There are many similarities between India and Japan as the latter shares a cultural bond with India, and Buddhism, which originated in India, is the major faith in Japan. The other commonality between India and Japan is that both the nations have a history of bitter relationship with expansionist China. In this regard, the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida from March 20 to March 21 is quite significant. The visit of the Japanese Prime Minister was mainly focused on the free and open Indo-Pacific (Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean) with India’s increasing role in the region.
After holding wide-ranging talks on March 20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Fumio Kishida emphasised boosting cooperation in semiconductors, clean energy and co-development of military hardware, besides exploring ways to deal with regional security challenges amid growing Chinese hegemony in the region.
Now it becomes crucial to understand why the issue of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” was the main agenda of the Japanese PM’s visit. In the era of economic might, maritime security has become more vital, especially in Asia, which is growing faster than the other parts of the world. As per the data, the Indo-Pacific, home to 65 per cent of the world’s population, accounts for 63 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 60 per cent of the world’s maritime trade flows. However, the rise of China as a military, economic, and technological power has resulted in a significant shift in the power balance in the region. China’s territorial claims in the East China and South China sea (SCS) have become a cause of concern for many countries in the region. The most surprising fact is that China shares border with 14 countries. Still, it has a border dispute with 18 countries- India, Japan, Vietnam, Nepal, Russia, Philippines, North Korea, South Korea, Bhutan, Taiwan, Laos, Brunei, Tajikistan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia and Tibet. Of course, China may call Tibet part of it, but the world knows that China illegally occupied Tibet in 1951.
Now coming to the challenges faced by Japan from China. Amid the growing threat of Chinese invasion into Taiwan, as it already made clear after the visit of Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, in August 2022, Japan is now more concerned about its security. Both the countries share turbulent relations in the past and China continues to claim Japan’s Senkaku Islands.
Responding to these challenges, Japan recently announced that it will double its military spending in the next five years with 2 per cent of GDP by 2027, and the country would also acquire long-range missiles from the US. Notably, this was a remarkable decision as Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution contains a “No war” clause, which came into effect on May 3, 1947 after World War II. Subsequently, the Japanese Government renounced war as a right of sovereignty and the refused to settle disputes using military force. India-China relations looks the same as China-Japan ties. For India, too, China remains the biggest threat. Since the 2020 Galwan incident on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), relations between both countries have been at their lowest level.
South China sea is an important world trade route and a potential source of hydrocarbons, especially natural gas. According to EIA, SCS contains approximately 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil
Coming to the point, the issue of the ‘Free Indo-Pacific’ has become vital for many countries in the region. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), SCS is an important world trade route and a potential source of hydrocarbons, especially natural gas. According to EIA, SCS contains approximately 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil. Over half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through the straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda, with the majority continuing to the SCS. Almost a third of global crude oil and over half of international LNG trade passes through the SCS, making it one of the most important trade routes in the world.
Notably, India has also cleared its stand on Indo-Pacific. On November 25, 2022, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh, during his keynote address at the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD) in New Delhi, said that India stands for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific as it is important for the economic development of not only the region but also the wider global community.
Significance of Kishida’s Visit
Speaking on the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida to India, Dr Satoru Nagao, fellow (non-resident) at Tokyo-based Hudson Institute said, “Prime Minister Kishida published a new Indo-Pacific plan which is materialised version of the Indo-Pacific concept from India. That “from India” is important. In the case of the Indo-Pacific, former PM Shinzo Abe’s address in the Indian parliament in 2007 was the starting point. Now, PM Kishida published a new materialised suggestion of the Indo-Pacific from India again. This means that the Indo-Pacific is India’s Indo-Pacific, Japan wants to send a message to the world. That is very important.”
The visit is also important from the vantage point of Global South and India’s growing importance in it. According to Dr. Nagao,”This Indo-Pacific plan aims to support the Global South by establishing a new system of food and energy supply. This is important. Currently, because of COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s aggression to Ukraine, the price of food and energy is rising. Under such circumstances, food security and energy security is very important. If India-Japan fails to make a supply system, China will provide and expand its influence in the Global South. Therefore, it is a vital part of the competition with China.”
Strengthening Indo- US Relation
While talking over the issue of Indo-Pacific, Ashok Sajjanhar, former Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden & Latvia, said “India will do what it needs to do to preserve and promote the security, stability and prosperity of its citizens. Of course, India does not have to fight with China. The recent visit of Xi Jinping to Russia will further help China in increasing its expansionist policy. Therefore, it becomes crucial for India to strengthen its relationship with the US. The Indo-Pacific and Quad are vital for us. Quad is not like Asian Nato, as alleged by China and Russia. It is not even a military alliance. In any case, India is not prepared to join any military alliance. Therefore, the issue of the Indo-Pacific is for ensuring the rule of law, free and open freedom of navigation, peace, security and prosperity for all the countries in the region.”