India and Japan share a similar outlook on regional security, economic growth, and strategic interests. In recent years, the relationship has evolved into a strategic partnership, with both nations collaborating on various fronts, including defence, security, trade, investments, and technology. In the current geopolitical scenario, the Indo-Pacific region has emerged as a focal point of global attention, and India and Japan are at the forefront of efforts to maintain stability in the region.
The Indo-Pacific is the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the West Pacific Ocean. This region is one of the largest economic centres in the world with major sea lanes and maritime trade routes such as the Malacca Strait. It is also home to 9 out of the 10 busiest ports in the world, with about 60 percent of the world’s maritime trade passing through the region. India and Japan’s similar stance on the rules-based order renders them natural allies in maintaining peace and stability in the region.
Maritime cooperation between India and Japan began in 1999 with joint exercises between their coast guards following the Alondra Rainbow incident. The countries also collaborated in repairing damages caused by the 2004 tsunami.
Defence cooperation between the two countries gained momentum in the 2000s. In 2014, during the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s visit to Japan, the two countries elevated their relationship to a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership.” This marked a new era of cooperation between the two countries, with a focus on enhancing shared security. Bilateral trade between India and Japan hit a record high of $20.57 billion during FY 2021-22. The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between the two nations encompasses not only trade in goods but also services, investments, movement of natural persons, intellectual property rights, customs procedures, and technology sharing. Japan is also one of the four countries that India has a 2+2 ministerial dialogue with vis-à-vis defence cooperation.
Commitment to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific:
In the backdrop of China's rising military manoeuvring in the Indo-Pacific, India and Japan have asserted their steadfast commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient. Japan's Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy and India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) have provided the framework for the two countries to deepen their strategic partnership and cooperation in the region.
Exercises and Dialogue: The Japan India Maritime Exercise (JIMEX) started off in 2012 and had its 10th edition in September 2022. The event consolidated the high degree of interoperability that exists between maritime forces of the two countries, through complex exercises in the surface, sub-surface and air domains. In 2015, the The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) became a permanent participant in the U.S.-India Malabar exercise, a step up from its previous sporadic involvement. To discuss issues of mutual interest in maritime domain and identify ways of furthering maritime cooperation, the Maritime Affairs Dialogue was institued. The sixth round of this Dialogue took place in virtual format in 2021. The two nations also, recently, concluded the inaugural edition of the bilateral air exercise 'Veer Guardian 2023' between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF).
Several agreements enable the exchange of supplies and services between the armed forces of the two countries, and the recently signed Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) will further the interoperability of the Indian and Japanese navy. The 2022 National Defense Strategy expresses Tokyo’s intention to “deepen bilateral and multilateral defence exchanges including service-to-service exchange in a broad range of fields including maritime security and cybersecurity, while promoting training and exercises as well as defence equipment and technology cooperation.”
A critical aspect of the “Japan and India Vision 2025”, that seeks synergy between India's ‘Act East’ policy and Japan's ‘Partnership for Quality Infrastructure,’ is the intention expressed by the two nations to promote quality infrastructure to augment connectivity in the region. During his visit to India in March 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida announced an investment target of 5 trillion Yen (approximately $37 billion) in India over the next five years.
Defence Technology: Innovation and Collaboration
As two of Asia's most significant economies, Japan and India have made strategic investments in their respective military sectors. While India ranks as the fourth-largest spender on military expenditure globally, Japan follows at tenth place. Japan has committed to boosting its military spending over the next few years, highlighting its dedication to expanding its military capabilities. In a show of collaboration, both countries have identified several joint projects in various dual-use technology areas, such as UAVs, robotics, and intelligence systems. Additionally, cybersecurity cooperation between Japan and India, particularly concerning 5G technologies, has been a topic of discussion, underlining the importance of cooperation between these two powerful nations.
Multilateralism and the Global Role
India and Japan's growing defence ties in the Indo-Pacific are grounded in a shared commitment to multilateralism and strengthening the rules-based order. Both countries have been active members of forums such as the Quad and ASEAN, and have sought to build coalitions with like-minded countries to maintain regional stability and counter China's assertiveness in the region. In a joint statement, the Quad announced the formation of the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) to strengthen maritime security cooperation and enhance situational awareness in the Indo-Pacific region.
As two of the largest democracies in Asia, India and Japan recognize their global role in shaping the strategic environment of the Indo-Pacific. At the helm of the G20 and the G7, India and Japan, respectively, seek to pursue the interests of the Indo-Pacific region. At a recent meeting, the G7 Ministers reiterated their strong endorsement for ASEAN centrality and unity, and their dedication to fostering collaboration in accordance with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Given this context, India-Japan partnership has the potential to shape the regional security architecture and contribute to the maintenance of a free and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Japan’s recent announcement of its investment of a staggering $75 billion to assist the economies in the Indo-Pacific region by 2030 is a significant step aimed at promoting greater economic integration and cooperation between countries.
New avenues for collaborative development of defence technologies have opened up between the two nations, given Tokyo’s interest in joining India's ‘self-reliance’ journey. By offering its expertise in building fighter jets and submarines, and sharing of information and technology, Japan has demonstrated its commitment to enhancing its strategic partnership with India. In alignment, India's Defence Minister has encouraged Japanese companies to invest in the country's defence corridors, highlighting the country’s favourable investment climate. As India aims to enhance its defence production congruent with the goals of ‘Atmanirbharta,’ Japanese firms will find significant opportunities for investment and partnership in this sector.
The blog has been co-authored by George Anand.