Modi-Abe summit: Shaping the Indo-Pacific

The summit has added new dimensions to India-Japan cooperation for regional peace and stability


Hemant Krishan Singh
At their bilateral summit in Tokyo a year ago, Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe had laid the foundations of an entente among Asia's leading democratic powers and pledged to together "shape the course of their countries and the character of this region and the world in this century". Since then, regional strategic competition has deepened and security concerns have grown amidst unilateral assertions of hegemonic power. At their summit meeting in New Delhi on December 12, 2015, Modi and Abe have responded decisively to this growing challenge by announcing a multi-sectoral and action-oriented partnership for peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, reflecting the broad convergence of their nations' long-term political, economic and strategic goals.

The Joint Statement on India and Japan Vision 2025 concluded at the summit is remarkable for its strategic resolve, clarity of purpose and joint actions to realise shared objectives. It marks a qualitatively new phase of the India-Japan strategic partnership with vast region-wide ramifications.

The document sets out new and expanded principles for realising a peaceful, equitable and rule-based order across the Indo-Pacific. In addition to democracy, the rule of law and an open global trade regime, these principles now include respect for sovereign equality and territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of disputes and freedom of navigation and overflight. The underlying concerns are unmistakable: both countries are at the receiving end of China's territorial claims and regional stability has been undermined by China's unilateral assertions in the South China Sea. Asia's emerging powers need a normative regional security order to constrain such coercive threats. Acting together, and in concert with trilateral partners like the US, India and Japan can provide reassurance to regional states and strengthen the role of the East Asia Summit in upholding a stable order.

To further strengthen the bilateral strategic partnership, Modi and Abe have outlined concrete actions in defence, security, economic and cultural fields. The more salient among these bear elaboration.

The conclusion of agreements on transfer of defence equipment and technology and protection of military information are designed to deepen defence cooperation. Japan is now the only country with which India has instituted military staff talks among all three components of their respective defence forces. And Japan will henceforth become a regular participant in the India-US Malabar naval exercises, strengthening interoperability among these trilateral partners to meet maritime security challenges in the Indo-Pacific.

The agreement for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, reached after five years of difficult negotiations, has been rightly highlighted by Modi as the "shining symbol of mutual confidence and strategic partnership in the cause of a peaceful and secure world". It carries extraordinary significance, given the high sensitivity of nuclear issues in Japan's domestic discourse and doctrinaire commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. To paraphrase the Japanese spokesperson, this would not have been possible but for the special bonds between PMs Abe and Modi. While it may still take time to finalise technical details and complete internal procedures, this agreement opens up the prospects of cooperation for meeting India's vast needs for clean energy, including in conjunction with partners like the US and France.

With the announcement of major decisions on economic cooperation, Japan is set to play an even more decisive role in India's economic transformation. In Modi's words, "no friend will matter more in realising India's economic dreams than Japan". From the introduction of Japan's Shinkansen technologies to the wider modernisation of India's railways, enhanced support for industrial corridors to larger foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows for Make in India, summit outcomes have expanded the horizon. With the provision of $12 billion in ODA (official development assistance) soft loans for the Shinkansen project and another $12 billion pledged by Nippon Export and Investment Insurance and Japan Bank for International Cooperation to promote Japanese FDI, the roughly $35 billion of public and private financing promised under the Japan-India Investment Promotion Partnership is well on the way towards realisation.

Summit decisions on advancing people-to-people relations are welcome steps that will help create solid bonds for future relations.

The Modi-Abe summit has added new dimensions to India-Japan cooperation for regional peace and stability, enunciating normative principles, calling upon states to avoid unilateral actions in the critical waterways of the South China Sea and launching regular bilateral consultations on maritime safety and security of source lines of code. Modi has extended unequivocal support for Japan's recent legislative measures to enhance its "proactive contribution" to global peace and security, which have opened up prospects for greater defence and security cooperation. Hopefully, the comprehensive and medium-term action plans envisaged in the Joint Statement will eventually include India-Japan maritime security cooperation across the expanse of the Indo-Pacific.

Modi and Abe are frequently referred to as like-minded "nationalist leaders". What is left unsaid is that they are leaders of nations that uphold democracy, universal values and pacific principles, and whose nationalist urges are not based on notions of irredentism and regional dominance. The India-Japan strategic partnership seeks to uphold the peaceful and orderly rise of a multipolar Asia and strategic equilibrium rooted in the established principles of international law. And this partnership encourages restraint and moderation in managing overlapping and sometimes conflicting major power interests peacefully in order to secure Asia's economic progress and prosperity.

Abe and Modi are truly aligned in their vision to raise the economic prospects and strategic relevance of their respective nations. To borrow from a phrase of Abe, the India-Japan relationship has unbounded potential to determine Asia's destiny.

The writer is a former ambassador of India to Japan and a professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, New Delhi
Disclaimer: These are personal views of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of or the Business Standard newspaper

First Published: Dec 15 2015 | 9:47 PM IST

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