The Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida dashed to Delhi for two days, last Monday and Tuesday, precisely for 27 hours. Media is abuzz with interpretations of his sudden and short visit; it is quite apparent that he was here to unveil his project on Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) which he had announced to do in the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last June. His visit coincided with that of Xi Jinping to Moscow to show solidarity with Putin at war with Ukraine.
Note that Kishida flew from here to Kiev to express his support for Zelenskyy. So the predominant purpose of his visit to Delhi was obviously to discuss the war with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he (Kishida) holds the G-7 Summit in Hiroshima in May, and he would like to mobilise support from major countries, including India against ‘Russian aggression’ in Ukraine.
Tokyo and New Delhi have divergent responses to the Ukrainian war. Japan has joined the US-led allies on the war in imposing sanctions against Russia and selling arms to Ukraine. Japan views the Russian military action in Ukraine as the clear violation of international norms and causes disruption in food and fertilizers security in addition to tragic human and material losses. India’s reaction is muted; New Delhi has not called out Russia as an aggressor, not joined the sanction regime, and in fact has bought oil from Russia to the chagrin of western countries.
While India and Japan’s relations are quite close, it is anyone’s guess if New Delhi will shift its position for G-7 Summit or G-20 in September, which India is presiding. Interestingly, while Xi Jinping is perhaps nudging Putin to go for solution to the conflict, Kishida is persuading India to take position against both China and Russia.
In fact, containing China for the stability and security in India-Pacific region is another main purpose, equally important for Japan, for Kishida’s visit. In concrete terms, Tokyo has formulated the strategy called Free and Open India-Pacific (FOIP) which dovetails with Japan’s National Security Strategy adopted last December. Among other things, the strategy suggests deployment of cruise missiles to strengthen their strike-back capability as Japan faces continual missile threats from North Korea, an ally of China. It also advocates using development aid more strategically in support of like-minded countries. The FOIP flows from this strategy.
Kishida announced and outlined the FOIPin the Sapru House lecture delivered in Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA). It is estimated that FOIP is a whopping 75 billion USD project to check China’s growing influence and assertiveness across the region. It consists of providing patrol vessels, enhancing maritime law enforcement and capabilities, maintaining cyber security, digital and green initiatives and economic security. In order to do so, FOIP suggests enhancement of human resource for maritime security, rule of law and governance in at least 20 countries by training 2300 personnel.
Furthermore, Japan is seeking to extend assistance to emerging economies around India-Pacific region in terms of equipments like patrol boats, provisions for coastguards and other infrastructure support. In particular, Japan has committed in FOIP two-billion USD for maritime security equipment, enhancement of transport infrastructure needed for freedom of navigation and rule-based order in the region. Tokyo maintains that India is an indispensable partner and should play a big role in this project because of its geo-political location and New Delhi’s risks with Beijing.
Japan and India’s security interests converge as Beijing has been nibbling away India’s territories by making incredible and illegitimate claims on Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Since 2020, India has been in intermittent conflicts with China as 20 Indian soldiers and unaccounted Chinese soldiers died in unprovoked clashes. Likewise, Japan is deeply concerned as Beijing claims territories in East China Sea including Senkaku Islands belonging to Japan and entire South China Sea. Such claims have rattled Beijing’s smaller neighbours including Japan. FOIP, therefore, is clearly aimed at countering China’s egregious expansionism.
Note that 15 years ago Shinzo Abe spoke about India-Pacific cooperation during his visit to Delhi. Quad consisting of USA, Australia, Japan and India was created out of this initiative by Japan. Quad does not have anovert security agenda although Quad members are engaged in ‘Malabar Naval Exercise’. The next Quad summit and Malabar Exercise will be hosted by Australia later this year. It is not difficult to discern that FOIP will provide the security arm to Quad.
Another purpose of Kishida’s visit was to somewhat align the G-20 agenda with that of G-7. G-20 has industrial and emerging market countries, which is referred to as Global South. India is seemed to be representing the voice of Global South in current global politics which reflects the ‘active non-alignment’, a strategy initiated by Latin America. I discussed this strategy in a column in January titled ‘Voicing Global South; Resetting Foreign Policy.’ This strategy is at variance with the western approach to defending democracy and rule-based order in the world.
India-Japan ties are the key to the stability in the region as both countries risk territorial belligerence from Beijing. In recent periods they have developed strong bilateralism. They share special partnership.Initially, India-Japan relations were elevated to ‘Global Partnership’ in 2000, which graduated to ‘Strategic and Global Partnership’ in 2006, and then to ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ in 2014. The structure of this partnership consists of annual summits which began in 2006; the last summit was held in March 2022 in New Delhi;and also has 2- and-2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting around the annual summit.
India and Japan share strong economic ties. Trade between the two was worth USD 20.55 billion in fiscal year 2021-2022. The Japanese investments in India touched USD 32 billion between 2000 and 2019. India’s import from Japan was 14 billion USD during the same period. Japan has been supporting infrastructure development in India, including a high-speed rail project. In fact, India-Japan partnership covers various sectors – security, defence, trade and investment, science and technology, education and health care, critical and emerging technologies. Discussions are on to conduct joint projects in third countries in the region. FOIP may provide that opportunity.
There is a good deal of warmth between Indian Prime Minister and his Japanese counterpart. Shinzo Abe, the former Prime Minister of long-standing, was considered a ‘friend of India’. The current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met Modi three times in 2022 and will meet three more times this year. They will meet at G-7 Summit in May, G-20 in September and Quad Summit in Sydney later this year. The bonhomie between top leadership has been conducive to building seamlessly the bilateral partnership.
Kishida’s visit should have, as usual, contributed to strengthening the special partnership between two countries. However, the moot point ishow the two friendly countries converge their responses to the war in Ukraine and consolidate their alliance vis-à-vis China. —INFA