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How Will India-Japan Relations Evolve Under Modi 3.0?

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How Will India-Japan Relations Evolve Under Modi 3.0?

Three interrelated pillars – personal diplomacy, shared values, and strategic convergence – are at the center of the deepening relationship.

How Will India-Japan Relations Evolve Under Modi 3.0?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio talk during a bilateral meeting in New Delhi, India, March 20, 2023.

Credit: Prime Minister’s Office of Japan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been re-elected to a third straight term in office, joining Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, as the only two Indian leaders to achieve that feat. During his third term, Modi wants to address China, build strategic alliances, address India’s long-standing quest for membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), restore relations with neighbors, and take center stage in global affairs.

Modest structural shifts in the international order have contributed significantly to India’s emergence as a major force in world affairs. The world’s attention has shifted to India, the huge economy with the fastest growth rate in the world, as a result of the shifting power dynamics and rising disenchantment with China in the West. India has made this moment its own thanks to favorable demographics, its allure as a China substitute, and its advantageous location in the Indo-Pacific.

Regarding India-Japan ties specifically, there have been numerous advancements during the Modi administration, which also marks a full decade in power this year. Bilateral relations have blossomed into a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership” under Modi. Three interrelated pillars – personal diplomacy, shared values, and strategic convergence – are at the center of this shift. These advancements in their bilateral relationship are likely to continue under Modi’s third term as India views Japan as a reliable and dispensable partner strategically and economically. 

Unprecedented collaboration in fields including investment, technology, infrastructure, and defense has strengthened bilateral ties and encouraged regional stability and economic expansion. India and Japan have exhibited a common strategic vision by pledging to maintain an open, free, and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. Maintaining openness, inclusion, and ASEAN’s significance in regional affairs while resisting revisionist unilateral acts requires bilateral alignment. 

The intimate personal bond between Modi and former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo served to further strengthen alignment on Indo-Pacific matters while both were in power (from 2014 to 2020). Under Japanese prime ministers Suga Yoshihide and Kishida Fumio, the two countries have maintained a solid bilateral relationship, which is evidence of their similar strategic view.

Bilateral relations between the two nations are continuously growing. Stronger defense connections have resulted from joint declarations and agreements on defense equipment; bilateral strategic depth has been boosted by the 2020 Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), and mutual logistics support has been improved by the 2+2 defense and foreign ministerial discussion. The Indo-Pacific region has witnessed the establishment of collaboration between the Indian Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) in a number of areas, such as maritime security and the advancement of global maritime domain welfare. India and Japan are able to increase marine security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region by enhancing their cooperation with third nations through the logistics support given by the ACSA.  

India and Japan have a shared vision for a “Free, Open, and Inclusive Indo-Pacific” (FOIIP). For the sake of preserving regional peace, prosperity, and stability, both Japan and India support the concepts of “liberal democracy,” “freedom of navigation,” and “rule of law.” Collaboration on vital issues including maritime security, counterterrorism, and regional stability resulted from this common vision. Together, the two armies have actively participated in combined naval drills, intelligence exchange, and the promotion of freedom of navigation throughout the area in order to protect maritime routes. The convergence of national interests reinforces their shared apprehensions about China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, leading to increased collaboration in vital domains including as maritime patrols, intelligence sharing, and defense.

Concerns regarding Beijing’s strong foreign policy, military build-up, and predatory economic tactics, which affect regional stability, are shared by Japan and India. As a result, effective bilateral and individual policy and action alignment is necessary for strategic coordination and balancing against Beijing, particularly in response to regional security dynamics and in line with national imperatives. India has thus been utilizing alternative institutions to their full potential, particularly “minilateral” ones, by concentrating on certain concerns with like-minded nations that share similar objectives and interests.

For example, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) was founded by Australia, Japan, India, and the United States, since they all have similar security concerns regarding China in the Indo-Pacific region. There are also several emerging trilaterals involving India and Japan with other like-minded countries to counter China’s expansionist behavior.

Even though there is currently a limited amount of commerce and investments flowing to and from India and Japan, the two countries’ economic cooperation has grown in recent years. Following a 3.5 trillion-yen investment announced under Abe in 2014, Kishida pledged a 5 trillion-yen ($42 billion) investment in India during his visit to New Delhi in 2023. Japan ranked as India’s eighth-largest foreign direct investor in 2020. 

There is a lot of space for expansion in bilateral trade as well. Despite India’s withdrawal from the 15-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations in 2019, Tokyo has persisted in urging India to reevaluate its entry into the free trade bloc, which went into effect in January 2022. With major Official Development Assistance (ODA) supporting important sectors including infrastructure, power, transportation, and the environment, Japan is India’s greatest bilateral donor. Japan has also contributed to the development of India’s infrastructure through initiatives like the metro rail projects in India and the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail.

The two nations have successfully reconciled accomplishing their own domestic objectives with realizing their common objective of augmenting regional and worldwide stability. For example, their disagreements over the Israel-Gaza and Russia-Ukraine crises have not affected their bilateral relationship or reduced the pace of their international exchanges. Japan and India are still important stabilizing powers in the Indo-Pacific region, with New Delhi playing a critical role as Tokyo expands its networked regional security outreach. 

Further solidifying their bilateral strategic alignment, the two have expanded their collaboration to include development initiatives in third countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. Countering China’s regional role and influence remains a common ground of cooperation for India and Japan and they will continue to make efforts through bilateral and minilateral arrangements to counter China’s behavior. 

Going forward, India would continue to base its foreign policy on its membership in the U.S.-led Quad while China is still an unabated foe. India’s multilateral engagement would continue to be guided by the Quad’s emphasis on a free and open Indo-Pacific. This year, when India is scheduled to host the Quad leaders’ summit, Modi 3.0 has a great opportunity to set the agenda for what a third-term Modi government wants to accomplish with the West and how it wishes to collaborate. 

Furthermore, cooperation in cutting-edge fields like robotics, renewable energy, autonomous cars, and artificial intelligence has enormous potential to boost both the Indian and Japanese economies through innovation and sustainable growth. Their collaboration will be essential to maintaining security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond as both countries negotiate the challenges of the 21st century.