Japan - India Relations
Japan and India have signed a defense sharing pact to exchange supplies and logistical support as part of efforts to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries. Japanese Ambassador to India Suzuki Satoshi and India's Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, or ACSA, on 10 September 2020 in the Indian capital of New Delhi, ending two years of negotiations. The ACSA allows the two countries' defense forces to share supplies, such as food and fuel, and reciprocally provide communications and transportation services during joint drills and rescue operations in case of disasters. Provision of ammunition was excluded from the pact at India's request. Japan has signed similar defense sharing agreements with five other countries, including the United States and Australia.
The friendship between India and Japan has a long history rooted in spiritual affinity and strong cultural and civilizational ties. India’s earliest documented direct contact with Japan was with the Todaiji Temple in Nara, where the consecration or eye-opening of the towering statue of Lord Buddha was performed by an Indian monk, Bodhisena, in 752 AD. In contemporary times, among prominent Indians associated with Japan were Swami Vivekananda, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, JRD Tata, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Judge Radha Binod Pal. The Japan-India Association was set up in 1903, and is today the oldest international friendship body in Japan.
Throughout the various phases of history since contacts between India and Japan began some 1400 years ago, the two countries have never been adversaries. Bilateral ties have been singularly free of any kind of dispute – ideological, cultural or territorial. Post the Second World War, India did not attend the San Francisco Conference, but decided to conclude a separate peace treaty with Japan in 1952 after its sovereignty was fully restored. The sole dissenting voice of Judge Radha Binod Pal at the War Crimes Tribunal struck a deep chord among the Japanese public that continues to reverberate to this day.
In the first decade after diplomatic ties were established, several high level exchanges took place, including Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi’s visit to India in 1957, Prime Minister Nehru’s return visit to Tokyo the same year (with a gift of two elephants) and President Rajendra Prasad’s visit in 1958. The visit of their Highnesses, the then Japanese Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko in 1960 took the relations to a new level.
The momentum of bilateral ties, however, was not quite sustained in the following decades. After Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda’s visit to India in 1961, the next Prime Ministerial visit from Japan was by Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1984. Prime Ministerial visits from India included Smt. Indira Gandhi (1969 & 1982), Shri Rajiv Gandhi (1985 & 1987) and Shri P. V. Narasimha Rao (1992).
From the mid-1960s until the early 1980s, the difficulties encountered in conducting trade and investing in India caused countries such as Japan and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) to seek more fruitful commercial opportunities elsewhere in the developing world. In the sphere of international politics, the intricacies of balancing ties with India and Pakistan, India's tilt toward the Soviet Union beginning in 1971, divergent views on nuclear proliferation issues, and the situations in Afghanistan and Cambodia left little room for improvement of relations with Japan.
Modest moves taken to liberalize the Indian economy in the early and mid-1980s and increased availability of private investment and official developmental assistance from developed countries, however, provided India with the opportunity to increase trade and obtain aid and investment from Japan and Europe. Indian trade with countries of the European Economic Community rose dramatically, andJapan became India's largest aid donor. By the late 1980s, Indian, West European, and Japanese leaders exchanged regular visits.
In the early 1990s, expanding Indian exports and attracting investment from developed countries became a major priority in India's bilateral relations. India developed closer ties with Berlin—now the capital of a united Germany—Tokyo, and the European Economic Community (later the European Union) to promote Indian economic interests and enhance its diplomatic maneuverability. Japan remained India's major source of bilateral assistance, and Berlin was New Delhi's largest trading partner in the European Economic Community. Nevertheless, India and the developed countries had differences over security and nuclear issues and the attachment of political criteria to developmental assistance.
On the economic front, Japanese firms hope to create a hedge against the financial risks of operating in China by investing in India. Japanese and Indian interests coincided across a number of areas. On the economic front, India wanted to create more jobs for its workers. Japan could help create jobs by investing in India's manufacturing sector and by improving the country's infrastructure. Japanese companies currently operate in China with great risk. Japanese firms would like to hedge that risk by investing in India.
On the political and military side, Japan will promote increased regional participation by India and Australia in order to "bring balance" to East Asia's regional architecture. Tokyo's and New Delhi's interests converged on the political and military front as well. Japan likewise collaborated with New Delhi to bring India and Australia into the East Asia Summit - a step which Tokyo believes will "bring balance" to East Asia's regional architecture.
Tokyo and New Delhi share democratic values such as rule of law, human rights, etc. In March 2007, Japan and India initiated a strategic dialogue that will include discussion on how the two nations can assist the process of democratization in other parts of the world, e.g., in Nepal and Afghanistan.
