Two important developments marked Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to India this week. First, India and Japan have vowed to work together more aggressively to strengthen cooperation in security, trade and technology. Second, the visiting Japanese premier unveiled a new plan for a free and open Indo-Pacific that “envisages India as an indispensable partner” for preventing coercion and upholding a rules-based order. Obviously, the new Indo-Pacific plan to be executed jointly by Japan and India in coordination with other partners in the region is aimed at countering expansionist and belligerent China. Now, all eyes will be on the execution and effectiveness of the Indo-Pacific plan in future, particularly in the context of countering China. There is no denying that countering China’s muscle flexing is the biggest common challenge that New Delhi and Tokyo face. While Japan is wary of China’s territorial military claim on the entire South China Sea, India is concerned over Beijing’s assertive activities in the eastern Ladakh sector along the Line of Actual Control.
With China working on its expansionist agenda very fast, India and Japan must expeditiously execute the Indo-Pacific plan aimed at ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific region dealing with the challenge being posed by Beijing there. In fact, Japan’s $75 billion plan for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) includes working with countries in the region on avoiding debt traps, building infrastructure and enhancing maritime and air security. These steps will involve several partners in the efforts being made by Japan and India to tackle challenges from China. Moreover, the economic steps will go a long way in ensuring that China’s conspiracy to debt trap smaller countries falls flat in the region. As Japan and India hold presidencies of the G7 and G20 respectively, the two countries can play a major and effective role in addressing the challenge from China in the Indo-Pacific. The leaders of the two countries can work to garner global consensus on the Indo-Pacific plan. Significantly, India and Japan are part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) along with the US and Australia. The Japanese premier will definitely be using this critical forum of the four democracies to work in close coordination with the other two partners—US and Australia—as well while executing the Indo-Pacific plan. Tokyo wants more cooperation from New Delhi, Canberra and Washington to check China’s growing influence across the region.
Appreciable in this regard is Japan’s strategy that includes boosting regional partnerships by offering economic infrastructure and military assistance to smaller countries in the region. This step may help India and Japan to broad-base their efforts and mission to counter the challenge from an aggressive China across the Indo-Pacific region. For this to be a reality, Japan and India must first of all expand cooperation between them so that they can use their presidencies of G7 and G20 respectively to galvanise global opinion in a better way against expansionist activities, no matter where it is coming from.
The need of the hour is that New Delhi and Tokyo must expedite their efforts to ensure that the Indo-Pacific plan as unveiled by Kishida on India’s soil yields positive results as early as possible. Significantly, Delhi was the venue where the Indo-Pacific vision was first mooted in 2007 by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He pitched for the unity of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and deeper and better cooperation between Asia’s democracies. Now, Kishida has described India as an indispensable partner in Japan’s new Indo-Pacific plan. New Delhi is definitely set to rise to Japan’s expectations and prove its mettle in the execution of the entire plan to curb Chinese unlawful activities in the Indo-Pacific. The observations made by Noriyuki Shikata, cabinet secretary for public affairs in Japan’s PMO, assume significance. Shikata said, “The two leaders concurred on the importance of maintaining and strengthening the international order based on rule of law and their common responsibilities in this context at the G7 and G20”.