India and Japan: Shaping a new strategic partnership

India and Japan: Shaping a new strategic partnership

India and Japan have recently unveiled a series of important initiatives, strengthening their mutual cooperation on important issues such as defense technology, nuclear energy and freedom of navigation. However, the renovated entente between the two countries feeds China’ suspicious about alleged cooperation aiming to undermine its power in the region.

On Monday, China warned India and Japan against any attempts to provoke incidents and creating tensions in the region after Japan’s decision of joining the India-U.S. annual naval exercise in Malabar, as a formal partner.

India and Japan have reached a deal focusing on the transfer of defense equipment and technologies, as well as the protection of classified intelligence information. The agreement, finalised in the aftermath of Prime Minister Abe’s state visit, represents an important element to evaluate the tightening of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

In a recent statement, China’s foreign ministry’s spokesman, Hong Lei, expressed severe concerns about an Indian-Japanese agreement on the freedom of navigation in South China Sea, considered a direct challenge to Beijing’s claims in the area, especially given China’s expanded the civil and military infrastructure in the region

Bilateral relations

In recent years, relations between India and Japan have greatly improved and the shaping of a new special partnership is considered an important step for the emergence of important diplomatic synergies. Despite marked political and cultural differences, India and Japan share similar goals and cultivate common ambitions.

Both Prime Minister Abe and Modi are conservative, nationalist and cunning leaders of two of the oldest democracies in the region and in both cases their leadership has been characterized by a strong desire to restore national pride, fulfilling a more assertive role in regional and global arenas.

In a Ministry of External Affairs’ recent statement, Delhi has affirmed the importance of deeper bilateral defense relations with Japan, including the establishment of shared technology cooperation and manufacturing. More importantly, the expanded collaboration between the two countries foreshadows their strategic orientation towards the implementation of a foreign policy agenda able to restrain China’s intent to alter the fragile regional security balance, especially in regards to the South China Sea.

The recent state visit of Prime Minister Abe to India represented an important chance for Japan to foster a new and more significant strategic framework based on sharing defense technology, military equipment and information, highlighting India’s determination to improve strategic capabilities but also to unveil its desire to establish regional defense cooperation agreements with new and more reliable partners.

Recently, India has intensified its efforts to acquire advanced military technologies in order to upgrade its military forces and implement its strategic capabilities. From a strategic perspective, India’s military modernization remains extremely limited compared to its direct rivals such as Pakistan and China who have focused more steadily on developing military means to pursue their strategic agendas.

India has suffered from the limited opportunity to acquire advanced naval technologies in order to increase its naval power projection in the region, making Japan a valuable partner to foster the acquisition of new and more advanced defense capabilities.

Japan, a Weapon Inc.

Under the auspices of a brand new identity for Japan, Prime Minister Abe has strongly supported radical reforms aiming to shape a new security policy. In 2014, the Abe Administration abandoned its nearly half-century ban on the export of weapons and military hardware, one of the core pillars of the Yoshida Doctrine that shaped the political identity of Cold-War Japan.

The new shift in the defense exportation policy permits Japan to supply allies and partners interested in the acquisition of advanced military hardware. Countries like India and smaller nations in Southeast Asia, currently engaged in the modernization of their defense capabilities, would benefit from this change.

This approach allows Japanese defense companies to enter new markets and also expands Japan’s regional influence by providing advanced military capabilities to countries concerned by China’s emerging military power and territorial claims over the region.

Furthermore, in the last few years the Abe Administration has been characterized by significant and unprecedented reforms aiming to expand the role of its military forces and expand its contribution to regional security through the reinterpretation of its Peace Constitution. In this process, Japan has also established important partnerships with regional allies and new partners in order to protect its core interests which are increasingly jeopardized by Beijing’s determination to impose a new model of regional order at the expenses of Washington and its close allies.

Increased cooperation between India and Japan could represent an important tool to expand their level of strategic preparedness and may attract additional regional actors whose limited powers have prevented them from opposing China’s expansion in South China Sea that remains one of the most immediate challenges for the stability of the region.

Additionally, as long as China remains determined to pursue significant strategic expansion in the region, a marked recalibration of regional defense spending across the Asia Pacific, already affected by a considerable arms race, could represent interesting market opportunities for Japan, willing to impose itself as a pivotal actor in the scenario.

Categories: Asia Pacific, Security

About Author

Daniele Ermito

Daniele Ermito is a London-based analyst. He is also a GRI analyst and regular contributor for the Foreign Policy Association, where he writes mostly on the Koreas ‘blog. He holds a BA (Hons) in International Relations from the University of Bologna and a MSc in Asian Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies. His areas of research include Northeast Asia security, Japanese politics and Chinese foreign policy. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielRmito.