By Prof. V.P. Gupta, Director, Rau’s IAS Study Circle, New Delhi – Jaipur – Bengaluru

India-Japan relation has attained a progressive momentum since the articulation of ‘Confluence of Seas’ vision by Mr. Shinzo Abe in 2007. India-Japan relations are now marked by a common principle of upholding rule of law and democratic values.

•   Expansion of partnership with US and other partners in forming and maintaining a new security architecture

•   Ensuring freedom of navigation by upholding international law such as UNCLOS

•   Safeguarding a safe and open Indo-Pacific region

India and Japan are currently engaging in ensuring a new security architecture in Indo-Pacific region with the common engagement in Quadrilateral grouping with Australia and US and engaging ASEAN member countries in South China Sea to contain China. The causal determinant of this progress in the bilateral relationship is the convergence of mutual interests. These interests range from the containment of China as a great power in Asia, economic engagement, and a nudge from US pivot to Asia. Moreover, the bilateral relation entered a phase of a dramatic leap forward with deepening of engagement with Mr. Shinzo Abe in the field of international politics and economic cooperation. The current scenario of India-Japan relations can be assessed by understanding institutional engagement between both nations in both multilateral and bilateral formats, economic relations, defence and nuclear engagement, and the impact of China and the United States in India-Japan strategic relationship.


India and Japan have formed a multitude of institutional and bilateral engagement mechanisms that range in scope from UNSC reforms, defence and security engagements, bilateral meetings, among other engagements.  India and Japan along with Germany and Brazil are members of an informal group ‘G4’ and declared their intent to support each other’s candidacy for a permanent seat in UNSC. Similarly, both nations along with US and Australia have formed an informal ‘Quadrilateral Group’ with a political and security perspective within Indo-Pacific region.  Both nations also engage with the US in trilateral Malabar naval exercises, apart from a bilateral ‘Sahyog-Kaijin’ coast guard exercises.

India and Japan have a continued process of 2+2 dialogue, involving Foreign and Defence Secretaries, for growing a strategic partnership based on security perspective. In addition, both countries would institutionalise the ‘India-Japan Maritime Affairs Dialogue’ further, which focuses on non-traditional maritime threats and cooperation in maritime affairs. Japan would also align its ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ with India’s ‘Act East’ Policy by enhancing maritime security cooperation and cooperate on improving connectivity within Indo-Pacific region, and which has culminated into the larger Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). India and Japan conceived the AAGC with the objective of cultivating value chains by advancing economic networks by connecting growth centres from Asia to Africa. AAGC would focus on four priority areas of development projects, quality infrastructure and institutional connectivity, skill development and capacity building and people-to-people cooperation.

Japan’s Prime Minister Mr. Shinzo Abe visited India for the 12th India-Japan Annual Summit in September, 2017 and 15 MoUs were signed that ranged from disaster risk management, skills development, science and technology and in the sports field. The summit reflected the multifaceted cooperation under the framework of ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ of the ‘India and Japan Vision 2025’, and advanced the economic engagement towards an ‘action-oriented partnership’ as envisioned by both countries.


Japan and India decided in the recent summit to form the Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor, similar to the format of Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor.  Both aim at developing new industrial cities as ‘Smart Cities’ with infrastructure linkages such as power plants, logistics facilities and softer initiatives such as skill development programmes. Moreover, several Japan-India Institutes for Manufacturing (JIMs) would be formed in Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu in 2017, under the ‘Manufacturing Skill Transfer Promotion Programme’. This programme is meant to enhance the manufacturing base of India and contribute to ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’ programmes. It will train individuals with Japanese style manufacturing skills and practices through the establishment of JIM in engineering colleges designated by Japanese companies in India.

A major highlight of the recent summit was the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway for which Japan would cooperate in terms of financing through soft loans, etc. The project is a significant success for Mr. Shinzo Abe’s Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (EPQI) initiative that seeks to facilitate Japan’s expansion to emerging Asian markets, and for Mr. Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. Similarly, India-Japan Act East Forum will focus on enhancing connectivity and promote developmental projects in the North Eastern Region of India by providing soft loans for connectivity infrastructure. Both countries would also begin a ‘Japan-India special programme for Make in India’ that would cooperate in infrastructure development programme in Mandal Bechraj-Khoraj area in Gujarat.

Defence cooperation has seen a shift from the past, wherein Japan is now ready to provide its US-2 amphibian aircraft to India and would collaborate in the area of Unmanned Ground Vehicles and Robotics, thus paving the way for improving defence engagement between both nations. Moreover, a shift is also seen in the nuclear policy and cooperation between both nations.

