India and Japan have just concluded the second 2+2 ministerial meeting on 8 September in Tokyo where India’s External Affairs minister(EAM) Dr S Jaishankar and Defence minister Rajnath Singh met their Japanese counterparts Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada.
Three years after the first such 2+2 meeting was held in 2019, a lot has changed which include a surcharged Indo-Pacific region that is in direct conflict with the common agenda of keeping the area 'free and open' as well as emerging areas of geopolitical security in the intervening period after Defence exchanges nearly spanning two decades.
The 2+2 was premised on the Japan and India Vision 2025 Special Strategic and Global Partnership (SSGP) announced during the summit meeting in December 2015 between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart then, Late Shinzo Abe.
Re-Affirming Resolve To Strengthen Bilateral Ties
However, the 2+2 talks is also a strategic arrangement that India has now with the United States, Australia and Russia besides Japan and fairly covers the broad spectrum of security-focused geostrategic diplomacy.
The SSGP with Japan is premised to be a comprehensive partnership that focuses on a broad convergence of long-term political, economic and strategic goals.
This was reflected in the first 2+2 talks which focused on cooperation in the field of Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV)/ Robotics, supporting Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) centrality and unity, and engaging the armed forces from both the countries in various military drills and exercises including MALABAR 2019, the Mine-Countermeasures Exercise (MINEX) and also progressed in the negotiations of Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), aimed at greater maritime cooperation between the two countries.
Addressing Concerns on the Indo-Pacific Region
With the recent developments in the Indo-Pacific region, the swift modernization of military equipment and their increased lethality and the merging of disruptive technology and weaponization of the technology ecosystem, the agenda for the 2+2 needs a closer approach to factor in these concerns.
A sustained effort to create instability in the region with its regular belligerence has, thus, created a situation of mutual concern for India and Japan which have always fostered peace in the region.
Both countries are, thus, forced into a situation for focusing on engagements, exercises, equipment and the ecosystem of technology to address the menace. These four Es will cover the whole spectrum that SSGP tries to envision.
Engagements in the form of staff talks and high-level dialogue between all three Services and the Coast Guard have been established in the last few years and henceforth staff talks between the Integrated Defence Staff of India and the Joint Staff of the Japanese Self Defense Forces will also happen.
India and Japan have been participating in three joint exercises — “Dharma Guardian” (army to army), JIMEX (maritime exercise) and “Malabar” (jointly with the US and Australia).
In February this year, Japan also participated in the Indian Navy’s biggest multilateral exercise, MILAN 2022 by sending the Murasame-class destroyer, Japanese ship JS Yudachi for the first time.
Discussions are already on to get in place an exercise of the two Air Forces soon. The signing of the Reciprocal Provision of Supply and Services Agreement in March of this year which allowed for fuel and logistics access for each other’s platforms was a significant step of military cooperation.
In the current 2+2, while evaluating the progress in the military to military cooperation and exchanges a decision was taken to increase the scope and complexities of the bilateral exercises.
Increased Military Co-Operation in Line-Up
Enhancing the defence equipment and technological cooperation between the two countries have also been taken up in the current 2+2. This is a significant development as both countries could match their current aspirations into something very productive.
The defence industrial complex today is in focus in both countries- India is trying to move away from a buyer-seller relationship with most countries and looking for more cooperation that touches the areas of R&D as well as production.
This dovetails also well into the 'Make in India' policy around the defence ecosystem and Rajnath Singh’s invitation to the Japanese defence companies to look at opportunities in investing in the Indian Defence Corridors is a good step.
As Japan enhances its defence budget and looks at building his own defence industry and capabilities, it will be advantageous to look at specific areas of cooperation where the Japanese heavy engineering strengths are harnessed and blended with India’s technological improvisation so that capacity enhancements using artificial intelligence (AI) and embedded software are mutually undertaken.
‘Make in India’ Strategy: A Key Focus
For that, a wider exercise has to be undertaken on both the sides so that the requirements of the forces are better captured by the industry, large and small. India’s push for 'atmanirbharta' can also be better served to cover the gaps and focus on capabilities that cover them. Rightly the 2+2 discussed the engagements in emerging and critical technological domains and they have to shaped towards specific milestone-based programme implementation.
Bilateral consultations in various formats have dwelt on the imperative of economic security for some time and the technology security engagements like those on cyber security, 5G deployment and critical and strategic minerals have to be better shaped. Much of that can dovetail into the directions in which QUAD is already progressing.
India’s engagements with USA and Australia have taken specific directions in cyber security and critical technologies and this has to be also progressed with Japan.
Cooperation on cyber intelligence sharing on real-time basis and protecting Critical Information Infrastructure assets (CIIA) should be the two areas where engagements have to increase and a roadmap devised so that more sectors in the critical sectors are identified. Japan’s success in managing CIIA has to be a guiding force for the efforts being undertaken to secure CIIAs in India.
6G Networks Part of Indo-Japan Tech Co-Op
As India marches towards the semiconductor ecosystem with more vigour, Japanese strengths need to be harnessed and their participation be made integral. Likewise, cooperation towards a joint strategy for the 6G networks has also to be structured for wide-ranging consultations and a road map devised. In the global scenario, as the nations try to work towards a cyber security regulatory and management regime, both countries need to devise a joint strategy so as to offer a workable solution.
Four E’s Chart Future Roadmap in Indo-Japan Ties
The four 'E's definitely have been at work for some time to define the bilateral space. Particularly, in the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN region some of the steps that have been taken in the recent past have shown a more mature and inclusive approach by both countries.
Clearly, the cooperation in the Quad framework, utilization of ASEAN platforms and participation in bodies like ReCAAP, and Supply Chain Resilience Initiative are good indicators in that direction. Through the ADMM Plus, which is a platform for ASEAN and its eight Dialogue Partners to strengthen security and defence cooperation for peace, stability, and development in the region where both India and Japan are partners, both nations have been working for strengthening cooperation across domains including maritime security, humanitarian assistance disaster relief and peacekeeping operations.
The efforts for the future that include the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework offers greater scope for both the countries to show their impact with the approach of rules-based participation and fostering regional growth.
While the 2+2 is a good step forward and both the editions have shown specific areas of confabulation and action-oriented approach, there will be a need for further enhancement of the tasks identified so far. If the same instability continues as China flexes its muscles and disturbs the regional balance, the 2+2 has to be made more regular and defining. For now, the four Es provide the scope for ongoing progress.
(Subimal Bhattacharjee is a commentator on cyber and security issues around Northeast India. He can be reached @subimal on Twitter. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)