- Japanese PM Fumio Kishida is on a visit to India. The bilateral summit was held amidst rising tensions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- Japan and India are expected to enhance economic cooperation and share assessments on the crisis in Ukraine and Indo-Pacific as well.
When we think about Japan-India military relations as they stand today, we cannot forget one fact Japan is located far away from India.
In this article, we will discuss and analyze various aspects of this bilateral relationship and key focus areas of the visit.
India-Japan Relations: A backgrounder
 Ancient times
- The friendship between India and Japan has a long history rooted in spiritual affinity and strong cultural and civilization ties dating back to the visit of Indian monk Bodhisena in 752 AD.
- The people of India and Japan have engaged in cultural exchanges, primarily as a result of Buddhism, which spread indirectly from India to Japan, via China and Korea.
 India’s freedom movement
- Independence movement: The leader of the Indian Independence Movement, Rash Behari Bose was instrumental in forging India–Japan relations during India’s independence movement.
- During World War II, The British occupiers of India and Japan were enemies during World War II. Subhas Chandra Bose used Japanese sponsorship to form the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA).
 Post-Cold War period
- The end of cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the inauguration of economic reforms in India seemed to mark the beginning of a new era in Indo-Japanese relationship.
- India’s “Look East Policy” posited Japan as a key partner.
- Japan being the only victim of nuclear holocaust, Pokhran –II tests of India in May 1998 brought bitterness in the bilateral relations where Japan asked India to sign NNPT.
Major developments in India-Japan Relationship
(1) India-Italy-Japan trilateral partnership
- Recently, Italy has also begun to signal its intention to enter the Indo-Pacific geography.
- It has done so by seeking to join India and Japan in a trilateral partnership.
- Italy has become more vocal on the risks emanating from China’s strategic competitive initiatives.
- On the Indian side, there is great interest in forging new partnerships with like-minded countries interested in preserving peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
(2) 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue
- The 2+2 ministerial dialogue is seen as an upgrade of the meeting between foreign and defense secretaries of the two countries, the first round of which took place in 2010.
- The ministerial level meeting was held after a decision to institute a Foreign and Defense Ministerial Dialogue was taken during the 13th India-Japan Annual Summit held in Japan in 2018.
- 2+2 meeting aimed to give further momentum to their special strategic partnership, particularly in the maritime domain.
(3) Supply Chain Resilience Initiative
- Recently India, Australia and Japan formally launched the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative. The initiative was launched to counter the dominance of China in the Global Supply Chain.
- It aims to prevent disruptions in the supply chain as seen during COVID-19 pandemic.
- The initiative will mainly focus on diversification of investment and digital technology adoption.
(4) Other MEA led-bilateral dialogues
- The Act East Forum, established in 2017, aims to provide a platform for India-Japan collaboration under the rubric of India’s “Act East Policy” and Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision”.
- At the Second meeting of the Act East forum, both sides agreed to focus on expanding of Japanese language in North East, training of caregivers under Technical Intern Training Program (TITP), capacity building in area of bamboo value chain development and Disaster Management.
- The inaugural India-Japan Space Dialogue was held in Delhi for enhancing bilateral cooperation in outer space and information exchange on the respective space policies.
(5) Quadrilateral Security Dialogue
- The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, colloquially the Quad or QUAD, is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and United States that is maintained by talks between member countries.
- The dialogue was initiated in 2007 by Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, with the support of Australian PM John Howard, Indian PM Manmohan Singh, and US Vice President Dick Cheney.
- The dialogue was paralleled by joint military exercises of an unprecedented scale, titled Exercise Malabar.
Areas of cooperation
(1) Economic and Commercial relations
- India’s bilateral trade with Japan stood at US$ 16.95 billion in FY 2019-20. India’s imports during this period were US$ 12.43 billion and exports were US$ 4.52 billion.
- India’s primary exports to Japan are petroleum products, chemicals, elements, compounds, non-metallic mineral ware, fish & fish preparations, metalliferous ores & scrap, clothing & accessories, iron & steel products, textile yarn, fabrics and machinery etc.
- India’s primary imports from Japan are machinery, electrical machinery, iron and steel products, plastic materials, non-ferrous metals, parts of motor vehicles, organic chemicals, etc.
(2) Investment and Official Development Assistance (ODA)
- From 2000 until September 2020, the Japanese investments in India cumulatively stands at around US$ 34.152 billion (Japan ranks fifth among the largest source of investment).
- Japanese FDI during FY 2019-2020 increased to US$ 3.226 billion compared to US$ 2.96 billion in FY 2018-19.
- The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail, Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) with twelve industrial townships, Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC) are some mega project with Japanese cooperation on the anvil.
(3) Security and Defence
- India-Japan Defence and Security partnership has evolved over the years and today forms an integral pillar of bilateral ties.
- The QUAD is the most landmark development.
- The Quad is paralleled by joint military exercises of an unprecedented scale, titled Exercise Malabar.
