The first India-Japan two plus two dialogue reflects the commitment from both sides to provide greater depth to the bilateral strategic ties. The dialogue is significant in the context of India and Japan emerging as crucial partners in the Indo-Pacific with growing convergences of interests.
India-Japan relations have significantly advanced over the past decade. Convergences in geoeconomic and geostrategic interests in the Indo-Pacific have brought the two countries closer. The inaugural India-Japan Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue (2+2) was held on 30th November 2019 in New Delhi, as the Defence Minister of India, Rajnath Singh and the External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar met their Japanese counterparts Minister of Defense, Taro Kono and Foreign Affairs Minister Motegi Toshimitsu. The decision to conduct the 2+2 Dialogue was taken during the 13th India-Japan Annual Summit meeting in Tokyo, Japan in October 2018, in presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Sinzo Abe.
Japan is now the only second country after the United States (US) with which India has a 2+2 dialogue arrangement. The dialogue has been initiated as a mechanism to advance the ‘special strategic and global partnership’ agreed in 2014 between India and Japan. It adds to the already existing mechanisms for strengthening defence and security cooperation including the Annual Defence Minister’s Dialogue, the National Security Advisors’ Dialogue, staff-level dialogue between each service and the annual Prime Ministerial level summits.
Crucial issues of common concerns and interests including maritime safety and security, shared objective of peace, prosperity and progress in the Indo-Pacific and identifying mechanisms and ways to deepen strategic defence and security cooperation were taken up for discussion during the inaugural Dialogue. The paper attempts to evaluate deepening India-Japan strategic cooperation in certain key areas including infrastructure development, maritime security, defence and technology in the backdrop of the first 2+2 Dialogue.
Strategic Cooperation in the Context of the Indo-Pacific
As the world’s economic and political centre of gravity shifts to the Indo-Pacific, geopolitics of the region is undergoing unprecedented transformation given the complex interplays among regional and global powers. India-Japan relationship needs to be analyzed in the broader context of the dynamic geopolitical realities of the Indo-Pacific.
The strong foundation for the India-Japan strategic partnership is provided by the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation agreed in 2008, which particularly emphasised on their shared values of democracy and rule of law and overall a commitment to comprehensive framework for enhancing security cooperation between the two countries.
India and Japan are crucial partners in the Indo-Pacific, as PM Modi emphasised during his meeting with the Japanese Foreign and Defence Ministers prior to the 2+2 Dialogue, that “India’s relationship with Japan is a key component of our vision for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a cornerstone of India’s Act East Policy”. Similarly, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono stated that “India is the most important partner to realise a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP)”. The policy discourse and documents in both the countries have enunciated their vision and strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, which when analyzed appears complementary in nature. India’s vision’s as eloquently articulated by PM Narendra Modi in his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue 2018, stands for a “free, open and inclusive” Indo-Pacific (which expands from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas). He made it clear that that the Indo-Pacific is not “a club of limited members” and ASEAN centrality is integral to the vision. Japan, on the other hand, has already inducted the FOIP in its foreign policy strategy in 2016. The strategy is focused on promoting “connectivity between continents of Asia and Africa, rule of law, freedom of navigation, market economy, with ASEAN as a hinge of two oceans”. During the Dialogue both the sides also welcomed the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) which came out in June 2019 and shares a similar outlook on “promoting an enabling environment for peace, stability and prosperity” in the region, through “dialogue and cooperation”.
The Japanese side also welcomed the Indo-Pacific Ocean’s Initiative (IPOI) announced by the PM Modi during his speech at the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Bangkok, in November 2019 for promoting safe, secure and stable maritime domain. The IPOI also emphasises on creating partnerships among interested states in the focus areas of maritime security; sustainable use of marine resources; disaster prevention and management. Japan could be a valuable partner in taking the initiative forward. In fact, Japanese Foreign Minister emphasized on commonalities and synergy among the Japan’s FOIP initiative, the AOIP and the IPOI. Therefore, shared objectives of peace, prosperity and progress and a common commitment to free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific provides a strong base for deepening India-Japan strategic cooperation.
A priority area in India-Japan partnership has been the development cooperation in connectivity and infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific. India and Japan have been keen to partner for promoting connectivity via quality infrastructure both in India particularly in the Northeast region of the country as well as collaboration in third countries like the ongoing projects in Sri Lanka (for jointly building the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port), Myanmar, Bangladesh and Africa in an “open, transparent and non-exclusive” manner. The Act East Forum launched in 2017 plays an important role under the rubric of India’s "Act East Policy” and Japan’s FOIP to identify projects for economic modernization of India’s North-East region. On the other hand, the ‘Asian African Growth Corridor’ (AAGC) is significant to promote connectivity and cooperation between sub-regions of Asia and Africa “fine-tuned with development needs and priorities” of the countries. Talks are also on for setting up of “Platform for Japan-India Business Cooperation in Asia-Africa Region” to enhance B2B exchanges for developing industrial corridors and industrial network in the region. Developments of smart islands, ecological management and disaster risk reduction are some of the areas that the two countries can focus for future collaboration. Japan is also engaged in other infrastructure investment partnerships, which are widely seen as an apparent attempt to counter China's BRI, like the trilateral partnership with the US and Australia and recent agreement with the European Union (EU).
Regional geopolitical compulsions certainly play an important role in shaping the bilateral relationship. Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific is in a flux, given the current background of geo-economic tension between US and China, Sino-India strategic competition and tensions between Japan and China particularly on the dispute regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Rise of China and significant transformations in the Indo-US relationship to an extent has contributed to the changing equation between India and Japan. In both India and Japan, there is a certain degree of concern towards China’s assertiveness in the region, particularly expansive, non-transparent and unsustainable nature of its extensive connectivity projects under Belt Road Initiative (BRI). During the 2+2 Dialogue both the sides expressed concern about the situation in the South China Sea and stressed on need for early conclusion of an effective and substantive, Code of Conduct, in consistent with United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other international laws.
Multilateral cooperation including commitment to ASEAN and ASEAN led forums, is an important aspect of overall Indo-Japan relations. During the 2+2, both sides recognized the recent significant progress in the trilateral cooperation between India-Japan-US (JAI). The trilateral relationship seems to be gaining momentum as the Heads of Government of the three countries met on the sidelines of G20 Summit in December, 2018 in Buenos Aires for the first-ever trilateral summit. The three sides reiterated their shared fundamental values and highlighted focus areas of cooperation including sustainable development, maritime security, connectivity, disaster relief and freedom of navigation. The Trilateral cooperation is also reflected in Malabar exercises, mine-countermeasures exercise (MINEX) held in Japan in July 2019 and ‘Cope India’ air forces exercise in which Japan participated as an observer in December 2018. Of particular significance is also the ‘quadrilateral security dialogue’ (Quad) with US, India, Japan and Australia, which seems to be progressing gradually as a consultative mechanism at this stage. The recent Japan-India-Australia-US Foreign Ministerial level consultations meeting in the ‘Quad’ format was held in New York in September 2019.
Therefore, as the Indo-Pacific emerges as a centre of global attention, the relationship between India and Japan will play a considerable role in shaping emerging geopolitical trends in the region.
Enhancing Defence and Security Cooperation
Promoting defence cooperation between the two countries was a major agenda for the 2+2 Dialogue. India and Japan have agreed on a Memorandum on Defence Cooperation and Exchanges in 2014. All the three components of armed forces of the two countries engage in bilateral exercises. The ministers at the Dialogue welcomed the recently conducted ‘Dharma Guardian’ exercise 2019 between the armies of the two countries and the second ‘Shinyuu-Maitri’ exercises 2019’ between the air forces. Both the countries have also agreed to conduct the first joint fighter aircraft exercise.
A crucial area of discussion during the 2+2 Dialogue was cooperation for maritime safety and security for a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific. The maritime security and stability in the region is critical for both India and Japan, from economic and strategic angle. Both the countries are heavily dependent on oceans, with around 90% of their trade being carried via sea routes. The two countries have expressed willingness to further cooperation for safe and secure passage of ships through crucial waterways of the region. India and Japan hold regular Maritime Dialogue to identify areas of cooperation and policy actions in maritime domain. The 5th India-Japan Maritime Affairs Dialogue was held in Tokyo, 24 December 2019. At the 2+2 both sides welcomed the conclusion of Implementing Arrangement for Deepening Maritime Cooperation agreed between the navies of the two countries in 2018, to particularly enhance cooperation in Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).
