Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Delhi on Sunday and Monday, where he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was likely the first among several meetings the two might have this year. The leaders are expected to meet again on the margins of the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, and at the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) summit in Sydney the same month. Kishida is expected back in India for a G20 summit in September.
Perhaps due to this plethora of meetings and the busy schedule, this week’s visit was not classified as a summit. There was no joint statement or major bilateral agreement.
Therefore, the significance of the Kishida visit is that he took the trouble, after having visited most of the G7 countries, to meet in person to invite Modi to the G7 summit in his hometown of Hiroshima.
Kishida also used the occasion to enhance the regional profile of the India-Japan relationship by announcing a renewed Free and Open Indo-Pacific policy at the Sapru House Lecture on Monday.
The visit can be seen as a progression of India’s strategic partnership, working on regional and global levels to discuss matters that affect the world. Within the G7 and G20, there is a large amount of commonality. Kishida is interested in the Global South and sees Indian efforts to prioritize the region’s agenda under its G20 presidency as valuable to Japan’s presidency of the G7.
Kishida discussed the Global South in his meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington earlier this year. This is something that the G7 and G20 can coordinate better. So far, the G7 has had made many announcements, but with low fulfillment.
The Indo-Pacific policy brought together many concepts and ideas from verbal announcements, including Kishida’s own address to the Shangri-La Dialogue last year. Since then, the Ukraine crisis has heated up the Taiwan crisis. The revised Indo-Pacific policy deals with maritime security, an international rules-based order, maintenance of international peace and security, and protection of territorial integrity and sovereignty, along with the usual functional issues, which the Quad has also been discussing.
However, Kishida has added the Ukraine crisis and condemnation of Russia to the policy.
Some observers have said that the Indo-Pacific region is not an arena where the Ukraine crisis should be discussed.
Japan perhaps believes that China, which is not directly mentioned in the policy — although Russia is — might take action toward Taiwan, which would negatively affect the Indo-Pacific region.
Japan believes it is essential to warn the Indo-Pacific region about the Ukraine crisis.
From the Indian point of view, perhaps Japan is overplaying its hand. This issue also remains discordant between the G7 and the G20. Japan, along with Australia and the US, introduced Ukraine into Quad discussions when its countries’ foreign affairs ministers met earlier this month.
The Ukraine issue is not going away and Japan prefers its G7 adherence on the matter than compromise to make the G20 succeed. This must be noted, even though Kishida was clear that Japan has a stake in ensuring the success of India’s presidency of the G20.
There are two interesting aspects of the Indo-Pacific policy.
First is Japan’s plans to invest about US$75 billion in the Indo-Pacific region to develop infrastructure and industry, and provide grants. India receives from Japan annually about US$2 billion through foreign direct investments, and US$4 billion as official development assistance. This total would need to increase to at least US$8 billion if the bilateral target of US$40 billion of Japanese exposure to India is to be met. Most of it should be new foreign direct investment.
The new commitment of US$75 billion of expanded economic engagement with the region provides avenues to attract more investment from Japan to augment a steady flow of official development assistance. Even though there were no new large official development assistance announcements on this occasion, the fourth tranche of the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high speed railway was announced.
There are enough structural aspects of cooperation occurring between India and Japan to facilitate more foreign direct investment.
However, neither trilateral cooperation nor the supply chain resilience initiative that began two years ago between India, Japan and Australia were mentioned during Kishida’s visit, either during his speech or during discussions. There seems to be a lag on Japan’s part in pushing ahead on some of the issues.
Another important area has been the development of the India-Japan Northeast Forum. It has sought to develop northeast India, albeit slowly. The idea was to link it with a trilateral highway to Myanmar and Thailand, and the Kaladan multimodal project that is run through Myanmar.
Given the problems in Myanmar and the low probability of this integration process being successful, a new idea was proposed that the Bay of Bengal region should be better integrated using the northeast of India and Bangladesh as the core. This is a welcome new idea and serves the interests of India-Bangladesh relations and India-Japan ties, and enhances the importance of the northeast India.
There is awareness of Japan’s rising defense expenditure and its interest in expanding its own defense production. India remains keen to be a part of that process and would like to help lower Japan’s costs by offering competitive manufacturing facilities for Indo-Japanese technology and joint ventures.
More important is the possibility of a resilient supply chain on critical minerals and semiconductors. While an announcement has not ensued, this matter has been discussed, and Japan needs to focus on this matter so that the value of the Quad in developing these alternate supply chains — which are not dependent only on China or a single country — can be pursued.
Gurjit Singh is a former Indian ambassador to Germany, Indonesia and ASEAN, Ethiopia and the African Union.
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