The Indo-Japanese friendship is as durable as any Japanese product and as valuable as emotional relations, in India. The friendship between India and Japan has a long history based on spiritual affiliation, strong cultural similarities and ancient civilizational ties. Mutual knowledge sharing between Japan and India is considered to have started in the 6th Century AD when Buddhism was inducted into Japan. Indian culture propagated through Buddha teachings, had a profound effect on Japanese culture. Contacts between India and Japan began some 1400 years ago and during these 14 centuries, the two countries have never been adversaries/rivals. Over the years, the two countries have built upon these values and created a partnership based on both, principle and pragmatism.
The Japan-India Association was set up in 1903 and is today the oldest international friendship body in Japan. Over 40 thousand Indian Nationals are now residing in Japan and similarly, more than 8 thousand Japanese nationals are now working in India and the numbers are increasing every day. The mutual cooperation in industrial development, technology transfer, energy generation, medical tourism and the religious pilgrimage has increased by many manifolds in the last decade.
Indo-Japanese partnership – common interests
India’s relationship with Japan is on a very strong and stable pedestal. Both countries share a common heritage of Buddhist ideology and a strong people-to-people bond that goes beyond economic alliances. The India-Japan relationship is manifested in multi-cornered cooperation and in the ever-widening scope of the bilateral alliance. Both countries share democratic and pro-peace, pro-people outlooks in their domestic and foreign policies. Therefore, they easily qualify to be natural allies. The India-Japan relationship, founded on the principle of trust has gained strategic prominence in the 21st Century.
The beginning of the 21st century witnessed a spike in bilateral ties between India and Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Mori undertook a path-breaking visit to India in 2000 and laid the foundation of the Great Japan-India Global Partnership in the 21st century. Shinzo Abe, PM of Japan paid an official visit to India for the 8th Annual Summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January 2014 and was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan in September 2014, soon after becoming the Prime Minister, indicating the importance of relations with Japan. He build a personal rapport with Premier Shinzo Abe, which soon brought the two countries close to each other.
In the geostrategic context, Indian and Japanese security perceptions converge in the region with China being the primary driver of common apprehensions. Both countries understand the WIN–WIN equation of this global partnership.
The Indo-Pacific region emerges as a centre of global strategic importance. Initially, it started as a humanitarian partner in the wake of the Tsunami of 2004. Today, the QUAD initiative has developed as an important forum to address security issues in the Indo-Pacific region. The security alliance includes the United States and Australia, India and Japan. The geographic positioning provides great proximity and strategic advantage to both countries (India & Japan), in case of any threats that emerge out of China. Therefore, the relationship between India and Japan is set to play a pivotal role in shaping the emerging geopolitical equations in the region, within the umbrella of QUAD.
Indo-Japanese economic cooperation
India and Japan had very good bilateral trade relations in the past. Japan’s interest in India is increasing due to a variety of reasons including India’s large and growing market and its resources, especially human resources. The India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that came into force in August 2011 is the most comprehensive of all such agreements concluded by India. A transformational development in the economic history of India was Suzuki Motor Corporation’s path-breaking investment in India in the early 1980s which revolutionized the automobile sector, bringing advanced technology and management ethics to India. In recent years, the economic relationship between Japan and India has further expanded and broadened
The presence of Japanese companies in India has been increasing steadily. Currently, about 1,439 Japanese companies are functional in India. Similarly, more than 100 Indian companies are doing business in Japan. Bilateral trade between the two countries totalled to US$ 20.57 Billion during the previous financial year (FY 2021-22). For the details, Exports from Japan to India during this period were US$ 14.39 billion and imports were US$ 6.18 billion. The trade imbalance between India and Japan is narrowing gradually with Indian exports to Japan rising each year. Economic relations between India and Japan have vast potential for growth, given the complementarities that exist between the two Asian economies.
Present Indian Government’s quest to create world-class infrastructure in the country already has significant Japanese contributions. India has been the largest recipient of Japanese loans in the last decade. Delhi Metro is one of the most successful examples of Japanese cooperation. Presently, six Metro Rail projects (Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai) are being implemented with technical and financial support from the Government of Japan. Besides, Japan and India had committed to building High-Speed Railway in India as the flagship project of the Indo-Japanese friendship. Post-COVID, a large number of Japanese industries are gradually shifting their manufacturing bases from China. India is well poised to provide a robust alternative with a friendly touch.
Indo-Japanese defence alliance
Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific is in a state of flux and new contours are emerging post-COVID and in the backdrop of the Ukraine war. The Rise of China has contributed to the changing equation between India and Japan. In both countries, there is a certain degree of concern towards China’s assertiveness in the region. India and Japan in their respective regions (Indian Ocean and Northwest Pacific) are naval powers of repute. India with its dominant strategic location and a strong navy aspire to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region.
In 2022, a 2+2 Dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministers of both countries was held in New Delhi. In this, both sides expressed concern about the situation in the South China Sea and Indo-Pacific reason. India has this arrangement of 2+2 Dialogue only with the USA and Now, with Japan. In the last decade, all three components of the armed forces of the two countries have started to engage in bilateral exercises. Japan has also become a permanent participant along with India and the US, in the Malabar exercises since 2015. The 26th Edition of maritime exercise MALABAR-22 culminated in the seas off Japan on 15 November 2022. Defence exercises, namely ‘Exercise Veer Guardian’ (Air Force) in January this year and another one ‘Exercise Dharma Guardian’ (Army) in February 2023 in Shiga province were recently conducted. The frequency of such engagements is increasing every year. Joint training exercises by QUAD members are giving sleepless nights to powers in Beijing.
India and Japan’s relationship has significantly advanced over the past decade. Convergences in geo-economic and geo-strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific have brought the two countries closer than ever before. Apart from economic and defence ties, cultural exchanges, education programmes and tourism have witnessed a perceptible increase in mutual cooperation, which exudes confidence and stability in the time-tested friendship.
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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently visited India in March 2023 and announced a new plan for a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ pledging $75 billion to assist the economies in the region, by 2030. He said-“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.” Both Modi and Kishida welcomed the formulation of a roadmap to further promote industrial cooperation between the two countries. Other highlights were the signing of pacts on cyber security and clean energy partnership. The noteworthy outcome of the Kishida visit was the big-ticket investment announcement of 5 trillion Japanese yen ($42 Billion) in India to finance relevant various projects (previous investment – 3.5 trillion).
The world’s economic and political “Centre of Gravity” shifts to the Indo-Pacific and Asia from USA and Europe in the 21st Century. The geopolitics of the region is undergoing rapid transformation due to the complex interplays between regional and global powers. In these strategic calculations of the Indo-Pacific geopolitics, India can be ‘an indispensable partner’. China’s aggressive designs in regional issues may propel both India and Japan to find more synergy to jointly cope with this new challenge.
India and Japan have individually shown the world that a great amount of service can be done to humanity and planet earth through peaceful means. Their closer ties serve as a ‘Beacon of Hope for the rest of the world. With cooperation between G-7 and G-20, as Japan is the current president of the former and India of the latter, this partnership could acquire global dimensions. Both are expected to make significant contributions to immediately needed solutions to the world’s problems, sans frontiers.