Navies of the two courtiers meet for the bilateral exercise JIMEX since 2012, Japan has also become a permanent participant along with India and the US, in the Malabar exercises since 2015. The 23rd iteration of the trilateral Malabar 2019 took place off the coast of Japan, aimed at enhancing interoperability based on shared values and principles. The Coast guards of the two countries also conduct joint exercise; 'Sahyog-Kaijin-XV' exercise was held in January 2018.
In addition, both the navies also participate in exchange of information and best practices, goodwill visits and port visits like the Japanese Navy ship Sazanami arrived in Mumbai for a three day visit on 25 December 2019. Confidence and capacity building, exchange of information for maritime security, combating piracy and counter-terrorism, enhanced interoperability for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Search and Rescue (SAR) and MDA are some of the crucial areas where the two countries can work together.
A crucial logistics sharing agreement i.e. Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) is likely to be concluded soon. It will be on the lines of similar agreements India has signed with the US and France. Once concluded it will contribute to enhancing interoperability between the Indian and Japanese navy.
Defence industry and technology is emerging as a crucial area for augmenting the bilateral defence cooperation, which was also focused during the 2+2 Dialogue. India-Japan signed the bilateral agreement on the Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology in 2016 as part of their Special Strategic and Global Partnership. Both the countries are willing to push for cooperation involving both the public and the private sectors. The first-ever Defence Industry Forum between India and Japan was organised in September 2017. The efforts are also on regarding the procurement of US-2 amphibious aircraft by New Delhi. Japan has agreed for technology transfer for manufacturing and assembling of aircrafts in India. The acquisition will add to Indian Navy’s existing HADR/SAR and MDA capabilities.
Enhancing the strategic partnership, the Defence Ministries of the two countries have agreed on a first ever cooperative research project arrangement concerning the research on the ‘Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) Based Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Augmentation Technology for Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV)/robotics’ in July 2018. As a result the Acquisition, Technology and Logistical Agency (ATLA) of Japan and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have agreed to work on first joint project in the area of development of UGV and Robotics. There is therefore, great potential for expanding defence cooperation by building up on bilateral technological capacity.
The first 2+2 meeting provided a timely opportunity for both sides to review the status of and exchange views on strengthening defence and security cooperation, in the context of the Indo-Pacific as a principle strategic reference point. As India endeavours to strengthen economic relations and development in the region in a mutually supportive and cooperative manner under the vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All) and IPOI, Japan will be a crucial partner for India in both the initiatives. Similarly for Japan, India is an important partner for pursuing its FOIP initiative. In essence, India-Japan relations have the potential for being the most robust relationship in the region. With a focus on maritime security, infrastructure, defence and technology cooperation at the 2+2 and subsequent interactions, the two countries can enhance their partnership towards their shared objectives of free, open, inclusive and rules based order in the region. The next high-level 2+2 meeting has been decided to be held in Tokyo in 2020 to carry forward the discussions to further deepen the India-Japan strategic ties.
*Dr. Pragya Pandey, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation between Japan and India, https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/india/pmv0810/joint_d.html
 Mission of Japan to ASEAN, https://www.asean.emb-japan.go.jp/files/000352880.pdf
 ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, https://asean.org/storage/2019/06/ASEAN-Outlook-on-the-Indo-Pacific_FINAL_22062019.pdf
Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu
Saturday, November 30, 2019, New Delhi, https://www.mofa.go.jp/press/kaiken/kaiken4e_000727.html
India-Japan Vision Statement, 29 October 2018, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=184458
 Asia Africa Growth Corridor: Partnership for Sustainable and Innovative Development, A Vision Document, Africa Development Bank Meting, Ahmedabad, India, May 2017, http://www.eria.org/Asia-Africa-Growth-Corridor-Document.pdf, p.6
 Japan has agreed to partner the EU in September 2019 to promote connectivity between Asia and Europe see: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/68018/partnership-sustainable-connectivity-and-quality-infrastructure-between-european-union-and_en
 In first-ever trilateral summit, India-Japan-US focus on ‘inclusive' Indo-Pacific , Indrani Bagchi, Times of India, 01 December 2019, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/in-first-ever-trilateral-summit-india-japan-us-focus-on-inclusive-indo-pacific/articleshow/66889722.cms, Accessed on May 18, 2019
 Japan and India initiate cooperative research on Unmanned Ground Vehicles and Robotics, 01 August 2018, https://www.in.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_en/00_000647.html