Strategic Perspectives


Author: Cdr Subhasish Sarangi

Period: Oct - Dec 2018

India-Japan Bilateral: Reflections after the 13th Meeting
Commander Subhasish Sarangi@


Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan on 28-29 October 2018 for the 13th India-Japan Annual Summit. The outcome documents of the visit include a “Vision Statement”[1], “List of Announcements/Agreements Signed”[2] and elaborate Fact Sheets on “India-Japan Development Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including Africa”[3]. If the volume of outcome documents is any indication, the India-Japan relationship is flourishing. It also means that merely narrating a commentary of collaborations and agreements is too unwieldy. It is more instructive to discern the major trending issues in the joint documents of the last four years in which the two Prime Ministers have helmed the relationship since the Vision Statement too is a review of this period.

In 2005, the two countries decided that summit level (Prime Minister level) talks will be held annually, alternating between New Delhi and Tokyo[4]. This commitment has been adhered to till date except in 2012, when Japan had unscheduled parliamentary elections. The bilateral has prospered since the time it was elevated to a “Strategic and Global Partnership” in December 2006 and PM Shinzo Abe delivered his “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech in August 2007. It is guided by the framework of the “Special Strategic and Global Partnership” agreed upon during PM Modi’s visit to Japan in September 2014[5] and the Vision 2025 unveiled during PM Abe’s visit to India in December 2015[6]. The present visit was the PM Modi’s third visit to Japan and his twelfth meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since 2014[7].

The foremost trend discernible in the joint statements is the pursuit of ‘value based diplomacy’ to primarily address the contestation over maritime space in South China Sea and East Asia. Rules-based international order, freedom of navigation and overflight, respect for sovereignty and international law, resolution of disputes through dialogue in accordance with principles of international law such as United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and a “free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific” have become bellwether terms to indicate like-minded nations. Conjoint to it are the declarations for “free, fair and open trade and investment system” and “unimpeded lawful commerce”. Similarly, to address the competing initiatives in enhancement of connectivity and infrastructure, the desire expressed is that they should be “quality infrastructure” and undertaken in an open and transparent manner based on international standards and responsible debt financing practices while ensuring respect for sovereignty, rule of law and the environment. For cyberspace, the commitment is for it to be open, free, secure, stable, peaceful and accessible.

Another major trend is the expression of commitment to enhance connectivity and infrastructure in India and other countries in the region, including in Africa. Collaborative projects in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Kenya have been mentioned for the first time. Collaboration with Africa is sought to be achieved through platforms such as Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) and the India-Africa Forum. However, despite announcement for a Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) in December 2016 and release of the Vision Document in Jun 2017, there has been no progress thereafter. Formation of a "Platform for Japan-India Business Cooperation in Asia-Africa Region” for business houses has been announced and a MoU for support of business projects in third countries has been signed between Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) and Export Credit Guarantee Corporation of India (ECGC).

Partnership for prosperity is the other major highlight in the relationship and basically centers around Japanese financing and aid. In fact, for the first time in the Vision Document, it is listed ahead of the defence partnership. India is the largest recipient of Japanese Overseas Development Assistance and the projects are too numerous to be listed. Major projects supported by Japan include Mumbai Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR), technology transfer of HSR, Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) and Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). The North East Forum was launched on 05 December 2017 to enable improvement in connectivity with south-east Asia. Japan is funding infrastructure and ecological projects in the region. Japan Industrial Townships (JITs) are sought to be created in the larger plan to establish industrial corridors. Bilateral trade is rarely mentioned since it has not lived up to the potential. The total trade of $15.70 billion in 2017-18 is lower than that of $16.29 billion in 2013-14[8]. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows are healthier, although fluctuating, with cumulative inflows between 2000-18 at $28.16 billion (not accounting for FDI through Singapore and Mauritius)[9]. FDI enhancement was sought under the “Japan-India Investment Promotion Partnership” committed in 2014[10]. A Bilateral Swap Arrangement (BSA) of $75 billion has been concluded for providing stability to the Rupee. Similar agreements were concluded earlier also – $3 billion in 2008, $15 billion in 2012 and expanded to $50 billion in 2013.

