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Towards a “Strategic Partnership” in Japan-India Relations

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Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attended the India-Japan 2+2 Dialogue in Tokyo on 8-9 September 2022. Commenting on the visit, Minister Singh said, “India and Japan seek special strategic and global partnership.”[1] On the same dates, the USA-India 2+2 Meeting was held in New Delhi. Deputy Ministers attended this meeting. Because, as can be understood, India’s Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs attended the 2+2 meetings in Japan on these dates. This may indicate that India attaches more importance to Japan. However, the reason for this can also be interpreted as the fact that 2+2 meetings with Japan have just begun. The first was held in New Delhi in November 2019, and the second took place in Tokyo. The main agenda item of these meetings was joint exercises and the development of defense cooperation.[2]

Japan, especially during the Shinzo Abe era, gave its “primary priority” to strengthening its strategic ties with India. In this context, the two countries have started to work together in the security of the Indo-Pacific within the framework of the Quadruple Security Dialogue (QUAD), as well as signing a civil nuclear agreement and trade agreement. It is even stated that the country that convinced India to join the QUAD group was Japan led by Shinzo Abe.[3]

Following a non-aligned and multilateral line, India became an axis country by joining QUAD as a result of Japan’s efforts, and this situation damaged New Delhi’s relations with Moscow. This is valuable in that it shows the importance India attaches to Japan. As a matter of fact, India has developed cooperation with Japan and other QUAD powers at the expense of opposing Russia, on which it is more than 80% dependency in the defense industry.

Recently, it is seen that QUAD countries have intensified their contacts among themselves. In this context, it can be said that India-Japan relations are progressing in a different dimension and evolving towards a strategic partnership. After Russia, India makes special efforts to raise its relations with Japan to the level of strategic partnership.

At the beginning of 2022, India and Japan implemented the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which foresees the mutual provision of materials and services in the field of defense. In addition, a Mutual Access Agreement (RAA) was signed between the two states, which allows the navies to stay and supply in case of war. Apart from that, the Japanese side is looking for ways to work together with India on the joint development and production of advanced military equipment.

In particular, New Delhi, which aspires to improve its naval power and shipbuilding capabilities, may consider leveraging Tokyo’s technology in the defense industry sector. Japan could assist India in developing an indigenous fifth-generation stealth fighter and next-generation warships and submarines.[4] In short, Japan’s desire to develop bilateral relations with India is not in a lower level. However, it can be said that India is more willing to strengthen bilateral relations with Japan. This is because New Delhi aims to surround Beijing. Because China began to surround India from the North and South. If India does not get support from Russia and Japan, which are the neighboring countries, it will become even more isolated in the region. To get rid of this, the New Delhi administration may seek to establish new partnerships and collaborations with Japan in the near future in order to contain China.

On the other hand, Japan has been trying to develop military cooperation with the Indo-Pacific states in recent years. Tokyo government signed a Mutual Access Agreement with Australia and the UK, as well as India. Similar agreements are planned with Indonesia and Thailand. In addition, Japan offers defense cooperation to Germany and Italy, which are its partners in the G7, to take more active role in the Pacific.

Japan, which has recently shown great interest in the Taiwan Strait, is not less likely to increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific in the future. In this context, India and Japan are trying to find funds to help Sri Lanka recover from the economic crisis. Moreover, Japan has deep historical ties with Sri Lanka and carries out economic projects with groups that it considers close to itself. So, India and Japan can act together to counter Chinese influence in Sri Lanka.[5] In this context, another reason why India wants to get closer to Japan in the maritime field may be that China has started to operate in the Indian Ocean.

Japan has begun to find itself in an insecure environment due to the ever-increasing threats in its immediate surroundings. Therefore, in the new National Security Strategy Document, which is planned to be published in the Autumn of 2022, it is expected that Japan will gradually move away from its pacifist structure.

In this context, it is estimated that the jurisdiction of the Japan Self-Defense Units will be expanded. This situation shows that Japan is preparing for new crises that may arise in the region in the following five years. This is not just about the Kuril Islands or North Korea. It may also concern possible crises such as Taiwan and Sri Lanka. Therefore, the reason for Japan’s rapprochement with India is to prepare in advance for these crises that are expected to emerge in the Indo-Pacific.

Developing a strategic partnership between the two countries will also have an impact on global and regional geopolitics. This rapprochement could primarily change Russia’s relations with Japan. In this context, New Delhi can play a mediator role. The coming together of India, Russia and Japan would mean the simultaneous encirclement of China from the West, North and East. While the two states agreed on the fight against China; it differs in terms of relations with Russia. Therefore, Russia may be the most important obstacle for Japan and India to develop a strategic partnership. The main factor that brings the two states together is the common interests in the Indo-Pacific. As the “Chinese threat” grows, Japan-India relations will move towards strategic partnership.


[1] “Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, EAM Jaishankar to Visit Tokyo for India-Japan 2+2 Meeting”, Deccan Herald, https://www.deccanherald.com/national/defence-minister-rajnath-singh-eam-jaishankar-to-visit-tokyo-for-india-japan-22-meeting-1142904.html, (Date of Accession: 08.09.2022).

[2] “At India-Japan 2+2 Meet on Sept 8, Joint Exercises, Defence Cooperation Is Focus”, Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/at-india-japan-2-2-meet-on-sept-8-joint-exercises-defence-cooperation-is-focus-101661347630233.html, (Date of Accession: 08.09.2022).

[3] “Late PM Shinzo Abe Contributed to Solidify Japan-India Relationships with Landmark Projects: Expert”, The Print, https://theprint.in/world/late-pm-shinzo-abe-contributed-to-solidify-japan-india-relationships-with-landmark-projects-expert/1092547/, (Date of Accession: 08.09.2022).

[4] “India, Japan Identify Key Areas of Defence Co-Operation Ahead Of 2+2 Dialogue at Tokyo”, The Hindu Businessline, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/india-japan-identify-key-areas-for-defence-co-operation-ahead-of-22-dialogue-at-tokyo/article65833058.ece, (Date of Accession: 08.09.2022).

[5] “India and Japan Can Unite to Counter Chinese İnfluence in Sri Lanka, Say Experts”, Wio News, https://www.wionews.com/world/india-and-japan-can-unite-to-counter-chinese-influence-in-sri-lanka-say-experts-513703, (Date of Accession: 08.09.2022).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer graduated from Sakarya University, Department of International Relations in 2014. In the same year, he started his master's degree at Gazi University, Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies. In 2016, Tamer completed his master's degree with his thesis titled "Iran's Iraq Policy after 1990", started working as a Research Assistant at ANKASAM in 2017 and was accepted to Gazi University International Relations PhD Program in the same year. Tamer, whose areas of specialization are Iran, Sects, Sufism, Mahdism, Identity Politics and Asia-Pacific and who speaks English fluently, completed his PhD education at Gazi University in 2022 with his thesis titled "Identity Construction Process and Mahdism in the Islamic Republic of Iran within the Framework of Social Constructionism Theory and Securitization Approach". He is currently working as an Asia-Pacific Specialist at ANKASAM.