Understanding India and Japan Defence relations amidst the US-China Conflict

 By Gitanjali Sinha Roy

The United States of America and China have been facing each other in an economic as well military conflict and China has been trying to change the status quo in the times when the world is dealing with the deadly Coronavirus Pandemic.  China’s need to change the status quo paves the way for the emergence of its rise as a super power which threatens the position of the US supremacy. China has also been aggressively claiming multiple territories globally and has been doing it by force which is yet again unacceptable especially now as the world is still trying to cope under the virus. Therefore, this article giving a background of the US-China Conflict discusses China’s aggression toward India and Japan. This article also discusses the defence relations between India and Japan keeping in mind the rise of China and how their focus is increasingly on the strengthening of the defence relations.

In 2018, the tensions between US-China surged after the Trump Administration imposed tariffs on almost half of the Chinese exports which eventually led to the economic escalations paving the way for the trade war.[1] The relations between the US and China further escalated as due to China’s irresponsibility of not sharing timely information regarding Coronavirus led to a large number of deaths globally, overturning the world economies along with shattering the fiscal markets. The other reason for conflict between the two countries is that of the control over the Global power status. This rising power, China has been threatening to displace a ruling power, the United States and this is unacceptable to any country as in order to become a super power, the US has had to make several sacrifices and continuous to support its allies and their partners in a democratic framework which is absent in China’s case.

China in the last few years has aggressively been expanding its territorial needs and so; it has been seemingly provoking its neighbours like Japan in the East China Sea and India in its India-China Border and the Indian Ocean[2] which yet again becomes a concern for the US as Japan is in a Security Alliance with the US and India is a major strategic partner for the US and so, it becomes an indirect attack on the US as well. It is also important to remember that Japan is an immediate neighbour of China and over the years, Japan has dealt with China’s irresponsible behaviour in a very calmed fashion. Similarly, India too is a peaceful neighbour of China but China has always tried to claim Indian Territory which goes against the Panchsheel Agreement as it violates the basic principles of the rule of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression and peaceful co-existence. Therefore, Chinese aggression is major cause of concern for both India and Japan and both these countries need to work together in order to maintain their national interest and territorial integrity as their foremost priority and for that both the countries need to work on developing stronger strategic relations with focus on defence relations.

The highlight was in 2000s as with the rise of China, India and Japan reinvigorated their economic partnership to ‘Global Partnership in the 21st century’ and institutionalised the ‘Comprehensive Security Dialogues and Cooperation’ with a focus on anti-piracy issues and also discussed the military to military talks aiming to further enhance the bilateral defence cooperation. The relationship further led ‘India-Japan to partner in a New Asian Era’ and this led to a major change in 2007 when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave his speech in the Indian Parliament  on the ‘Confluence of Two Seas aiming at Japan’s Broader Asia with its focus on the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean’. This led to the first multilateral exercise TRILATEX-07 in the Pacific region between the Indian Navy, JMSDF and the U.S. Navy on 25th April, 2007 and in 2008, the ‘Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation between India and Japan was held aimed to “Recognizing that Japan and India share common interest in the safety of sea lines of communications”.[3] These initial developments led the two countries to realise their value in the realm of maritime relations and further, strengthened its military relations as well.

On 1 September 2014, the ‘Tokyo Declaration’ highlighted the importance of defence relations which was essential in the strategic partnership and so, the Memorandum of Cooperation and Exchanges in the field of Defence was signed.[4]  This was followed by a ‘Joint Statement on India and Japan Vision 2025: Special Strategic and Global Partnership Working Together for Peace and Prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region and the World’ on 12 December 2015 where an agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of the Republic of India concerning the Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology was signed.[5] Another major step towards defence relations was when Prime Minister Modi visited in November 2016 and along with Prime Minister Abe stressed upon the role of India and Japan for stability and prosperity in the region of Indo-Pacific and consolidated their security and defence cooperation and underscored the need for further expansion in the realm of defence engagement through a two-way collaboration and technology cooperation, co-development and co-operation through the Joint Working Group on Defence Equipment and Technology Cooperation.[6]

On 14 September 2017, the ‘Japan-India Joint Statement Toward a Free, Open and Prosperous Indo-Pacific’ was held with the aim to reinforce defence and security cooperation and welcomed the regular and institutionalised engagement through the annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue, the National Security Advisers’ dialogue, the 2+2 Dialogue, the Defence Policy Dialogue and the Service-to-Service staff talks. A major development took place during these talks which was the commencement of the technical discussion for future research collaboration in the area of Unmanned Ground Vehicles and Robotics and the first Defence Industry Forum was held in Tokyo in 5 September 2017.[7] On 29 October 2018 at the Japan-India Summit Meeting, the leaders welcomed the joint exercise between each of the three services and the commencement of negotiations on the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) which would further enhance the strategic depth of bilateral security and defence cooperation.[8]

A major highlight between the India and Japan relations was the ‘First Japan-India 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting’ scheduled on 30 November 2019 and the leaders welcomed the second ‘Dharma Guardian-2019’ and second ‘SHINYUU Maitri-2019’ and also worked to proceed for the coordination for the first Japan-India joint fighter aircraft exercise in Japan.[9] It is expected that India-Japan would soon be signing an important military logistics agreement, the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

The ACSA signing can be seen in three perspectives.

