took shape, India began featuring in Tokyo’s geostrategic calculations once Washington recognized Delhi as an enduring security partner in the early 2000s. The Japan-U.S. conversation in mid-2000s at the Security Consultative Committee urged India’s greater role in regional security. This echoed in then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s hallmark 2007 speech, “Confluence of the Two Seas,” an early articulation of the Indo-Pacific concept.

India’s position at the heart of global sea lanes of communication accorded Delhi space in Japan’s first NSS in 2013. India’s position in Japan’s Indo-Pacific frame will endure because the variables that pressed Tokyo to include Delhi in its strategic thinking have become even more urgent in post-COVID dynamics.

As India aspires to be a leading power in a multipolar world, sourcing technology, investments, and development assistance to modernize its economic foundation is imperative. Here Japan has emerged as an enabling force in key nation building initiatives.

Charting the post-COVID agenda, India and Japan, along with other Indo-Pacific powers, are brainstorming on pressing issues, be it de-risking supply chains without diluting the competitive edge, or balancing strategic vulnerabilities of high technology and national security. India-Japan cooperated with fellow democracies in turning challenges into opportunities, especially with Quad partners in engineering safe manufacturing chains under the Quad Vaccine Partnership.

Additionally, the Quad’s Semiconductor Supply Chain Initiative needs to be effectively leveraged as pursuit of national self-sufficiency is unattainable. Exploring cooperation with other players like Taiwan and South Korea is vital to collectively create a robust ecosystem.

Open-RAN is driving the 5G conversation. India should explore opportunities that the Japan-U.S. Competitiveness and Resilience (CoRe) Partnership presents as they aim to pursue cooperation in third countries, and launch a Global Digital Connectivity Partnership to advance digital economy.

While the India-Japan-Australia RCSI is mapping knowledge gaps in supply chain structure, it’s a steep learning curve as India tries to plug into the global manufacturing ecosystem. Production-linked incentives are expected to make manufacturing competitive. While Japanese companies have projected a few Make in India success stories, they continue to favor Southeast Asia as witnessed during recent subsidy-supported diversification following the pandemic. Cultural gaps need to be narrowed.

Japan is unmatched in the game of quality infrastructure. Tokyo is positioned centrally in mega-infrastructure initiatives, be it the Blue Dot Network or Build Back Better World (B3W) Partnership. The newly formed Quad Infrastructure Coordination Group must deliver on financing needs since quality infrastructure is as much about connecting growth centers and market linkages as it is about creating strategic leverages in great power game.

Undeniably, India-Japan cooperation on third-country projects in the Bay of Bengal and Africa has its fair share of challenges, but the need to present credible alternatives underpinned by responsible debt financing is apparent. As focus shifts to island nations with India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, Tokyo is a significant player in connectivity. As the global conversation on decarbonization gains traction, deepening cooperation on low carbon technology and green hydrogen will open new frontiers.

Supporting maritime stability, India and Japan will continue to build deeper networks with other stakeholders leveraging logistics and intelligence-sharing arrangements, and reinforcing interoperability between navies. While AUKUS waves rippled across Indo-Pacific, India and Japan should seize the opportunity to act as a bridge forging deeper connect with Europe, especially France.

As Japan entrusts Kishida with the responsibility to lead, India is enthused to build on the Vision 2025, and most importantly deliver on the post-COVID agenda. As high powered in-person diplomacy is making a comeback in the global stage following the pandemic pause, Kishida making a much awaited prime ministerial visit to India sooner rather than later will be a good beginning.