The governments of India and Japan hoped to commence a new economic partnership with round one of negotiations on the Japan-India Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), followed by the visit of a high-level Japanese business delegation to India. The first round of negotiations, held in New Delhi Jan. 31-Feb. 2, did not address major issues, but laid the groundwork for future negotiations centered on lower import duties and streamlined visa processes. The aim of the EPA was free movement of people, money and goods, and that, the combination of Japan's 50% GDP share in Asia with India's 10% GDP share (non-PPP) would be a "very dynamic bargaining tool," noting that "it is important to maintain balance in the region among India, Japan and China." India’s primary exports to Japan have been petroleum products, chemicals, elements, compounds, non-metallic mineral ware, fish & fish preparations, metalliferous ores & scrap, clothing & accessories, iron & steel products, textile yarn, fabrics and machinery etc. India’s primary imports from Japan are machinery, transport equipment, iron and steel, electronic goods, organic chemicals, machine tools, etc.
Since taking office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made efforts to entice foreign investment into India and to establish closer ties with Japan. Warm diplomatic gestures between Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe garnered considerable attention.
Meeting in Tokyo on 01 September 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to realize the full potential of India - Japan Strategic and Global Partnership for continuing progress and prosperity for their people and for advancing peace, stability and prosperity in Asia and the world. Elevating the relationship to a Special Strategic and Global Partnership, they called their meeting the dawn of a new era in India - Japan relations.
Prime Minister Abe expressed his deep appreciation for Prime Minister Modi's choice of Japan as his first destination for a bilateral visit outside India's immediate neighbourhood. Prime Minister Modi described this decision as a reflection of Japan's importance in India's foreign policy and economic development and her place at the heart of India's Look East Policy. Prime Minister Modi thanked Prime Minister Abe for his deep personal commitment to strengthening India - Japan strategic partnership, the extraordinary warmth of his hospitality, and the bold vision that characterized their discussions in Tokyo.
The two Prime Ministers noted that India and Japan are Asia's two largest and oldest democracies, with ancient cultural links and enduring goodwill between their people. The two countries are joined together by convergent global interests, critical maritime inter-connection and growing international responsibilities. They share an abiding commitment to peace and stability, international rule of law and open global trade regime. Their economies have vast complementarities that create boundless opportunities for mutually beneficial economic partnership.
The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed the importance of defence relations between India and Japan in their strategic partnership and decided to upgrade and strengthen them. They welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation and Exchanges in the Field of Defence during the visit. In this context, they attached importance to the regularization of bilateral maritime exercises as well as to Japan’s continued participation in India - US Malabar series of exercises. They also welcomed the existing dialogue mechanism and joint exercises between Indian and Japanese Coast Guards.
Prime Minister Modi welcomed the recent developments in Japan's policy on transfer of defence equipment and technology. The two Prime Ministers expressed the hope that this would usher in a new era of cooperation in defence equipment and technology. They recognized the enormous future potential for transfer and collaborative projects in defence equipment and technology between the two countries. They welcomed progress made in discussions in the Joint Working Group on cooperation in US-2 amphibian aircraft and its technology, and directed their officials to accelerate their discussions. They also directed their officials to launch working-level consultations between the two countries with a view to promoting defence equipment and technology cooperation.
Defense and security relations between India and Japan have evolved steadily over the years and now constitute a strong pillar of the India-Japan strategic partnership. There has been an increasing frequency of defence exchanges along the entire spectrum to include Annual reciprocal visits between the Defence Ministers; 2 Plus 2 & Defence Policy Dialogue at the level of Defence Secretary and Vice Minister; Comprehensive Security Dialogue and Military to Military talks, Service to Service level Staff Talks; Subscription to Training courses by Service Officers and Cadet Exchanges in addition to participation in multi-lateral Seminars/ Forums.
Exercise MALABAR: Initiated in 1992, as a bilateral exercise between the Indian Navy and US Navies, the scope, complexity of operations and level of participation has increased steadily in successive editions over the years. The 18th edition of the Exercise MALABAR was held in the Western Pacific in Jul 2014 in which Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) was invited to participate.
Initiated under the leadership of former prime minister Narashima Rao, India’s ‘Look East’ policy sought to expand India’s economic networks across Southeast Asia. But under Modi’s leadership, India is stepping outside its regional neighbourhood and seeking to strengthen ties with Japan and South Korea.
Some have referred to ‘India’s pivot to Japan’ and ‘Japan’s pivot to India’. But analysts must look beyond the ‘pivot’ rhetoric and see these recent developments for what they are: an attempt by the Modi government to build on India’s existing, but underdeveloped, rapport with Japan. Abe’s efforts to expand Japan’s trade relations with India represent an attempt to seize an opportunity that has been left untouched for far too long.
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