NUCLEAR POLICY AND ENGAGEMENT  Japan had earlier been reluctant to cooperate with India on civil nuclear programme due to India’s refusal to sign the Comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and further strained by India’s nuclear tests of 1998. Mr. Shinzo Abe has moved beyond the ‘nuclear allergy’ that strained relations in the past and has cooperated with India on atomic energy.

An ‘Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy’ was initiated in 2010 between Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Shinzo Abe and it was finally agreed upon in 2016 between Mr. Narendra Modi and Mr. Shinzo Abe. The agreement entered into force in 2017, and made India the first non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to have signed such a deal with Japan. An aspect of the agreement was India’s informally having a ‘unilateral moratorium’ on further nuclear weapons testing. 

The shift in defence engagement and civil nuclear policy, apart from being a consequence of economic policy, is also indirectly caused by the emergence of China and US policy towards India and Japan.  


The strategic cooperation between India and Japan within the Indo-Pacific region has been a reaction towards the rise of China and its growing unilateralism through OBOR, expansion in South China Sea, skirmishes on borders, among other initiatives in Indo-Pacific region. This fear has driven India and Japan to consider banding together and providing a form of collective security arrangement in the Indo-Pacific region and pursue alternative connectivity initiatives in Asia. Both nations have asserted for multiple power centres in Asia, thereby  containing China’s rise as a continental power in Asia.

Japan and India have also affirmed their commitment for a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region where sovereignty and international law are respected and there is freedom of navigation and over flight. This is in reference to China’s position in South China Sea, where it has staked claims to international waters as being Chinese territory and under Chinese sovereign control. Similarly, both nations underlined the use of responsible debt financing practices in connectivity infrastructure, and ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, to counter China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) programme, wherein nations such as Sri Lanka has been placed under considerable Chinese debt due to the Hambantota Port, and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as violating Indian territorial sovereignty in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). 

The recent flare-ups of China with Japan and India have also contributed towards specific engagements between India and Japan to counter China. Japan is dependent upon China for import of Rare Earth Metals, which China has used as a strategic asset such as curbing its export during the Senkaku Islands stand-off, and led to India and Japan signing a trade pact in 2012 which allowed India to export REEs to Japan. Similarly, Japan was the only nation to openly extend public support to India during the Doklam confrontation with China. Both nations have been seen supporting each other as being alternative poles of power in Asia and the world. 

India and Japan have ensured that their engagement does not antagonise China, and have maintained strategic autonomy with their bilateral relations with China. This is seen with India being a founding member of the China-led Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank (AIIB) which Japan has refused to join. The AIIB would be in competition with the Japan-led Asian Development Bank (ADB). Apart from the motivation to balance China’s growing assertiveness, there have been another reasons driving the strategic relationship deeper, which is the US pivot to Asia.


International politics in Asia has seen India maintaining a non-aligned position while Japan has been a part of the US bloc. The recent growth in India’s strategic engagement with the United States has caused the relations between India and Japan to move beyond their ideological traditions. The change in Asian dynamics with the emergence of China and to augment the diminishing capacity of US had caused Mr. Obama to initiate a ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy, with India and Japan being prime pivotal States.

India and Japan are competing to balance China in South Asia and East Asia respectively but have yet to engage each other to further augment their power within their regions. The active encouragement of US has led India to pursue strategic interests in South East Asia as seen in the formation of Quadrilateral Grouping, while Japan has been an active partner in Malabar exercises in South Asia. Both nations are cooperating with US against North Korea’s nuclear programme, re-building Afghanistan, among other US-dominated initiatives.

India and Japan, in a bilateral alliance, have neither the mandate to replace US in Asia nor potential to contain China. In spite of the expeditious growth in strategic relations, there lacks a strategic military partnership between both nations and a vision to shape the Asian security structure together. This missing link is being fulfilled by the United States.


2017 marked 10 years since Mr. Shinzo Abe declared the vision of ‘Confluence of Seas’ in India. Relation between India and Japan has seen tremendous growth in terms of convergence of views regarding Asian geo-politics and geo-economics, from countering China, forming connectivity infrastructure, and engaging with US. The economic cooperation is being extensively augmented with the personal encouragement of Mr. Narendra Modi and Mr. Shinzo Abe, and is showcased in both major and minor aspects such as High Speed Railway project, industrial corridors, etc. India-Japan relation has witnessed radical change in terms of defence engagement and nuclear policy in the past 10 years, and is reflecting in other fields such as the recent currency-swap agreement, expected defence logistics agreement etc. 

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