India’s high regard for Japan is certainly rooted in shared history The warm Modi-Abe relationship has been built over 12 meetings, including four summits, since 2014

Such symbiosis, unusual in international relations, has, understandably, heightened interest in the 13th India-Japan Summit, scheduled on October 28-29 in TokyoEve, since they institutionalised annual summit-level meetings in 2006, India and Japan, have held a closely aligned world-view

Common concerns for India & Japan: US & China

  • China’s economic and military rise, its growing belligerence and its refusal to comply with the existing rule-based order are a cause of concern for both countries
  • China’s capricious actions in the East and South China Seas and its relentless quest for distant Indian Ocean footholds have focused sharp attention on maritime-security in the region
  • President Donald Trump’s recent actions on trade tariffs, sanctions against Iran and Russia, as well as the U.S.’s exit from several multilateral and security regimes are impacting both countries in different ways
  • For India, the impact is more direct, as the economy has been hurt by new American tariffs, review of its GSP (trading) status, and restrictions on visas for professionals
  • Moreover, possible U.S. sanctions over Indian engagement with Iran as well as defence purchases from Russia pose a looming challenge
  • For Japan too, U.S. trade tariffs are a concern and Washington’s exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is corralling Southeast Asian countries into a free trade regime under Chinese domination
  • In addition, the U.S.’s on-again, off-again nuclear negotiations with North Korea are keeping Tokyo on tenterhooks

Advantages of a bilateral relationship

  • Japan, as a resource-deficient island state and major economy, is totally dependent on sea-lanes for its energy, commerce, industry and security
  • Despite the crucial reliance on the seas, Japan faces serious capacity limitations in its ability to protect its sea-borne trade and energy traffic
  • It is constrained by constitutional curbs on the maintenance of military/naval forces and their deployment overseas
  • India, as a significant naval power with a dominant peninsular location astride shipping-lanes, plays a major role in ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean and its environs
  • Close cooperation with a democratic India, located mid-way along trade-routes connecting East Asia with the Middle East and Africa, would be advantageous to Japan
  • At the same time, a technologically deficient India has much to gain from a relationship with a country like Japan

The relationship in recent years

  • Regular prime-ministerial exchanges have yielded a “special strategic partnership” as well as a landmark civil nuclear agreement
  • A Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed in 2006 and Japan was, formally, admitted as the third member of the “Malabar” Indo-US naval exercises last year
  • India and Japan have stepped up military exchanges and will begin negotiations on a landmark acquisition and cross-servicing logistics agreement

Way forward

As the two prime ministers seek a modus vivendi for navigating hurdles and realising the potential of the Indo-Japanese relationship, especially in the fields of defence and security, they should be buoyed by the fact that India and Japan, of all Asian nations, carry no historical burden of the past

None of the issues between the two nations is insurmountable, and the larger concerns of how to navigate uncharted and stormy geopolitical terrain, while maintaining strong positions on the international rules-based order, are likely to dominate Mr Modi’s visit

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