India And Japan: An Alliance To Contain China And Strengthen The Indo-Pacific – Analysis

India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has done a lot of diplomatic work these days and has visited some key countries in East Asia. More precisely, on March 5 and 6, he visited South Korea, and immediately afterwards, Japan from March 6 to 8.

In both democratic and pro-Western Asian countries, the first man of Indian diplomacy sought to strengthen above all security and economic cooperation, as well as political ties. In the simplest terms, it could be said that the Republic of India is looking for partners to contain the People’s Republic of China, its biggest rival in Asia, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. India’s relations with Japan are particularly significant as the two countries share concerns about China’s increasingly assertive economic and military moves in South and East Asia.

In addition to the Chinese threat, both countries are linked by memberships in the G20 and Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) – a multilateral security organization that includes the United States and Australia and membership 

Jaishankar’s The East Asian Offensive

Jaishankar was on a three-day visit to Tokyo, which he used to meet with high-ranking Japanese government officials and representatives of public and private Japanese companies. On March 7, the 16th India-Japan strategic dialogue (summit) was held, led by the leaders of the two ministries.

At a joint press conference after talks with her Indian counterpart in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister, Yoko Kamikawa, said it was agreed that Japan and India would expand bilateral security cooperation, particularly in the military equipment and technology transfer sectors. She emphasized that they decided to look for opportunities to expand cooperation in new areas such as space research and cyber security. “India considers Japan a natural partner… in its quest for peace, prosperity and stability in the strategic Indo-Pacific region… India and Japan, as two great Indo-Pacific nations that share values, history and interests, have a permanent stake in peace, security and prosperity of our region and are ready to play a responsible role appropriate to the needs of our time”, said Jaishankar. He described the year 2023 as a turning point in India-Japan relations. Just last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a historic visit to Japan from May 19 to 21. He attended the QUAD and G7 summits with the aim of ending the Russian-Ukrainian war, countering the Chinese threat and promoting the interests of the Global South.

Japan and India in search of stability in an unstable world

Noting the significant strategic upheavals and the deterioration of the security environment at the global level (the divisions between East and West), Kamikawa confirmed that Japan wants to cooperate with India in solving common issues through dialogue and cooperation. “Japan especially attaches importance to its relations with India, which has nurtured its own democracy and history and represents the Global South,” said the Japanese minister and added: “In light of today’s increasingly dangerous security environment, we have confirmed the need for our defense and security cooperation.”

Kamikawa and Jaishankar welcomed the expansion of joint military exercises. India’s top diplomat said the two sides would work together to improve economic security and strengthen the resilience of supply chains and highlighted cooperation in the areas of semiconductors, green technology and digital transformation. Kamikawa confirmed that her country supports the development of Indian infrastructure and underlined the past assistance of the Japanese in high-speed rail projects in India. The two sides revealed that they are striving to achieve their common goal: investing five trillion yen in Indian infrastructure, particularly the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed railway.

Upgrade of the “Special Strategic and Global Partnership”

As this year marks the 10th anniversary of the transformation of India-Japan relations into a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership” ushered in by Indian Prime Minister Modi and the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, India’s foreign minister said, “I think this is the right time to adding new content and a new agenda to our partnership to make it contemporary.”

Past partnerships have included defense, security, trade and people-to-people exchanges. India, whose population numbers 1,4 billion and is the largest in the world, presents itself as a leading power among the developing countries that have recently become recognizable under the phrase Global South. Indians seek to strengthen the collective influence of the countries of the Global South.

Jaishankar received the true political star treatment during his stay in the Land of the Rising Sun. He met with Prime Minister Fumiya Kishida and conveyed to him the warm greetings of his Prime Minister. He also held meetings with other high-ranking Japanese political leaders, such as Taro Aso, vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP); Toshimitsu Motegi, Secretary General of the LDP and Yoshihide Suga, President of the Japan-India Association.

During these meetings, unequivocal expressions of support for the India-Japan alliance were evident. Jaishankar’s meeting with Shinzo Abe’s widow, Akie Abe, was particularly emotional. He handed her a letter from Prime Minister Modi expressing his condolences on the death of Mrs. Yoko Abe, mother of the late Japanese Prime Minister. The Indian foreign minister attended the inaugural Raisin Round Table in Tokyo and made remarks on India-Japan bilateral relations in the overall context of current global trends. He also addressed the Nikkei Forum on the India-Japan partnership, outlining historical and current relations and highlighting new opportunities.

Disputes between India and China

China’s military buildup in the South and East China Seas indicates that Beijing is trying to unilaterally change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region to its advantage and to the detriment of its neighbors, including Tokyo and New Delhi. Beijing wants to apply the “String of Pearls” strategy around the Indian Ocean to establish anti-Indian partnerships with surrounding countries (Pakistan, Myanmar, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Djibouti) in order to suppress the development of Indian influence inside and outside the regions of South and Southeast Asia.

The entrenchment of the Chinese Navy in the ports of the surrounding countries could be a springboard for an attack on the bases of the Indian Navy. In response to that strategy, India has stepped up maritime surveillance of its territorial waters, but the threat of Chinese aggression in the future poses a serious challenge. In recent years, India has banned Chinese apps and websites, and in January awarded the prestigious Padma Bhushan award to Young Liu, CEO of the Taiwanese company Foxconn. Of course, it strengthened cooperation with Japan, S. Korea and the USA.

