How will India-Japan ties evolve after Abe?
Anchored on strong strategic logic and trust, India’s centrality in the Japanese policy frame will endure as both countries mobilise collective capacities for sustainable solutions in a post-pandemic world
Conversation dominating the strategic community since Shinzo Abe’s assassination is anchored on two axes. The first concerns Abe’s historic legacy, especially his strategic foresight in conceiving futuristic Indo-Pacific constructs. And, the second concerns Tokyo’s ability to sustain its leadership role in the rules-based international order as the world navigates a period of profound fluidity.
Any forward thinking takes us to the basics. Japan navigated the fluid geopolitics of Cold and post-Cold War decades with grand strategies — Yoshida Doctrine to Fukuda Doctrine to Abe Doctrine — designed to maximise national interests. While Abe’s life work will be treasured as the foremost flagbearer of the Indo-Pacific, and a pivotal frame of reference in India-Japan relations, the next phase in the India-Japan bilateral arc is likely to be as consequential in balancing values, aspirations and strategy.
Even as the power centres of Japanese politics are getting redrawn post-Abe, the India conversation has matured in last two decades among the policy-elites, strategic thinkers, and defence planners.
Anchored on strong strategic logic and trust, India’s centrality in the Japanese policy frame will endure as both countries mobilise collective capacities for sustainable solutions in a post-pandemic world — be it high-tech supply chains, securing maritime global commons, supporting high quality infrastructure, green innovation for a net-zero society, and global health security.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s leadership style is markedly different from Abe. Kishida is a consensus builder and a champion of the moderate-liberal plank of the Liberal Democratic Party. The strategic setting has altered drastically since his time as foreign minister (2012-17) with harsh geopolitical realities reshaping the global order. With less than a year in power, his report card is impressive. From Quad and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to G7, he ensured Tokyo stays at every high table in the global conversation on solutions.
As Kishida re-calibrates Japan’s strategic calculus, where does India fit? His India outlook will draw from his experience in foreign office. He was a core member of Abe’s team in cementing not just the Special Strategic and Global Partnership but also the Indo-Pacific Vision 2025, a strategic roadmap for peace and prosperity in the region. The latter bore rich dividends and showcased strategic maturity while adjusting to the realities of the pandemic. Kishida’s visit to India earlier this year produced a productive memo and the Quad Leaders’ Summit embraced a collective Indo-Pacific agenda. It demonstrates that the Delhi-Tokyo stands on a solid foundation.
While nuanced gaps on few verticals remain including the geo-economics of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or policy approaches towards Russia-Ukraine conflict, it is safe to argue there are no risk of ruptures as mutuality of strategic interests offset the divergences.
Moving forward, economic security and strategic technologies should be front and centre in the bilateral agenda. Deepening the discussions — possibly within the framework of an economic security dialogue — on semiconductors, batteries, 6G technologies, Artificial Intelligence, and strategic minerals are imperative. The supply chain agenda holds promise with six new projects supported by Japan earlier this year. Meanwhile, the Industrial Competitiveness Partnership will be a force multiplier. Joint infrastructure projects — whether within Quad’s $50 billion infrastructure commitment or India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative — should be accorded primacy. Green innovation is another plank as transition to net-zero requires radical tech transformation in the energy sector.
Security agenda will only get tighter as China conversation deepens between these two Asian democracies, standing up against any unilateral change in the status quo. The Defence White paper 2022 drops a hint on what’s to come in the revised National Security Strategy later this year. A compelling case for building a deeper network with India, especially within the Quad frame, is emerging. On the maritime front, Japan’s upcoming Indo-Pacific Plan for Peace may open new avenues of cooperation. Quad’s Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness will help navigate the risks and rewards in Indo-Pacific. A true tribute to Abe will be drawing from his vision, and renew our determination to elevate India-Japan as a formidable force in the Indo-Pacific century.
Titli Basu is an associate fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis The views expressed are personal