PM Kishida’s visit further reiterated his stance to promote Japan’s vision of FIOP, as Tokyo looks to expand support for emerging economies in line with an approach focused on bolstering a rules-based international order.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was in New Delhi last week. It was his second visit since March last year that has given a new impetus to the burgeoning India-Japan relations. He invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the G7 summit hosted by Japan later in May. The relations have been historically warm but for decades were largely limited to investment and grants by Japanese companies and institutions in India. Under late Japanese PM Shinzo Abe the relationship got a further boost when he coined the term “Indo-Pacific” for the first time while addressing Indian Parliament in 2007. In 2014, PM Modi and PM Abe announced the elevation of India-Japan relationship to a “Special Strategic Global Partnership”. The timing of the visit is important within the context of the upcoming G7 and G20 summits along with PM Modi’s visit to the United States in the coming months and President Joe Biden’s visit to New Delhi during the G20 leaders’ summit. This will further forge greater cooperation between the Quad nations.
Kishida’s visit further reiterated his stance to promote Japan’s vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FIOP) as Tokyo looks to expand support for emerging economies in line with an approach focused on bolstering a rules-based international order. For Japan, India plays a central role in their FIOP architecture. Takashi Suzuki, Chief Director General ofJapan External Trade Organization (JETRO), New Delhi while speaking to us commented, “I welcome our Prime Minister’s remarks on FOIP, especially which has more diverse focuses on the growth of the region as a whole including the industrial capabilities of the Bay of Bengal and North-Eastern India, and its focus on ‘People’. As South Asia is the source of the growth for the world’s future with its huge population and dynamic economy. India and Japan can together lead this initiative.”
While India and Japan seek various areas of convergence in their visions to further deepen the strategic partnership, both countries recognise the rise of China as a strategic threat to their security. Japan recently declared China as an “unprecedented and greatest strategic challenge” to Japan and the global rules-based order, in its national security strategy paper. The feeling in India is no less critical. PM Kishida’s visit comes at a time when there is heightened tensions across Taiwan Strait, South China Sea and at the LAC with India. Both countries signed a Defence Equipment and Technology Transfer deal in 2015, and the agreement went into effect the following year. There is an increase in security and defence exchanges since the second Japan-India Foreign Ministers’ and Defence Ministers’ Meeting (2+2) held in September 2022, including the first ever Japan-India joint fighter exercise in January this year. The relationship is seeing multiple areas of collaboration, with Japan and India also part of the Quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad) along with Australia and the US. The cooperation also extends in the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative(SCRI)—a trilateral agreement that was launched between trade ministers of India, Japan and Australia in 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic to address vulnerabilities in the global supply chains by reducing dependency on China.Notwithstanding these areas of convergences, there is also divergence of opinion regarding the Ukraine conflict, with Japan outrightly condemning Russia, while India took a more muted response owing to its relationship with Moscow.
Japan is the largest cooperative partner to support infrastructure projects in India through its Official Development Assistance (ODA). Currently, there are 70 ODA loans projects, including Dedicated Freight Corridor, the flagship project of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Initiative, Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed railway project using Japan’s Shinkansen system, funding for Delhi Metro, national highway network project in the underdeveloped North-Eastern region among others.India has received a mammoth Rs 2.16 trillion as ODA loans from Japan, according to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Japan has target of around Rs 3.2 trillion of public and private investment and financing for India in the next five years.
The multi-layered bilateral relationship could expand into other areas of collaboration such as 5G, critical technologies, cybersecurity, semiconductors, clean energy, smart city projects, intelligence sharing, maritime security to name a few. Japan is also assisting in development of the north-eastern region of India by increasing its connectivity through the Japan-India Act East Forum. India provides opportunities for Japanese companies to further invest in the country from automotive, electronics to e-commerce, healthcare, agro-tech, retail etc.India is therefore well positioned to tap this opportunity with its large pool of skilled labour and improving factors of production and infrastructure.
Another area of cooperation could be the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), an economic cooperation agreement between the governments of India, Japan and multiple African countries. AAGC is a collaborative vision shared by India and Japan to create a growth corridor and industrial network connecting Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa across the Indo-Pacific region. It aims for Indo-Japanese collaboration to develop quality infrastructure in Africa, complemented by digital connectivity, which would undertake the realisation of the idea of creating free and open Indo-Pacific region.
People to people connect between Japan and India has an immense potential. There can be a surge in tourism (year 2023 is designated as the “Japan-India tourism exchange year”), cultural exchanges, as well as deeper academic collaborations between educational institutions. India’s talent pool and young demographics could also help Japan fill in the void of labour shortage due to its ageing population. Particularly there are opportunities of IT-related Indian talents to work at Japanese companies.
As thelate Shinzo Abe mentioned in 2007, India-Japan ties were blessed with “the largest potential for development of bilateral relationship anywhere in the world”. And that both these countries shared not just “fundamental values” such as freedom, democracy and respect for human rights but also strategic interests. Building on this relationship and a strong level of confidence and trust between the two, PM Modi and PM Kishida have an opportunity to explore these strategic interests further and deeper. The leaders will meet at least twicethis year during the G7and G20 summits that Japan and India are set to host respectively. The relationship between the two Asian superpowers will only see an upward trajectory.
Dr Mohit Anand is Professor of International Business and Strategy at EMLYON Business School, France. Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant and columnist working on market entry, innovation and public policy