NEW DELHI: Stating that the focus on strategic issues is shifting from the Pacific Ocean to India and the Indian Ocean, Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu has said that his country has placed India at the centre of its Indo-Pacific policy.
"The geopolitics of Asia is dynamically changing. We used to discuss strategic issues with a focus on the Pacific Ocean, but that focus has shifted to India and the Indian Ocean." Hiramatsu said while speaking on "Japan's Perspective of the Changing Geopolitics of Asia" as part of the Changing Asia Lecture Series organised by the Society of Policy Studies think tank and the India Habitat Centre here on Friday evening.
"We are now having strategic discussions on this region, stretching from Asia to the African Continent. We place India right in the middle of this geopolitical dynamics," he said.
Stating that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to India in September this year was "unprecedented and special", he said that bilateral relations "are at its best ever, and substantial dialogues are being held at all level".
Explaining why Japan considers India as its key partner, Hiramatsu said that both countries shared values such as democracy, openness, and the rule of the law.
Stating that Japan attached great importance to upholding the rule of law, he said Tokyo found India's adherence to this in the international arena "worthy of admiration".
"You can see this from India's compliance with an arbitral decision regarding a sea boundary dispute with Bangladesh that was not necessarily in India's favour," the ambassador said.
"I appreciate India's consistent attitude to engage in dialogue through diplomatic channels to find a mutually acceptable solution at time of disputes. This is precisely why India is an indispensable strategic partner for Japan."
Speaking about the shifting of geopolitics to Asia, he cited three major reasons for this.
"The first reason is that the global power balance is changing, as it is becoming more dynamic and complex. The strategic situation in Asia is becoming ever globalised and interconnected, with emerging powers rising in the region," he said.
"The second reason is that the world we live in is becoming increasingly uncertain and unpredictable, with issues such as North Korea, the South China Sea, terrorism and others which are surfacing in the region. The third reason is the heightened significance of maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region, where the sea lanes stretching from the African continent to Japan are becoming crucial for the peace and prosperity of this part of the globe."
Referring to the India-US-Japan-Asutralia quadrilateral meeting held in the Philippines last month, the first such in a decade, he said that "given the greater convergence of views among the four like-minded countries, it is only natural that they come together to discuss measures to ensure a free and open international order in the Indo-Pacific region".
"In the meeting, senior officials of the four countries discussed the direction for cooperation in upholding the rules-based order and respect for international law in the Indo-Pacific, tackling proliferation threats, including North Korea's nuclear and missile issues, ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific and countering terrorism and other issues," he stated.
"We share values and principles, so it is natural that we meet and discuss common challenges and deepen cooperation. We respect and understand initiatives by other countries to have their own mini-lateral frameworks, being trilateral or quadrilateral, with each of their own agenda."
Stating that both countries shared the principles of connectivity infrastructure he said that this should be implemented "in an open, transparent and non-exclusive manner based on international standards and responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law and environment" in what can be seen as an obvious reference to China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.
Hiramatsu said that while his country would like to promote cooperation on infrastructure development to the countries in the Indian Ocean region and beyond, connectivity on land too was essential.
"Japan and India have launched the Act East Forum to advance development in and to foster people-to-people exchanges with the northeastern region (of India) in order to enhance overland connectivity. We hope the Forum will serve as a springboard for concrete projects in the region," he stated.
During a question and answer session following the his speech, Hiramatsu agreed to the view that Japan-India ties were getting a boost because of China's increasing aggressiveness and the US' lessening influence in the Indo-Pacific region.