- In spite of the pandemic, complex exercises in all domains were conducted including MALABAR 2020, Japan India maritime exercise (JIMEX 2020) and PASSEX, showcasing the trust and interoperability between the navies.
(4) India-Japan Digital Partnership (IJDP) and Start-up Hub
- The MOC on Digital Partnership envisaged cooperation in five sub-areas:
- Start-up Initiative
- Corporate Partnership
- ESDM promotion
- Digital talent exchange
- R&D Cooperation
- Security related strategic collaboration
(5) Disaster Risk Reduction
- An Agreement on joint research in the field of Earthquake Disaster Prevention was signed between Fujita Corporation and Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee (IIT-R).
(6) Skill Development
- India-Japan MoC signed in 2016 to train 30,000 shop floor leaders over 10 years thereby also contributing to India’s flagship initiatives such as “Skill India” and “Make in India”.
- Japanese companies have established 13 Japan-India Institute of Manufacturing (JIM) in India and 5 Japanese Endowed Courses (JEC) in Indian Engineering Colleges.
- In view of the similarities and synergies between the goals and objectives of India’s AYUSHMAN Bharat Programme and Japan’s AHWIN, both sides consulted with each other to identify projects to build the narrative of AHWIN for AYUSHMAN Bharat.
- Japan supported India to contain COVID-19 and mitigate its adverse socioeconomic impacts by extending budgetary support.
(8) HRD Cooperation
- As on December 2020, there were over 300 academic and research partnerships (including student exchanges) between more than 70 universities/institutes of Japan and around 105 universities/institutes of India.
- These partnerships range from liberal arts to management & business studies, legal studies, international studies, linguistics, Ayurveda, STEM including fast emerging frontier technologies.
- The students & teacher exchange and scholarship programmes, especially short-term, are enabling a large number of Indian students and teachers to visit and experience Japan and vice versa.
(9) S&T Cooperation
- Bilateral S&T cooperation was formalized through an Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in 1985.
- Recent initiatives – three India-Japan Joint Laboratories in the area of ICT (AI, IoT and Big Data) and initiation of Dept. of Science and Tech (DST)-Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellowship Programme for the young researchers.
- The two sides have launched an Energy Dialogue to promote cooperation in the energy sector in a comprehensive manner.
- In 2015, India and Japan reached on substantive Agreement on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. India becomes the first non NPT signed country to do so.
Significance of Japan for India
- Excellence in all walks: Japan is the most mature economy in this region. In terms of maturity, sophistication, and experience in international economic engagements, Japan excels every other country of the Indo-Pacific region, excluding the US.
- Technological advancements: Its technological marvels, business strategies, and management skills are second to none.
- Big stature in international community: Japan rarely hits the international headlines and it is actually Japan’s feebleness in the world of political advertisements.
- Indo-Pacific: Japan sooner than later will be a leading player in the political economy as well as security fields of the Indo-Pacific region.
- Indian diaspora: Its aging population is a major concern and Japan very well acknowledges this fact. While increasing the domestic birth rate will always be important, it is a position to devise a new immigration policy that would largely benefit Indians.
- Infrastructure boost: Japan has the distinction of being the only foreign power that has been allowed to undertake infrastructure and other projects in India’s sensitive northeast.
- Natural ally with no vested interest: Finally, Japan has never been an adversary of India and the current global as well as regional distribution of power and strategic scenario necessitate a deeper and expansive strategic teamwork.
- China factor: The rise of China as a superpower in the region challenges and poses a significant risk to the shared interest of India and Japan in the region and hence it has become inevitable for both countries to have stronger and deeper strategic and defence ties.
Why Japan needs India?
- A distant friend and economic partner: Geographical distance between Japan and India has been the primary reason for relations between the two countries historically.
- Maintain neutrality: Japan has not entered into any such deep security relationship like India with other countries except the US and Australia.
- Continuance of cold-war doctrine: US needs an “ally” to maintain military balance in Asia. After the Cold War, US and Japan lost the reason to maintain large number of warships in their navy.
- Balancing China: China’s political economy has expanded manifold in last few decades. This has raised its assertiveness in making territorial claims in almost every part of the world.
- Strategically important location: South Asia and Indo-Pacific is a strategically important place, is sitting on key Sea Lines of Communication between the Middle East and East Asia.
- Geographical Potential as a Security Provider: India possesses enough naval capability to be projected as a strong naval power in the future.
- Perception of trustworthiness: India is perceived as a trustworthy partner by most countries because of its politically neutral and independent foreign policy.
- Taking advantage of its considerable assets — the world’s third-largest economy, substantial high-tech skills, and a military freed of some legal and constitutional constraints — Japan is largely perceived as a natural ally to India.
- At a time of global geopolitical flux, the two are among the important countries that have taken up the baton to champion freedom, international norms and rules, inclusivity, and free and fair trade.
- If Japan and India continue to add concrete security content to their relationship, their strategic partnership could potentially be a game-changer in Asia.
- The emphasis on boosting trade and investment must be balanced with greater strategic collaboration.