Why the India-Japan ministerial is crucial

Updated on Sep 07, 2022 07:38 PM IST

Before PM Modi heads to Tokyo later this month, to bid a final goodbye to Shinzo Abe, these ministerial dialogues will be a force multiplier in advancing the late PM’s vision of a “Confluence of the Two Seas”, and position the India-Japan arc as a net-positive asset in stabilising the Indo-Pacific

The discussions in Tokyo will allow India to sharpen its understanding of Japan’s evolving character as a security actor amid turbulent tides in the Taiwan Straits (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
The discussions in Tokyo will allow India to sharpen its understanding of Japan’s evolving character as a security actor amid turbulent tides in the Taiwan Straits (Shutterstock)

The Indo-Pacific is front and centre in this week’s high-powered diplomacy, whether it be aligning the coordinates on geo-economics at the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF)’s ministerial meeting in Los Angeles, geo-strategy at the Quad meeting in Delhi or a series of India-Japan ministerial dialogues in Tokyo. The takeaways from each of these conversations will be consequential in further consolidating the building blocks of a rules-based Indo-Pacific amid a fluid balance of power, order, values and ideologies.

The conversations in Tokyo is of pivotal importance as 2022 is a decisive year in the Japanese calendar. Tokyo is buzzing with debates on shoring up deterrence by rewiring the National Security Strategy (NSS) as the era of great power competition returns. The NSS of 2013 does not reflect the drastically altered strategic calculus as it predates the US-China disorder, the emergence of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) in the strategic lexicon, the resurrection of Quad, the pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

De-cluttering the domestic discourse, it is imperative to understand how India is weighed in the current national security debate, and largely in the post-Abe politics. Today, the primacy of Delhi in the Japanese security outlook is firmly entrenched, as evident in the 2022 Defence White Paper, which featured India as an “extremely important country for Japan” owing to its strategic geography, demographic profile and economic potential. Some in Tokyo also argue the case for a possible G3 (the United States, China and India) in the next decade shaping the basic direction of global politics, and Tokyo’s urgency to buttress the strategic arc with India.

The discussions in Tokyo will allow India to sharpen its understanding of Japan’s evolving character as a security actor amid turbulent tides in the Taiwan Straits. It is important to grasp the nuances in national security discourse — be it doubling defence spending despite fiscal pressures, framing of the Taiwan contingency, domestic discourse on nuclear- sharing arrangements alongside Japan’s three non-nuclear principles, or pursuing counter-strike capability within the constraints of an exclusively defence-oriented policy.

While none of these strands is new, the Ukraine conflict has accelerated the prevailing trends in Japanese national security discourse. This echoes in the marked shifts in Japanese public opinion on security, compared to a decade ago.

As the defence and foreign ministers meet, one of the key lookouts includes how the revised NSS designs the China strategy? The 2013 NSS frames China as a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests”. In today’s strategic calculations, this sounds disoriented. Tokyo today talks of a “three front war” in its threat assessment — from China, North Korea and Russia.

One of the fundamental fault lines is their competing visions of the regional order. And yet, the discussion of a two-tier economic policy — intensifying free trade on one hand and pushing back on Chinese coercive economic statecraft on the other — demonstrates the challenge Japanese policy elites are navigating. It also shows that Japan’s posture on economic security does not inevitably imply economic decoupling from China. Defence and security verticals constitute one of the core pillars of our partnership.

While the latitude of our maritime security cooperation stands on qualitative depth, discussions on defence equipment and technology cooperation need greater traction.

Japan has eased its arms export policy in 2014, but that in itself is not sufficient. Despite the prowess of its civilian manufacturing base and dual-use technology, cost competitiveness owing to structural constraints and relative inexperience in the global arms market are fundamental challenges confronting the Japanese defence industry.

Going forward, positioning the economic security agenda centre stage is critical. Complex policy choices balancing national security and economic cost are at play while dealing with high-tech supply chains. The discussion between the government and the private sector needs a deeper dive to realise better synergy.

Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to Tokyo later this month to bid a final goodbye to India’s biggest champion, Shinzo Abe, these ministerial dialogues will be a force multiplier in advancing the late PM’s vision of a “Confluence of the Two Seas”, and position the India-Japan arc as a net-positive asset in stabilising the Indo-Pacific.

Titli Basu is associate fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and AnalysesThe views expressed are personal

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