The Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a bilateral visit to Japan from 2-3 September and then scheduled to visit Republic of Korea from 5-6 September. Both visits are hugely significant in view of the unfolding geostrategic churning in the Indo-Pacific region. The minister had meaningful dialogue and exchange of views with his counterparts on a host of bilateral and regional issues for securing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Mr. Singh co-chaired the Annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue with his counterpart Takeshi Iwaya. This dialogue aimed to further strengthen India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership. Both the leaders also had wide-ranging discussions to enhance the bilateral defence and security engagement between the two countries. Singh also called on the Prime Minister of Japan, Abe Shinzo. In reflection of their growing congruence in defence ties, both India and Japan have already decided to go for joint development of major military platforms. During Singh’s visit, specific proposals such as ventures were discussed.
A major highlight of Singh’s visit was the deliberation he had with his Japanese counterpart on the long-pending issue of supply of the US-2 amphibious aircraft by Japan to India. Indeed, the entire spectrum of bilateral defence cooperation was reviewed. The talks also covered deliberation on the overall situation in the Indo-Pacific region where China has been increasing its military presence. India, Japan and the US have been part of the annual Malabar maritime exercise which is aimed at achieving greater inter-operability among navies of the three countries. The trilateral maritime exercise “Malabar” will be held from late September to early October this year. The visit took place amid rising tension between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue and therefore Singh apprised the Japanese leaders about Islamabad’s “evil design” on Kashmir at a time when Pakistan has decided to internationalise the issue.
That the defence minister raised the issue with his Japanese counterpart of China rallying Pakistan on the central government’s decision to scrap the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was in congruence with India’s diplomatic outreach to explain its position on Kashmir to countries friendly to it. India continues to exert diplomatic pressure on China taking the case of navigational freedom in the Indo-Pacific zone.
The Indo-Japan statement comes days after New Delhi raised pitch against Beijing’s muscle-flexing in the disputed South China Sea to counter its campaign against the Article 370 decision taken by the Narendra Modi government. The joint statement issued after a bilateral meeting with Iwaya observed: “The ministers recognised that peace and stability of the Indian and Pacific Oceans are crucial for ensuring prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the entire world, and had a frank exchange of views on the current security situation in the Indo-Pacific including developments on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea”. The Indo-Japan statement came days after New Delhi raised pitch against Beijing’s muscle-flexing in the disputed South China Sea to counter its campaign against the Article 370 decision taken by the Modi government. In his meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Singh briefed him that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India and abrogation of Article 370 benefited the people of the northern state. Singh explained Abe that Pakistan has no locus standi in Jammu and Kashmir. This explanation was significant as Abe is expected to meet Modi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly later this month.
The joint statement also referred to the October 2018 Vision Statement of Modi and Abe in which the two Asian leaders reiterated their unwavering commitment to working together towards a free and open Indo-Pacific. India and Japan are set to have the first Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue (2+2) ahead of the Japan-India Annual Summit later this year for advancing cooperation towards peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. Both sides also expressed resolve to continue the Japan-India-US trilateral mine-countermeasures exercise (MINEX). The MINEX had taken place last July.
Script: Professor Rajaram Panda, Lok Sabha Research Fellow, Parliament of India