India and Japan established diplomatic relations on April 28, 1952. Over the years, the ties between the two countries have deepened in every sphere, be it strategic, economic, or people-to-people contracts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet on the 70th anniversary of the occasion sums up the present level of bilateral relations. “The recent visit to India by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for the annual summit laid out a roadmap for deepening the Special Strategic and Global Partnership.
I look forward to continuing working with Kishida to realize that objective.” Japan holds India in high regard, as iron ore from India contributed to Japan’s post-war recovery, and after then-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi visited India in the 1950s and Japan provided loans to India, constituting its first official development assistance (ODA) package.
More recently, Japan has been a strong partner for India in the East and a close multilateral partner in the Quad. Within the Quad, the India-Japan bilateral relationship is ostensibly the strongest, with no long-standing disputes or policy disagreements.
India and Japan are among the largest donors in the broader Indo-Pacific, and both have strategic interests in a free and open region as well as a vested interest in containing Chinese hegemony.
The India-Japan summit last month took place in the backdrop of a slight gap between the foreign policy choices of the two countries following the Ukraine crisis. However, despite their differences, both Modi and Kishida called for an immediate end to the violence raging in Ukraine and underlined a greater need for the two democracies to “cooperate” more so that the impact of the conflict in East Europe does not spill over to Indian Ocean region.
As such, the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister may have served its larger purpose – to prioritise geopolitical interests in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen regional resolve. It also presented an opportunity to the two countries to impart continuity to the Quad’s resolve of not letting a Ukraine-like crisis hit the Indo-Pacific and build The dominant aspect of an evolving India-Japan friendship so far has been the security-strategic dimensions, with economics only playing a distant second. The recent summit signified a subtle shift from geopolitics to economics.
Wary of the closed nature of the Indian business environment and of the Governmental policies between 1960 and the 1990s, Japanese business houses stayed away and only returning in a slow but steady fashion in the last decade or so.
Trade from India to Japan in 2020 crossed over $3 billion, while trade in the opposite direction was close to $8 billion. At the March summit, Japan unveiled plans to boost investment in India’s infrastructure, with more than $40 billion set to enter the country over the next five years, from investments in water supply and agriculture.
The areas of investment included health care, energy, and cybersecurity. Tokyo has in the past supported infrastructure projects in India, from urban development to bullet train technologies.
India needs these projects to stay competitive with China. For example, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (HSR) Corridor, being built with the help of Japan, will connect Mumbai, the second most populous metropolitan area in India with Ahmedabad. The 500-kilometer line will take no longer than two hours between the two cities.
Bolstering a stronger economic arc in the Indo-Pacific between India and Japan has been an important purpose of the two countries’ economic cooperation. India and Japan have already accomplished the 2014 Investment Promotion Partnership target of 3.5 trillion Japanese yen (JPY).
During the recent summit, Japan committed an additional investment of 5 trillion JPY. It is a common realization that a more immediate focus on the economics of the Indo-Pacific is going to benefit both countries much more.
Economics cannot be separated from geopolitics. Both India and Japan are heavily dependent on the Indo Pacific Sea lanes for trade and energy supplies. As India and Japan look at 70 years of diplomatic relations and the future in store, they would have to address not only the weak links in bilateral relations but also place the Quad in a realistic perspective of the deliverables in the Indo-Pacific.
INDIA, JAPAN AND THE DRAGON FIRE
Since the 2000s, the security situation around Japan and India has changed due to escalation of Chinese activities in the entire Indo-Pacific area. In 2011, the number of Chinese vessels identified within the contiguous zone in the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands in Japan was only 12. By 2019, the number had reached 1,097.
Similarly, on India China borders, In 2011, India recorded 213 incursions in the Indo-China border area. By 2019, the number had crossed 700 and in the following years, the numbers went on increasing leading to the fatal clash in Galvan Valley. This had prompted Japan to pioneer the concept of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in the Indo-Pacific when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe floated the idea of the “Confluence of Two Seas” in his address to the Indian Parliament in 2007.
Quad has now become an important feature of the strategic policy of both India and Japan to contain China’s expansionist designs. Japan and India are experiencing the same problem: Based on the number of Chinese incursions in the Indo-China border area and Chinese activities in the sea around the Senkaku Islands, it becomes apparent that China has increased its assertiveness in both regions. China’s territorial expansion has three features. The first feature is China’s total disregard for current international law when laying claim to new territory.
In the East China Sea, China did not claim the Senkaku Islands before 1971, but its attitude has since changed. The Senkaku Islands are in a strategic location to pressure Taiwan and have potential oil reserves. In the case of the Indo-China border, the Tibetan exile government has stated that these areas belong to India..
The second feature of China’s territorial expansion is timing. Beijing has exploited the situation whenever it finds a power vacuum. The US preoccupation with Ukraine could come in handy to it.
The third feature of China’s territorial expansion is non-military control. China has used foreign infrastructure projects to expand its sphere of influence by luring developing countries into a debt trap. The Sri Lanka crisis is a case in point.
An effective policy to counter the Chinese game-plan, therefore, requires a combination of geopolitics and economics.