Apart from the heating up and tensions in the Indian Ocean region, the Indians accuse the Chinese of trying to change the status quo along the disputed India-China land border in the Himalayan region. “India believes in respecting international law and honoring agreements made between nations,” Jaishankar said in a recent interview, adding that “peace and stability in our border areas with China have been disturbed because China has not honored the relevant agreements. Our effort is to resolve the resulting situation through direct talks, which are actually underway.” He revealed that India-China talks, including several military commanders’ meetings, have been launched since the two countries’ armed forces clashed on the Himalayan border in 2020-21. There has been “some significant progress, but there are still some issues to be resolved.”

Disputes between Japan and China

Japan’s main territorial dispute with China is the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands in the East China Sea. It is a dispute that has been going on since World War II. In December, the Chinese and Japanese accused each other of their coast guards clashing in the disputed area.

The uninhabited islands are controlled by Japan, but are claimed by China and Taiwan. The Japanese Coast Guard announced that two Chinese patrol ships had left Japanese territorial waters around the island after receiving warnings. Japanese patrol boats were protecting a Japanese fishing boat that was approached by Chinese ships. The incidents continued at the beginning of this year. Chinese ships continuously pass through seas that the Japanese consider their territorial waters. The Japanese were particularly worried about the Sino-Russian military exercise in the Sea of Japan last July. Disputes over disputed waters often escalate between China and the Philippines, Vietnam and other neighboring countries.

In recent years, Tokyo has significantly strengthened the defenses of southwestern Japan, including Okinawa and its outer islands, a strategically key area for Japan’s defense. The Japanese fear that their islands could also become a target before or after the invasion of Taiwan. Under a new security strategy adopted in December 2022, Japan is accelerating the development of long-range cruise missiles that can hit targets in China and North Korea. It goes without saying that the alliance between China and DPRK was always worried about Japan.

QUAD – a potential solution

QUAD, a framework for security cooperation between Japan, the US, Australia and India, is seen by many observers as an effective tool to contain China’s growing military influence in Asia. It is a military-political organization that some analysts call the “Asian NATO alliance”. The Indians and Japanese want to strengthen that framework because it can provide them with real protection against potential Chinese hostile military moves.

In this context were held the 5th joint Japanese-Indian military exercise (Dharma Guardian) from February 25 to March 9 in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The Indian Army and the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces participated. Both armies worked to establish a temporary base of operations, create an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance network, and improve transport, checkpoints and search operations in enemy villages.

The formal goal of the exercise was to promote military cooperation and strengthen the ability to conduct joint operations in semi-urban environments under the mandate of the United Nations, while in reality the primary motive is the Chinese threat. Should an armed conflict with China occur, the armed forces of the QUAD member states must be trained to respond to the challenge in a compatible manner. That is why they conduct joint military exercises.

Excellent trade relations

In addition to the strengthening of the alliance in light of the Chinese threat, Indian-Japanese relations, especially trade, are developing very well. India was Japan’s 18th largest trading partner and Japan was India’s 13th largest trading partner in 2021. Japanese direct investment in India increased. Tokyo was the 5th largest investor in India in fiscal year 2021.

Japanese private sector interest in India is growing, and currently around 1,500 Japanese companies have subsidiaries in India. In 2022, Japan exported goods worth $14,4 billion to India. Most of these were compounds of precious metals, refined copper, vehicles, machinery and IT equipment. In the same year, India exported goods worth $5,99 billion to Japan. Refined oil, organic chemicals, crustaceans, crude aluminum lead the way. Japanese companies, Yamaha, Sony, Toyota and Honda, have manufacturing facilities in India.

Importance of Japan in India’s Advanced Foreign Policy

The benefits of the partnership are great for both countries. India’s relations with Japan should be seen as part of the overall Indian foreign policy, which was and remains layered and non-aligned. Although it is a member of the pro-American QUAD and despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine, India has increased its purchases of oil and gas from the Russian Federation and maintains friendly relations with that country.

India’s policy of cooperation with Russia instead of imposing sanctions is strongly condemned by many in the West, but the Indians are not giving up on it. Jaishankar interpreted such an Indian attitude as positive for the West and claims that India’s purchase of Russian energy actually stabilizes global energy markets at a time when they are affected by the conflict in Ukraine. “Our imports have helped manage global prices and reduce global inflation. This should be appreciated.” And he is right.

New Delhi supports Russia-Ukraine reconciliation, i.e. diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. At the same time, India maintains good relations with Japan, South Korea and the USA in order to achieve balance globally and in Asia in accordance with the doctrine of Strategic Autonomy. Indians are gearing up for general elections in April and May, with Prime Minister Modi seeking a third consecutive five-year term. Observers drew attention to the Hindu nationalism of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi’s inauguration of a massive King Ram temple in Ayodhya in January was widely seen as a boost to the BJP’s Hindu base. A well-balanced relationship with Japan and a stable position in Asia will no doubt be another trump card for Modi with patriotic voters who all want to see their country as a superpower.

Importance of India to Japan

Japan’s engagement with India demonstrates Japan’s recognition of India’s strategic importance in the wider Indo-Pacific maritime region, or extended Asia, centered on the Indian Ocean and the Indian subcontinent. The Indo-Pacific concept has been unquestioningly accepted by Japanese policy makers in the last 15-20 years even though such views were initiated during the Cold War. In Tokyo, they realized that for the stability of Asia and Japanese national interests, it is more than important that Japan cultivate good relations with India, a power in an unstoppable rise.

It is a combination of two vital democracies that serves as a counterweight to the alliances that autocratic China makes with autocratic states – Russia, N. Korea and Pakistan. In addition, Japanese geopolitical strategists correctly understand that it is impossible to separate politics from economics, and the Indo-Pacific concept combines exactly these two components into one. The Japanese can only profit from a partnership with the world’s most populous country, both politically and economically, and it can be seen in reality.