The visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has led to an even closer strategic embrace between New Delhi and Tokyo, with India for the first time taking a public stance on China’s expanded air defence zone, extending invitation for naval exercises with the US and starting a new national security dialogue.
Last November, China had expanded the air defence zone over East China sea to howls of protest from Japan and South Korea. The US had said that the move changes the status quo in the region. Since then, Abe’s visit to Yasukuni shrine further led to stress in Sino-Japan ties, which is even reflected in a recent decline in economic relations.
The joint statement released on Saturday night said that Singh and Abe “underscored the importance of freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with the recognised principles of international law and the relevant standards and recommended practices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).”
It is noteworthy that India has seemingly put its weight behind Japan which had taken the matter of the controversial Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) to ICAO, using the occasion of Abe’s visit to give its first official view.
Officially, both sides deny that China is part of their equation. “Importance of rule of law is increasing maybe because of ADIZ or some other activities, but the joint statement does not specifically mention anything or any specific country either... It is not targeting the activity of any country,” said Japan foreign ministry’s director general for press and public diplomacy, Kuni Sato.
Nevertheless, Beijing’s aggressive moves will certainly push India and Japan to go for a stronger alliance on security issues, which is now easier to do with Tokyo establishing its National Security Council last year.
Sato said it has not yet been decided how frequent the “regular consultations” between NSC’s secretary general Shotaro Yachi and India’s national security advisor Shivshankar Menon would be. The agenda will be wide-ranging security issues ranging from “Afghanistan, Iran or even North Korea”.
The senior Japanese foreign ministry official said that in the current global situation, any country “needs allies, partners for global issues that affect national security like cyber security”.
India’s invitation to Japan to join the Malabar naval exercises with United States is a signal that will certainly not be missed. Japan is of course keen that India re-patches the bruised relationship with US following the Devyani Khobragade incident and forge stronger trilateral defence ties, around Washington’s pivot to Asia.
There are still challenges though, like wrapping up talks for sale of US-2 amphibian aircraft and civil nuclear agreement. Once done, it would first Japanese defence sale in 40 years.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Singh said in his speech that talks were not just for sale, but also for “co-production”. Japan is also in the midst of amending its constitution to allow for its troops to leave the Japanese shores. “All this is being done in the concept of active contribution of peace based on international cooperation, but that concept is being advanced because of the current state of global security situation,” said Sato.
Abe’s new muscular foreign policy and economic vision for the country has led to worries, especially among Japan’s neighbours and west. This was not helped by his controversial remarks in Davos that Japan and China were poised at similar situation as UK and German before WWI. Sato, however, said the prime minister had been misquoted on an “off-the-record remark”.
Talks on for Chennai port project
India and Japan are also looking at various projects for improving maritime connectivity, including at the port improvement project in Chennai and advancing Chennai-Bangalore industrial corridor project, which was also reviewed during talks, so that it links up to South-east Asia through sea route network.