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India and Japan: Strengthening Defence Co-operation

Rajaram Panda was Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for profile
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  • December 22, 2009

    The forthcoming two-day visit of Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to India on December 28-29, 2009 for a summit with his Indian counterpart is paving the way for the deepening of the bilateral relationship. Hatoyama’s talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will possibly cover topics including an economic partnership agreement between the two countries and measures against global warming and terrorism.

    The new Japanese Prime Minister’s India visit is coming on the heels of Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s visit to Japan on November 8-10, 2009, thus reinforcing the message that Hatoyama’s foreign policy is Asia-centric. Indeed, even before election to the lower house on August 30, Hatoyama’s op-ed in the New York Times questioned the continuance of US-led globalism, contending that there is an ongoing movement away from a unipolar world led by the United States and towards an era of multipolarity. Evidence that Hatoyama was shaping a foreign policy for Japan that focuses more on Asia and downplays the country’s excessive dependence on the United States came sharply when Hatoyama floated the idea of an East Asian Community while visiting China and South Korea in October 2009.

    The importance of Antony’s November visit to Japan should, therefore, be seen in the light of India’s response to Hatoyama’s deepening engagement with Asia. Given growing convergence between India and Japan on security and strategic issues, Antony responded to the invitation of his Japanese counterpart, Toshimi Kitazawa, to visit Japan and in the process became the first Cabinet Minister to visit Japan after the DPJ took power. During their meeting, the defence ministers reviewed the on-going defence related interactions and explored ways to enhance such exchanges for mutual benefit. Antony discussed the issue of conducting joint exercises between the two armed forces and exchange of students in their respective defence training institutions. The possibilities of co-ordination of efforts in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and other maritime security challenges also dominated the discussion.

    India-Japan bilateral security and defence co-operation is guided by the Joint Statement issued by their Defence Ministers in May 2006 and the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation issued during the visit of Manmohan Singh to Japan in October 2008. In the Joint Statement issued on November 10, 2009, India and Japan resolved to strengthen joint anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Indeed, the two navies are already involved in co-ordinated anti-piracy operations, sharing the burden of patrolling in the Gulf of Aden. Recognising their mutual interest in the safety of sea lanes, they decided to extend co-operation in the field of maritime security, especially in the area of combating piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden. The two ministers also condemned terrorist activities and expressed their determination to enhance co-operation in the fight against terrorism. The negotiation on a Defence Action Plan (DAP) is already at an advanced stage and is expected to be signed during Hatoyama’s forthcoming visit.

    Antony and Kitazawa consented to step up defence co-operation, including joint military exercises, bilateral and regional co-operation in peacekeeping, disaster relief and the ASEAN Regional Forum. With this agreement, the two ministers gave a “facelift to the existing bilateral defence cooperation.” Quoting anonymous authoritative sources, The Hindu said the two countries “were keen on finalizing the (defence) action plan.” The idea of a DAP was first conceived during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan in October 2008.

    The defence ministers of India and Japan also condemned terrorism, underscoring the need to intensify joint operations in the fight against this global menace. According to Mahindra Singh, a defence analyst in New Delhi, the focus on Indo-Japanese strategic ties is part of India’s efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region. He also says that Japan’s and India’s overdependence on Arabian Gulf oil and the need to ensure its smooth flow is another driver. The joint statement appropriately outlined these issues by stating their “common interest in the safety of sea lines of communications.” The agreement coincided with Japan’s decision to provide $5 billion in fresh aid to Afghanistan despite plans to recall refuelling ships supporting US-led forces there.

    It is worth noting that during the first-ever visit to Japan by an Indian Defence Minister, that of George Fernandes in January 2000, he had clearly emphasized on the importance of developing defence co-operation between the two countries. After Hatoyama assumed power, the same Fernandes who is a Rajya Sabha member now, pleaded with the Manmohan Singh government to build meaningful relations with Hatoyama. Writing in OtherSide, Fernandes observed: “India can develop a truly meaningful relationship with Prime Minister Hatoyama although I also learned that his Foreign Minister is considerably pro-China. Perhaps we can turn this into an opportunity of a good China-Japan-India relationship which I had discussed with many friends during my many visits to Japan. Eastern Civilization and culture have much to offer the world if we forget for a short time the ugly part of geo-politics and power games.”

    Besides expressing a desire to hold annual meetings, the two ministers agreed to work towards the realization of the visit of Japan’s Minister of Defence to India at the earliest mutually convenient time. It was also agreed to hold the second Defence Policy Dialogue in New Delhi some time in 2010. As regards comprehensive security dialogue (CSD) and military-to-military talks, it was agreed to hold the next CSD and Military-to-Military talks sometime in 2010 in Tokyo (the 6th CSD meeting was held in February 2009 in India). The very fact that India’s Chief of the Naval Staff visited Japan in August 2008 and the Chief of Army Staff visited Japan to participate in the Pacific Army Chiefs Conference (PACC) in August 2009 demonstrates the evolving defence co-operation between the two countries.

    Consensus exists in both countries for co-operation in the securing of sea lanes of communication as well as in working towards disaster relief operations. The recent bilateral and multilateral exercises such as “Malabar 07-02” held in the Bay of Bengal in September 2007, and “Malabar 09” held in the eastern sea of Okinawa in April 2009 demonstrate their mutual commitment to take defence co-operation to a higher plane. The holding of the 2nd Navy-to-Navy Staff Talks between the Maritime SDF (MSDF) and the Indian Navy in October 2009 in Japan was a logical extension of such co-operation in the defence field.

    Exchanges of students and researchers between the two respective defence institutions is another dimension of defence co-operation between any two countries and it is but appropriate that the importance of this aspect has been realized by the leaders of India and Japan. As a result, plans are afoot for sending students and researchers from Japan Ministry of Defence/SDF to the Indian National Defence College, Defence Services Staff College and other defence institutions in India, and from India to the Regular Courses of the National Institute for Defence Studies and other defence institutions in Japan in the spirit of reciprocity. It will be of advantage to both if this idea is soon institutionalized.

    The Japan-India Maritime Security Dialogue was inaugurated in October 2009 and held in India. The main objective of this dialogue is to co-ordinate efforts to ensure safety of navigation in the relevant areas. As regards peace-keeping/peace-building and disaster relief, both India and Japan worked closely in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights and want to strengthen such practical co-operation.

    Besides, both countries have realised the importance of conducting mutual exchanges between their respective Peacekeeping operations organisations, such as Japan’s Central Readiness Force and the Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping (CUNPK) in India. Indeed, India accepts participation of Japanese officers at the training course of the CUNPK in February 2009.

    These developments suggest that there is a growth trajectory in defence co-operation between the two countries, complemented by the burgeoning economic relationship providing robustness to the partnership. Hatoyama is no stranger to India, having visited India as the leader of opposition in the Lower House of the Japanese Diet, when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister. At that time, the terrorist attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly building and on the Indian Parliament had disturbed peace in the subcontinent. When Hatoyama’s visit to India was being planned in such an atmosphere, India decided to convince him not to visit Pakistan, as is the usual practice of anyone visiting South Asia. Even as some of his men had begun talking about a visit to Pakistan, Hatoyama graciously agreed to India’s suggestion and avoided that trip. Hatoyama’s forthcoming visit to India as the Prime Minister of Japan will usher the year 2010 with a new chapter for India-Japan relations to blossom in their comprehensiveness.

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