Script: Dr. Titli Basu, Strategic Analyst on East & South-East Asia
The first Quad leaders’ virtual summit is scheduled for March 12. In the run-up to the summit, India and Japan stepped up strategic coordination through a telephone talk between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday. The primary objective of the India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership is to steer practical cooperation towards upholding a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. The key themes that dominated the Modi-Suga conversation included the mutuality of strategic interests and regional security challenges.
Discussing the regional security situation, Japanese Prime Minister Suga “expressed serious concerns” with regard to unilateral attempts to alter the status quo in the East and South China Seas. Chinese marine patrol ships reportedly entered Japanese waters 14 times in February 2021, representing more than twice the number compared to January. Japan is apprehensive with regard to the new Chinese Coast Guard law that permits to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea”.
Both the Prime Ministers reiterated the value of Quad consultations in shaping the post-Covid order. At the upcoming Quad leaders’ summit, the focus of Prime Minister Modi’s discussion along with American President Joseph Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Japanese Prime Minister Suga will be on issues of mutual interest such as resilient supply chains, emerging and critical technologies, maritime security, and climate change. Earlier, last month, the third India-Australia-Japan-US Quad foreign ministerial meeting was held. The discussion underscored the need to uphold a rules-based international order, reinforced by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, rule of law, freedom of navigation, and peaceful resolution of disputes. The developing situation in Myanmar also featured in the discussions. India has maintained that the rule of law and democratic process be upheld peacefully.
2022 will mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of India-Japan diplomatic relations. Japan has emerged as an important partner in India’s ‘Act East Policy’. It is an indispensable player in India’s modernization, with cumulative FDI inflows of around US$ 33.5 billion from 2000-2020, representing over 7 percent of total FDI inflows during the period. It is also a leading source of development assistance. Meanwhile, India is perceived as a strategic anchor in Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision. As maritime democracies, both have cooperated bilaterally and at a regional level for safeguarding global commons and supporting a rules-based Indo-Pacific order.
Revamping infrastructure both within India and beyond has gained primacy in India-Japan relations. Japan’s role in India’s mega-infrastructure projects including the flagship Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail (HSR) showcases the depth of the bilateral partnership. Mega-industrial corridors such as the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, and the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor has been pursued with Japanese development assistance. Additionally, Japan is playing a constructive role in developing infrastructure in strategic peripheries like the Northeast and Andaman, and the Nicobar Islands.
Advancing economic engagement is a priority. With complementarities in their demographic profile and Japan’s hardware and India’s software, it is important to seize the opportunities for strengthening economic cooperation. A Memorandum of Cooperation on “Specified Skilled Worker” was signed in January. The goal is to establish a framework to ease mobility of skilled professionals in 14 sectors encompassing nursing care, material processing industry, industrial machinery manufacturing industry, electric and electronic information related industry, construction, shipbuilding, and ship-related industry, automobile maintenance, aviation, lodging, building cleaning, agriculture, fisheries, food, and beverages manufacturing industry and foodservice industry.
Prime Minister Modi has unveiled high-powered diplomacy and stressed that “a strong India and a strong Japan will not only enrich our two nations. It will also be a stabilizing factor in Asia and the world.” As the Indo-Pacific assumes greater strategic salience, both India and Japan have invested in forward-thinking to achieve the full potential of this “action-oriented partnership”.