Collaboration in fields of Science and Technology, including Space and Clean Energy, is inevitably mentioned with an accompanying bouquet of new-age technologies in which collaboration is intended. This time around, actual collaborations have been listed. Human Resource Development has increasingly found greater mention in the form of skill development, Japanese language training and, lately, health and well-being.

Although Defence and security cooperation is listed lower, it is a vital element of the relationship. The biggest news is that the “2+2” Dialogue has been upgraded to Ministerial level. The other forums include Annual Defence Ministers Dialogue, the National Security Advisers’ Dialogue, Defence Policy Dialogue and Service-to-Service staff talks. This year, the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force have exercised jointly in Malabar, RIMPAC, Kakadu (In Australia) and Japan-India Maritime Exercise (JIMEX). JIMEX was conducted after a gap of five years. The Coast Guards have conducted joint exercises regularly since 2000. The armies are conducting the 1st Exercise ‘Dharma Guardian’ over two weeks in November 2018 at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Mizoram. The air forces have participated in Exercise Pitch Black in Australia this year and the Cope India Air Exercise between India and USA will be converted to a trilateral exercise with Japan Air Self Defense Force expected to join as observers during the next edition scheduled in India this December. Negotiations have commenced for a mutual logistics support agreement called Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) that will enable supporting of military units in each other’s bases. The navies have also concluded an agreement for exchange of information to enable better Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

Efforts at defence equipment transfer have still not fructified. The procurement of US-2 amphibious aircraft, manufactured by ShinMaywa Industries, has stalled although Japan is now amenable to joint production and the Mahindra Group has announced a partnership with ShinMaywa Industries for this purpose. The Soryu class submarines of Japan are one of the most advanced in the world but there is no clarity on whether any procurement is intended.

Technical discussions have commenced on future research collaboration in the area of Unmanned Ground vehicles and robotics. The 1st Defence Industry Forum was held in Tokyo in September 2017 to enable defence industry cooperation. Cyber security cooperation is sought to be progressed through the India-Japan Cyber Dialogue, whose 2nd meeting was held in August 2017.

ASEAN unity and centrality has been reaffirmed to be “at the heart of the Indo-Pacific concept”. Willingness to expand “cooperation with US and other partners” has been expressed. The two nations are part of trilaterals and have “2+2” arrangements (either Ministerial or Vice-Ministerial level) with USA and Australia.

In global challenges, the joint statement follows the familiar touch-points of UN reforms (especially of the UN Security Council), inclusion of India in export control regimes, commitment to RCEP, climate change, terrorism (read Pakistan), North Korea’s nuclear program and nuclear disarmament.

It will be incorrect to portray this bilateral relationship merely as propelled by the ascendancy of China. Its trajectory is actually determined by “common values” and “shared strategic objectives”. The very fact that the relationship has been described as “the cornerstone of India’s Act East Policy” indicates its importance to India.


[1] India-Japan Vision Statement, 29 October 2019, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

[2] List of Announcements/Agreements signed between India and Japan during visit of Prime Minister to Japan, 29 October 2019, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

[3] India-Japan Fact Sheets on India-Japan Development Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including Africa, 29 October 2019, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

[4] Joint Statement, India-Japan Partnership in a New Asian Era: Strategic Orientation of India-Japan Global Partnership, 29 April 2005, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

[5] Tokyo Declaration for Japan-India Special Strategic and Global Partnership, 01 September 2014, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

[6] Press Release, Joint Statement on India and Japan Vision 2025: Special Strategic and Global Partnership Working Together for Peace and Prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region and the World, 12 December 2015, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

[7] Press Release, Official Visit of Prime Minister to Japan (October 28-29, 2018), 12 October 2018, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

[8] Export Import Data Bank, Department of Commerce, Government of India, accessed from http://commerce-app.gov.in/eidb/default.asp on 26 October 2018.

[9] Quarterly Fact Sheet, Foreign Direct Investment, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Government of India, 23 August 2018.

[10] Tokyo Declaration ibid.


@Commander Subhasish Sarangi is a Research scholar at the United Service Institution of India (USI), New Delhi.

(Article uploaded on 31 Oct, 2018)  

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI.


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