What a Rising India and a New Japan Could Mean for the Indo-Pacific

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What a Rising India and a New Japan Could Mean for the Indo-Pacific

As the Japan-U.S. relationship continues to evolve, there emerge distinct synergies between U.S.-Japan and India-Japan initiatives. 

What a Rising India and a New Japan Could Mean for the Indo-Pacific

Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in New Delhi, India, Monday, March 20, 2023.

Credit: Twitter/Narendra Modi

On April 10, the summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio set the stage for the evolution of the Japan-U.S. partnership with the announcement of a “new era of U.S.- Japan strategic cooperation,” which would see Tokyo play a more prominent and active role in the U.S.-led Asian security architecture. 

The above prominent “active role” stems partially from Japan’s own ambitions to shed the overbearing influence of its pacifist constitution and bolster its own military capability in the face of an assertive China and an increasingly belligerent North Korea. This was witnessed in the release of the National Security Strategy in 2022 and the Kishida administration’s decision to boost military spending by 43 million yen and allocate 2 percent of GDP by 2027. This has also been followed by plans to establish a joint operations headquarters to facilitate cross-domain operations between its ground, maritime, and air defense forces. Along with these, Japan has also adopted a policy of defense outreach through Official Security Assistance (OSA) to countries such as the Philippines and lifted the ban on export of next generation fighter jet being co-developed with Italy and United Kingdom.

From India’s perspective, a strengthened Japan would be a much welcome and beneficial addition in New Delhi’s geopolitical calculations, especially with regard to China and the Indo- Pacific. Given the positive history of Indo-Japanese relations from the days of Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, a more militarily robust and assertive Japan would be well poised to realize the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision, in which India has been deemed an “indispensable partner.” 

On closer examination of both the fact sheet readout of the Biden-Kishida Summit and the FOIP policy, there emerges several areas of synergy between the U.S.-Japan and India-Japan initiatives. For instance, the Biden-Kishida summit highlighted the importance of joint Japan-U.S. collaboration in developing and offering quality infrastructure under the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII). That effort could be synergized with FOIP’s focus on the “Bay of Bengal-Northeast India value chain,” which aims to develop economic and infrastructure linkage between India’s Northeast and Bangladesh, especially through the development of the Matarbari sea port.

Another area of possible cooperation includes the laying of stable and sustainable undersea cables in the Indo-Pacific, especially with regard to the Pacific Island countries mentioned in both the above documents. There Japan-U.S. efforts can combine with those of India and Australia under the Quad’s Cable Connectivity Partnership.

Along with this, another potential avenue of partnership is the linking of the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) with the PGII’s Lobito Corridor in Central Africa, which aims to ensure a stable and secure supply of critical minerals for the U.S. and its allies like Japan. Japanese involvement in the corridor could be utilized by other members of the SCRI including India and Australia to ensure their own participation, directly or indirectly, in the corridor.

One more common thread of cooperation is defense technology, by creating linkage between the India-U.S. Defense Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) and the Forum on Defence Industrial Cooperation, Acquisition and Sustainment (DICAS) led by the defense ministries of both the U.S. and Japan.

On the bilateral front, a more assertive Japan would be able to reiterate more strongly its recognition of Arunachal Pradesh as an inalienable part of India, made by then-Foreign Minister Kishida back in 2015, as well as overcome its earlier inhibition of investing in projects in the state due to Chinese objections. Similarly, India should be vocal about the need to respect Japan’s sovereign rights and its sensitives in the Senkaku Islands in response to repeated unilateral moves on the part of China. Reciprocating Japanese investment in Arunachal, India could also be invited by Tokyo to collaborate in joint projects over exploiting the natural resources in the waters off the islands. On a similar note, both the countries could contemplate joint investment and development of the proposed Kra Canal Land-Bridge over the Gulf of Thailand, connecting the South China Sea with the Indian Ocean. 

At the same time, Japan’s new aim of bolstering the capability of its Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) as a “Force for Peace” and its willingness, expressed in both the NSS and FOIP, to ensure “freedom of navigation and overflight… [and] strengthen relations with coastal states along sea lanes,” could bolster further cooperation between the Indian and Japanese navies. Under the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) of 2020 allowing the use of logistics and ports, MSDF ships could be allowed to make port calls and halt for repairs at the Sittwe Port in Myanmar, recently acquired by the India Ports Global Ltd (IPGL), while the participation of Indian naval vessels in bilateral exercises near the Japanese coasts as well as visits to Japanese ports must be increased. Japan could also allow Indian ships to access its overseas base in Djibouti, which could also become the site for joint Indian Navy-MSDF joint anti-piracy patrols. 

Such actions will send a strong signal to China in both the Indian Ocean and the East China Sea. 

FOIP also spells out Japanese intentions to work with India to “contribute to stability in the South Asia region,” including provision of quality infrastructure investment. This could be extended to the offering of Official Security Assistance (OSA) in the form of joint Indo-Japanese developed defense goods to reduce the dependence of countries such as Sri Lanka on Chinese supplies. Meanwhile, there has been renewed focus on the Philippines by both countries – Japan through the Japan-Philippines-U.S. trilateral and India with its own increasing outreach to Manila. That could set the stage for better coordination between New Delhi and Tokyo on projects such as the recently announced Luzon Corridor – a series of connectivity projects in the Filipino island of Luzon connecting Subic Bay, Clark, Manila, and Batangas in terms of infrastructure development, agribusiness, clean energy, and semiconductor supply chains.

However, the most important area of India-Japan synergy under the FOIP could be Taiwan, given the latter’s special mention in Tokyo’s NSS as an “extremely important partner and a precious friend” sharing “fundamental values, including democracy.” The security of Taiwan is also crucial from the perspective of New Delhi given its current confrontation with Beijing. Along with a more active and assertive Japan, India could bolster its already existing “unofficial” ties with Taipei, including the crucial area of semiconductor fabrication and supply chain diversification, drone technology, and Indo-Japanese participation directly in forums such as Ketagalan security dialogue and indirectly in the annual Han Kuang military exercise. The exercise could be synchronized with the Japan-India Maritime Exercise (JIMEX) as a form of gray zone tactic against China.

In 2007, then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo outlined the concept of the inseparability of the Indian and Pacific Oceans in his address to the Indian Parliament titled “Confluence of the Two Seas.” It is time the vision is practically realized with the combined efforts of a rising India and a new Japan.