Narendra Modi’s Japan visit: Will Shinzo Abe take the next step for bilateral ties?

During the visit of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to India in December 2015, a joint statement titled 'India and Japan Vision 2025: Special Strategic and Global Partnership Working Together for Peace and Prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region and the World' was issued. This vision encompassed a deep, broad-based and action-oriented partnership, acknowledging congruence of political, economic and strategic interests and capability of responding to global and regional challenges.

Among the takeaways was the signing of an MoU for Japan’s High Speed Railways (HSR) technologies (the Shinkansen system) for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route. Trilateral dialogues between Japan, India and the US have been ongoing and the inaugural Japan-India-Australia trialogue has also taken place. These mechanisms could contribute to regional efforts to evolve an open, inclusive, stable and transparent economic, political and security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region.

Narendra Modi’s Japan visit: Will Shinzo Abe take the next step for bilateral ties?

File image of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe. Reuters

Japanese defence minister Gen Nakatani visited India in July 2016 after the Malabar 2016 exercise held in the Western Pacific in which Indian, Japanese and American navies participated. A major preceding occurrence was ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the Philippines versus China case; ruling in favour of Manila, negating Beijing’s so-called historical claims in the South China Sea (SCS) and censuring China for her illegal activities in the SCS. Both Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Nakatani urged all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, reaffirming the importance of respecting international law — as reflected notably in the UNCLOS, the need for peaceful settlement of all disputes without any threat or use of force, and of ensuring freedom and safety of navigation and over-flight as well as unimpeded lawful commerce in international waters.

India and Japan have been holding exchanges and talks at military-to-military level and information exchanges on maritime data with both countries being prominent maritime states in the Indo-Pacific. There has been agreement on technology transfer and protection of military information, a framework for collaboration in field of defence in high-tech areas is being looked at. India identifies Japan as privileged partner in the ‘Make in India’ program and an important strategic partner in its ‘Act East Policy’. The India-Japan Civilian Nuclear Deal is one of the crucial elements of cooperation in the Indo-Japanese relationship. An MoU exists between Indian Coast Guard and Japan Coast Guard for Establishment of a Collaborative Relationship to Combat Crimes at Sea and Develop Regional Cooperation.

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan on 11 and 12 November, the Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson has been saying that Tokyo is encouraging India to speak up more on South China Sea disputes. There is no doubt that China's growing assertiveness in East China Sea (ECS), particularly China’s use of civilian boat militias to challenge Japan's sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands has created added tension in the region.

Interestingly, when a Chinese panelist at a recent international seminar at New Delhi was questioned about China using civilian boat-militia storming Senkaku Islands, he denied government involvement, adding, “maybe Chinese fishermen want more fish”. But as far as the Japanese foreign Ministry encouraging India more to speak up more on SCS disputes, our MEA spokesman has already clearly and categorically stated that India respects the UNCLOS judgment and calls for greater openness of the international seas and trading routes and no single nation can hold hegemony over it. This not only includes South China Sea but entire Indo-Pacific region.

One major issue during Modi’s third summit with Abe will be the India-Japan Civilian Nuclear Deal, under discussion since 2008. Alhough Japanese media indicates the agreement could be signed during the forthcoming summit, Japanese officials have been non-committal about it beyond saying that the agreement is being looked at from the legal angle. Whether this will be concluded before the end of Modi’s visit is not confirmed. However, during the visit ofAbe to India in December 2015, the initial agreement had noted the need to complete “necessary internal procedures”. The implication of this is that even after India and Japan sign the civil-nuclear agreement, for it to come into effect it must be approved by the Japanese Parliament (Diet). Japan’s Diet has always been sensitive to anything connected with nuclear, understandably being the only country having been subjected to nuclear attack, that too twice — at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Interestingly in 1994, then Japanese prime minister Tsutomu Hata had stated in the Diet that Japan has the knowhow to make the nuclear bomb. His government fell after one week.

Another major takeaway from Modi’s visit is likely to be the deal worth some Rs 10,000 crores for Japan to supply India with 12 x US-2i amphibious aircraft. This is featuring both in Indian and Japanese media. India plans to equip the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard with six each of these aircraft. Japan has reportedly agreed to reduce the price, earlier pegged at $1.6 billion (Rs 10,720 crore) for the 12 aircraft, to clinch the deal and expand its strategic partnership with India. The four turbo-prop US-2i is capable of short take-offs from land or water. Meant for search and rescue, it can also transport 30 combat troops. Interestingly, Japan had proposed in mid-1990s positioning 2 x US-2i amphibious aircraft in Andaman and Nicobar for search-and-rescue at sea.

File image of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Narendra Modi. Reuters

File image of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Narendra Modi. Reuters

The Japanese proposal was free of cost with both the amphibious aircraft to under joint control of India and Japan, and to be operated jointly by both countries. Ironically, India did not respond and two decades later, we are buying the same aircraft.

Maritime security too would be an obvious focus area during the upcoming summit, considering the growing assertiveness of China and her clear denouncement of global norms and laws. Peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific is vital to both India and Japan. But while Japan seeks more focus on maritime security cooperation in its bilateral and multilateral engagements including with India, at the same time it must also push the India-Japan Civil Nuclear Deal past the Diet and bring it to early implementation. There is also plenty scope and mutual gain for both countries to bond in areas like nuclear engineering, cyberspace, space, power generation, 3D printing with robotics and other technological collaboration for coping with emerging threats.

The author is a veteran Lieutenant-General of the Indian Army

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Updated Date: Nov 10, 2016 10:25:47 IST

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