Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is in India for a bilateral summit with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to further deepen the strong ties between the two countries.
The visit comes at a time when Tokyo and New Delhi are at the helm of powerful global platforms—G7 and G20 respectively—and both would like to use the position to influence world affairs at a time of great uncertainty. It also comes in the same month when his Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi visited India for the Quad foreign ministers dialogue after missing the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting by a day which was attended by the State Minister of Foreign Affairs Kenji Yamada but which raised some eyebrows of the absence of the Foreign Minister.
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio's India visit comes at a time when Tokyo and New Delhi are at the helm of powerful global platforms—G-7 and G-20 respectively.
Indian and Japanese responses to Russia’s war in Ukraine have differed and Prime Minister Kishida, as this year’s chair of the G-7, will look to garner some support for the grouping’s strong opposition to the Ukraine conflict from G-20 chair Prime Minister Modi.
The differing positions do not affect the bilateral relations which is now broad-based and now hinges significantly on security and economic issues and also has a regional engagement in the form of the Quad.
Prime Minster Kishida’s visit has immense potential to strengthen the already deep cooperation between the two nations amid growing Chinese assertiveness.
PM Modi and PM Kishida Shall Attempt Closing the Gap
Indian and Japanese responses to Russia’s war in Ukraine have differed and Prime Minister Kishida, as this year’s chair of the G-7, will look to garner some support for the grouping’s strong opposition to the Ukraine conflict from G-20 chair Prime Minister Modi. The meeting of G-20 Foreign Ministers in New Delhi earlier this month ended without a consensus on the war after China joined Russia in refusing to support a demand for Moscow to cease hostilities. While Japan has spoken of its desire to “lead the world’s efforts” to support Ukraine, India, a longtime ally of Russia, has refrained from condemning the conflict.
While the Japanese PM visit might be primarily to discuss this issue, the differing positions do not affect the bilateral relations which is now broad-based and now hinges significantly on security and economic issues and also has a regional engagement in the form of the Quad.
More convergence is likely among the two allies on China and the Indo-Pacific. Tokyo has described China as “the greatest strategic challenge that Japan has ever faced” in its new National Security Strategy (NSS) released in December 2022. At the same time, China has continued its aggressive posture against India in the border areas which started during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020, not to forget its belligerence in Taiwan and the South China sea which directly impacts Japan.
To counter growing Chinese influence through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the region, both countries have expressed interest in setting up joint infrastructure development projects abroad. With China as the common threat, security cooperation between the two countries is only likely to deepen further.
Growing Defence Co-operation Between India and Japan
The scope for cooperation in security and related technology development between the two countries is expanding. In addition to exports of hardware, Japan is considering selling stealth antennas for destroyers. Both countries have already identified projects in several dual-use technology areas, like UAVs and anti-UAV systems, robotics, underwater communication, lithium-ion batteries, and intelligence systems.
The just concluded defence exhibition and seminar in Japan has shown the Japanese establishment and industry’s interest in defence equipment and in the last 3 years, much of the equipment and embedded systems have been worked on by local corporations, often in collaboration with global original equipment manufacturers. At a time when India is pushing the indigenous development of defence technology and equipments, collaboration with Japanese companies for joint R&D and production will be optimal.
Further expansion of joint exercises between the two countries including more joint force exercises with expanded menus and participants involving the United States and/or Australia is under active consideration. India and Japan have been participating in multiple joint exercises — “Dharma Guardian” (army to army), JIMEX (maritime exercise) and “Malabar” (jointly with the US and Australia). The first Japan-India joint air exercise was recently held in January 2023 and the expectations of such exercises raised further.
Japan, A Trusted Economic Partner
On the economic front, Japan continues to play the lead role in executing Prime Minister Modi’s vision to revamp the country’s infrastructure with Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) playing a key role in the Mumbai–Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail, Delhi–Mumbai and Chennai–Bengaluru Industrial Corridors, Dedicated Freight Corridor and urban mass rapid transport systems. Japan has been a trusted partner in advancing regional infrastructure and connectivity corridors, especially in the north eastern strategic frontier over the Bay of Bengal to the Indo-Pacific.
Much of the infrastructure around road networks and water supply and transshipments hubs are being set up with Japanese ODA in the north eastern region which border China and Bhutan in the north and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the west and east.
Japanese company NEC Corporation is also providing technical assistance for optical fiber based high-speed internet to the Andaman Nicobar islands, which is close to the Strait of Malacca. The possibilities of both countries exploring at possible collaboration through planning, design and execution of infrastructure projects in India’s immediate neighbourhood is already a target area. Discussions on establishing a joint crediting system (JCM) for decarbonisation is also likely towards an agreement in environment management together.
India's Technological Goals And Japan's Role
On the technology front also there is growing focus including 5G technologies, telecom security, spectrum management, and high-altitude platform for broadband in unconnected areas. Cyber security remains a key area of ongoing dialogue and cooperation besides the focus on critical and emerging technologies.
There is expectation that Kishida’s visit will also see a possible resurrection of the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative which was announced two years ago in collaboration with Quad partner Australia. Further cooperation on cyber intelligence sharing on a real-time basis and protecting critical information infrastructure assets are actively being considered. The Quad focus on ransomware management and securing supply chain networks for technology products will be an important area to even proceed bilaterally. Much of these areas featured in the Japanese Digital Minister Kono Taro’s visit to New Delhi last week to fast-track cooperation on a range of tech related areas.
Clearly, Prime Minster Kishida’s visit has immense potential to strengthen the already deep cooperation between the two nations amid growing Chinese assertiveness. As chairs of powerful platforms like G-7, G-20, Japan and India can take the lead role in working towards a middle ground between the Global South and the West on Russia. Possibly this will be the best outcome of the visit and find a way to finally end the conflict.
(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.)