India-Japan Partnership In The Indo-Pacific Theater – OpEd
Amid the turmoil in world politics, the Indo-Pacific region has become a significant arena for new great power competition. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to New Delhi in March 2023 underscores India’s key role in Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy. During his recent visit to India, Prime Minister Kishida laid out “Japan’s Plan for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” in concrete terms while delivering his speech entitled “The Future of the Indo-Pacific-Japan’s New Plan for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific-Together with India, as an Indispensable Partner” at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA).
Before boarding to India, Kishida tweeted that he would announce a new plan for a free and open Indo-Pacific, stating, “At this historic turning point, I will offer concrete ideas for the future of FOIP. His visit strengthens bilateral ties in diverse areas such as defense, security, trade, investment, and high technology.
In recent years, almost all major powers have announced their strategies on the Indo-Pacific. The intense Japanese focus on the Indo-Pacific comes from China’s rising military assertiveness in the South China Sea and territorial claims in the region through artificial islands. During the unveiling of a new plan to promote an open and free Indo-Pacific, PM Kishida pledged $75 billion to the Indo-Pacific by 2030 through private investments and yen loans in support of economies across the region, from industry to disaster management. Kishida said there were four “pillars” to Japan’s new Indo-Pacific plan: maintaining peace, dealing with new global issues in cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries, achieving global connectivity through various platforms, and ensuring the safety of the open seas and skies. He stressed increasing connectivity and promoting freedom of navigation among like-minded nations to enhance maritime defense and security among like-minded nations. “We will conduct joint maritime exercises with India and the United States, as well as goodwill exercises with ASEAN and the Pacific islands.
Fumio Kishida explained that the concept of FOIP has become more important than ever to strengthen cooperation in the international community rather than creating divisions and conflicts. In his approach to FOIP, he emphasized “rulemaking through dialogue,” “equal partnership” between nations, and a focus on “people.” Kishida pledged Japan to contribute another $100 million to the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund. He further elucidated that Japan will work with India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal and northeastern India to promote the concept of industrial value chains and advertise growth across the region.
In 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed the Indo-Pacific Initiative in his historic 2007 “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech entails the longstanding cooperation and India’s prominence in the region.
Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) concept is akin to India’s Indo-Pacific Initiative (IPOI) concept, consisting of seven pillars: Maritime Safety; Marine Ecology; Maritime Resources; Capacity Building, and Resource Sharing. Disaster risk reduction and management, Science, technology, and academic cooperation; trade connectivity and maritime transport; The centrality of ASEAN is common to both strategies.
Japan remains one of India’s closest partners in Asia. India and Japan are two major democracies in Asia openly challenging China as they face the security threat at border lines and the Senkaku islands. Both prefer diplomacy over a brawl to resolve disputes. Japan and India share cultural ties and tactical partnerships and have comprehensive economic pacts, with bilateral trade worth US$20.57 billion in 2021-2022. India’s imports from Japan were US$ 14.39 billion, and exports stand at US$ 6.18 billion. India and Japan share a “special strategic and global partnership.” The relationship between the two countries was upgraded to a ‘Global Partnership’ in 2000, a ‘Strategic and Global Partnership’ in 2006, and a ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ in 2014.
New Delhi and Tokyo are also part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), along with Australia and the United States, that seeks to counter China’s growing influence in the region. QUAD is a multilateral group of four democratic nations working with regional allies to support a free and open Indo-Pacific. The two countries conduct bilateral and multilateral exercises such as ‘Dharma Guardian’ and ‘JIMEX,’ and both participate in the ‘Malabar’ exercise with the United States to prepare for future Indo-Pacific region crises, particularly from China’s expansionist campaigns. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening security ties across the Indo-Pacific region.
India’s early Indo-Pacific Initiative focused on infrastructure cooperation with Japan. In 2015, Japan launched the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure to promote sustainable, high-quality, and financially responsible infrastructure as opposed to “cheap and tinsel” methods.
New Delhi and Tokyo have emerged as key partners in each other’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Their partnership focuses on working together to maintain maritime security through closer cooperation based on shared values of peace, democracy, prosperity, and a rules-based international order.
New Delhi and Tokyo share common concerns as China becomes a major competitor in infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region. The two nations, Prime Minister Modi and Abe’s governments have sought to offer coastal states in the region an alternative to the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. In 2016, New Delhi and Tokyo recognized the potential and necessity of connecting Asia and Africa via the Indian Ocean region. This idea later culminated in the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, an initiative widely seen as a direct counterpart to China’s Maritime Silk Road. The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor aims at Japan-India cooperation to develop quality infrastructure in Africa, complemented by digital connectivity that enables the realization of the idea of creating a free and open Indo-Pacific region. India’s decision to cooperate with Japan in the Indo-Pacific underscores New Delhi and Tokyo’s political and strategic trust.
As Japan and India assume the presidency of the G7 and G20, respectively, this year, Prime Minister Kishida extends his support for India’s G20 presidentship and speaks about tackling regional and international security challenges, food security, climate, and energy.
Indo-Japanese relations became a curious case study in international politics. Both have their style of dealing with global issues. Despite having contrasting stands on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the two nations maintain their relations intact. The geopolitical positions of the two countries put India and Japan in closer proximity and strategic advantage. Apart from trade, investment, and military ties, the fundamental link between Japan and India is their democratic, peace-minded, and popular stance in domestic and foreign policies.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Kishida said, “India is an indispensable partner” for achieving the FOIP goals. The statement demonstrates the trust and growing robust relations between the two countries. A strategic partnership between India and Japan is a deterrent against China in the Indo-Pacific region. Suppose India and Japan, along with their ties, can demonstrate to the world that pragmatic solutions can be achieved through peaceful means. In that case, their ties will serve as a model for the rest of the global community to build such vigor alliances. India is vehemently engaging and strengthening its strategic partnerships with Southeast Asian partners to safeguard its interests in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Gajjela Shiva Kumar is pursuing M.A. in Politics and International Studies at Pondicherry University, India. Currently, his research focuses on India’s foreign policy and the emerging geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific Region.