Tokyo to Delhi: The post-pandemic blueprint
The India-Japan annual summit presents a window to sharpen the strategic maturity of India-Japan Indo-Pacific Vision 2025 ahead of the Quad Leaders’ Summit scheduled in Tokyo.
The visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to India could not have been better timed. The annual summit on March 19 will celebrate the 70th anniversary of India establishing diplomatic relations with post-War Japan. That, however, is the formal part of his visit.
The real substance can be expected to be a frank conversation between Asia's most important democracies on the likely consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the implications of all this for China's relations with not just Russia, but also the United States (US), the European Union (EU), Japan, and India. It is a crucial opportunity for leaders to exchange minds and deepen understanding of their respective position on the conflict, guided by legitimate national interests and history.
While Moscow has tested Euro-Atlantic calculations, Beijing’s nationalistic fervour ahead of the Chinese Communist Party Congress continues to challenge regional security across important sub-theatres of the Indo-Pacific. From Ukraine to Taiwan, the Himalayas to the South and East China Seas, the rule of force has dented rule of law. Stakes are high.
Washington’s effective global leadership is stretched thin, showing signs of fatigue from Kabul to Pyongyang. Meanwhile, making of a China-Russia alignment is an important variable bearing strategic implications for many, including India and Japan.
At this critical juncture, India and Japan have a strategic opportunity to improve their own position in the emerging world order by working more closely together. India-Japan should position itself as a net positive asset in the global system. How India and Japan play the long game will be judged by history. The summit presents a window to sharpen the strategic maturity of India-Japan Indo-Pacific Vision 2025 ahead of the Quad Leaders’ Summit scheduled in Tokyo.
Despite differing orientations — Tokyo’s decades-old treaty alliance with Washington and Delhi’s guiding principle of strategic autonomy and multi-polarity— the compelling rationale of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's vision of the “Confluence of the Two Seas” has laid the foundation for a trusted partnership that Kishida and Modi will have to build on.
There may be nuanced gaps in the India-Japan conversation on some verticals, be it rules governing mega-free trade architecture like Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) or their posturing in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the G7's response. But strategic convergences far outweigh the divergences.
The strategic trust first built by Prime Minister Abe and continued by his successors, including Kishida, has helped the two countries to work closely together on a post-Covid Indo-Pacific agenda. India and Japan have also been able to work in concert in various trilateral, plurilateral and multilateral forums.
India-Japan demonstrated resolve in nurturing alternative solutions while manoeuvring post-Covid complexities. Strong institutional structures yielded an impressive report card even as Covid-19 struck, be it launching Quad’s Vaccine Partnership or Semiconductor Initiative; engineering the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative (RSCI) with Australia; and, joining forces in the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). Co-opting with Blue Dot Network, Build Back Better for the World (B3W) and the US-Japan Global Digital Connectivity Partnership also holds promise.
Economic security is a dominant theme in the post-Covid era opening up opportunities for cooperation in new technologies, including digital, cyber, space, 5G and semiconductors. Japan's desire to de-risk in critical supply chains also offers India opportunities that it must seize. Balancing national security interests, developmental goals, and cost-efficiency of high-tech presents a steep learning curve.
India and Japan require a deeper discussion on issues pertaining to technology transfer and adaptation especially with a focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, leveraging the transformative potential of strategic technologies, and scaling up in Artificial Intelligence, quantum, blockchain, big data, the Internet of Things, submarine optical fibre, critical materials and minerals, space, energy-efficient and low carbon technology, green hydrogen and green ammonia.
Complementary strengths in high-tech and the knowledge economy present opportunities. Indian software prowess and its demographics offer a favourable position for it to create solutions for Japan’s Society 5.0. Here, the Specified Skilled Workers programme is an enabler.
Japan has been a force multiplier in India’s economic modernisation. Kishida’s commitment to invest around $42 billion over five years underscores Japan’s continued determination in building a robust India. From a cumulative $36 billion foreign direct investment (FDI) since 2000 to quality infrastructure financing and ODA which advanced mega-industrial and freight corridors, shinkansen and developmental projects in strategic peripheries of Northeast and Andaman, India features prominently in Japan’s “Infrastructure System Overseas Promotion Strategy” (2021-2025).
Over the past decade, Japan has also emerged as an important defence and strategic partner. Committed to a rules-based maritime order through joint exercises, logistics, information and intelligence sharing with Quad powers and key European navies, the two are moving on to greater cooperation in cyber, space, digital infrastructure and defence technology.
Japan’s maiden National Security Strategy (NSS) prioritised India on account of its maritime geography and naval prowess. As policy planners in Tokyo currently revise key defence and security documents, India will continue to be an important pole alongside the US, Australia, Europe and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
China’s arrival as a confident power in the system is upending power equilibrium, between US-China and China and Asian neighbours. Discomfort with the idea of a Sino-centric order led Tokyo to revisit its grand strategy. As Japan pushes the gambit of positive pacifism, India and Japan will inevitably embrace a greater role in regional security.
While 2022 is about celebrating seven decades of diplomatic relations, the depth of the India-Japan partnership draws from much deeper historical and cultural roots. India’s footprint in the Japanese public psyche, from Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose, Radha Binod Pal and Krishna Menon makes for a solid foundation.
Looking ahead, India’s significance in Tokyo’s grand strategy will be unwavering. The variables that pushed the inclusion of Delhi in Japan’s strategic outlook have become even more potent in the post-pandemic game. Amid global disorder, India-Japan cannot remain bystanders. They will rather lead together as a stabilising force and design strategic solutions to restore equilibrium to the post-Covid world.
Titli Basu is an associate fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
The views expressed are personal