First, Chinese aggression against India and Japan in the recent times simultaneously is creating a situation of uncertainty and so, self-defence is of foremost interest to both India and Japan. The Japan Defence White Paper 2020 clearly highlights Japan’s worry of its surrounding security environment as surrounding military powers have concentrated their military build-up and have also increased their military activities. Also, Japan is worried about the surrounding Sea area and the Airspace of Japan as China has been unilaterally making several attempts to change the status quo by coercion. During the Galwan Clash, the Japanese Ambassador to India, Satoshi Suzuki quoted “the country opposes any unilateral attempts to change the status quo” and also during the Doklam crisis, Japan had yet again supported India and this clearly showed that Japan was ready to tackle Chinese aggression. Another interesting point is that in a rare briefing on 25 June 2020, Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono opined that “the Chinese military capabilities and intentions needed to be watched closely across Asia”.[10] So both countries understand that there is a need to support each other and increase their military capabilities in order to protect them.

Second, on 4 June 2020, India-Australia signed the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement to allow access to military bases for logistics support and India has developed good relations with Australia off late keeping in mind, Australia’s renewed interest in QUAD and it is also expected that Australia could be joining the MALABAR exercise scheduled to be held at the end of this year in the Bay of Bengal.

Third, it has been recently said that India and US will be signing the third military pact soon. Japan is in a Security Alliance with the US and India is a strategic partner of the US. In October 2018, during the Japan-India Vision Statement; the two leaders had decided that ‘they were willing to share and expand concrete cooperation with the US and the other partners’. One needs to understand that all this will strengthen the US-Japan-India Trilateral relations which would also cater to the greater goal of QUAD.

There are other factors also which have played a major role in the strengthening of defence ties. The bonhomie between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abe has accelerated the relationship between India and Japan which has also been instrumental in this partnership. With Prime Minister Abe stepping down due to ill health has left many unanswered questions, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been the strongest leaders of the post-war Japan and has paved a way for his successor to continue to blossom India-Japan relations who would also work towards the greater goal of this cherry blossoming partnership.

End Notes –

[1] Ravi Kant. “The 21st-century Thucydides trap”. Asia Times, 26 February 2020.https://asiatimes.com/2020/02/the-21st-century-thucydides-trap/ Accessed on 31 August 2020

[2] Satoru Nagao. “What Should India Do Now to Fight China’s Provocations?”. Wion, 18 June, 2020. https://www.hudson.org/research/16157-what-should-india-do-now-to-fight-china-s-provocations Accessed on 31 August 2020

[3] Prakash Pannerselvam. “India-Japan Maritime Security Cooperation (1999-2009): A Report” published in the JMSDF Staff College Review Volume 2 English version (Selected) https://www.mod.go.jp/msdf/navcol/SSG/review/eng_2/2-4.pdf Accessed on 31 August 2019

[4] Ministry of External Affairs, “Tokyo Declaration for India – Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership” (New Delhi, India: Ministry of External Affairs, 2014) https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/23965/Tokyo+Declaration+for+India++Japan+Special+Strategic+and+Global+PartnershipAccessed on 31st August, 2020

[5] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Japan and India Vision 2025 Special Strategic and Global Partnership Working Together for Peace and Prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region and the World”(Tokyo, Japan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2015) https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000117791.pdf Accessed on 31 August 2020

[6] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Prime Minister of India to Visit Japan”(Tokyo, Japan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2016) https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000202950.pdf Accessed on 31 August 2020

[7] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Japan-India Joint Statement Toward a Free, Open and Prosperous Indo-Pacific”(Tokyo, Japan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2017) https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000289999.pdf Accessed on 31 August 2020

[8] Ministry of Foreign Ministry, “Japan-India Summit Meeting”(Tokyo, Japan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018) https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000413507.pdf Accessed on 31 August 2020

[9]  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Joint Statement: First Japan-India 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting” (Tokyo, Japan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000544338.pdf Accessed on 31 August 2020

[10] Gitanjali Sinha Roy. “India-Japan Maritime Security Cooperation in the Indian Ocean” Cescube, 8 August 2020. http://www.cescube.com/vp-india-japan-maritime-security-cooperation-in-the-indian-ocean Accessed on 31 August 2020