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India, Japan and the Evolving Global Order

By Harsh V Pant
Observer Research Foundation & King's College London
December 22, 2023
In the emerging Indo-Pacific geopolitical landscape, a convergence of New Delhi’s Act East Policy (AEP) and Tokyo’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy is evident from the expanding bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Both states have reasons to support the establishment of a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific, safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the Pacific and contribute toward maintaining the regional balance of power. India’s AEP, in consonance with Japan’s FOIP, has made the idea of building trilateral and quadrilateral frameworks of cooperation central to foreign policy vis-à-vis the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, India and Japan’s ‘natural partnership’ is a unique amalgamation.

The Japanese way of life has many commonalities with the Indian way of life—a deeper collaboration in this sphere would bolster this unique bonhomie. It is likely that the India–Japan partnership in tackling global menaces related to climate change at the dawn of the Asian Century will bring wider regional and global consensus rather than conflicts. The India–Japan partnership aims to move beyond mere cost–benefit analysis in the dynamic of international affairs and shape regional, national and international peace and security in the broader Indo-Pacific region. The common strategic interests and concerns rightly propelled former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to call Japan and India ‘natural allies’.
Flags of India and Japan
Driven by economic complementarities, high-powered diplomacy and shared geopolitical concerns, the India-Japan relationship is emerging as the fastest growing one of the strongest partnerships in Asia. As Indian Prime Minister Modi has stated, this relationship can exercise “a profound influence on shaping the course of Asia and our interlinked ocean regions.” The bilateral and regional foreign policy goals and ambitions of India and Japan in the Indo-Pacific are clearly laid out in the “India-Japan Vision 2025,” and the two states are working on translating the vision into tangible deliverables as is indicated in their efforts to institutionalise the different dimensions of the bilateral relationship by undertaking several initiatives. For instance, the CEPA and the civilian nuclear deal aim at enhancing the bilateral cooperation on economic and energy issues respectively, the 2+2 Dialogue as well the wide range of joint initiatives in the area of defense cooperation like the Annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue, the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) focus on bolstering the strategic partnership. As the two major Indo-Pacific states, their foreign policy goals to expand the framework of cooperation, has been translating into working together in the minilateral and multilateral forums, including the Japan-Australia-India trilateral’s Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI), the Japan-America-India trilateral (JAI), the QUAD, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) to name a few. Japan’s engagement with India’s Northeastern region and the Andaman and Nicobar islands, India’s key strategic outposts in the Indian Ocean region also reflect Tokyo’s intent to perceive India as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Japan hosted the G-7 summit meeting in May in Hiroshima where India was a special invitee along with Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Comoros (representing the African Union) and the Cook Islands (representing the Pacific Islands Forum). Prime Minister Narendra Modi's presence at the G7 Summit in Japan was particularly important this year in the context of India currently holding the G20 presidency.
G7 Sign at Hiroshima Peace Memorial
For Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the summit was a moment to showcase to the world a changing Japan that is more willing than ever to shoulder global responsibilities in international peace and security. Slowly, but surely, Kishida had been transforming Japan's security profile in response to the rapidly deteriorating strategic environment. China's military rise was already challenging Japan's pacifist orientation, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has jolted Tokyo into rethinking the fundamentals of its strategic assumptions. Underlining that Japan is facing the "most severe and complex security environment" since the end of World War II, the country's national security strategy, released in December 2022, commits to increasing its defence budget to 2 per cent of its GDP by 2027 and to maintain this level thereafter. This is a transformational increase. Defence spending is prioritized in areas such as counterstrike capabilities, unscrewed systems, integrated air and missile defense, space and cyber capabilities, and mobility and lift. Japan's focus on developing counterstrike capabilities marks uncharted territory in its post war history, which was about eschewing any power projection ambitions, aimed at preventing Japan from being perceived as a threat by other states. But today, there is widespread support among the Japanese people for a more robust strategic posturing.

China was the big concern where the G-7 leaders showed rare unity when without mentioning China by name, they targeted Beijing's policies as they resolved to combat the "disturbing rise" of economic coercion. The focus has now moved from de-coupling to de-risking as the developed world seeks to reduce its dependence on China by diversifying its trade, investments and supply chains away from Chinese stranglehold. The China factor also loomed large in underscoring the continued commitment of the G-7 to a free and open Indo-Pacific, buttressed by the presence of several key nations, including India, from this critical geography.

As the list of Japan's special invitees to the summit underscored, Kishida was trying to rally the so-called Global South to ensure that a global solution emerges to the Russia question. In this, he is in sync with Modi who made it clear that he too wanted to "amplify the voices and concerns of the Global South" nations at the G-7 summit in Hiroshima to be able to "foster synergy" with the G-20.

It is heartening, in some ways, to see this attempt to give voice to the concerns of those who are getting marginalized in the hyper competitive world of global geopolitics. It remains clear that a significant portion of the world is currently struggling with a different set of concerns, given the prevailing negative headwinds in the global economy.

India and Japan both view themselves as critical Indo-Pacific players. Japan was the first to articulate the need for reimaging Asia's strategic geography through the lens of the Indo-Pacific, and that without India's active involvement, there won't be any Indo-Pacific. India and Japan need each other to chart to help preserve a rules-based order that is facing a crisis unlike any since the end of the World War II.
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