Ahead of the annual summit meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2019, the Defence Minister of India, Mr. Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar, met Foreign Affairs Minister of Japan Mr. Motegi Toshimitsu, and minister of Defense of Japan, Mr. Taro Kono, on 30 November 2019 in New Delhi for the first India-Japan 2+2 Foreign and Defense ministerial meeting. The dialogue aimed to review the evolving security scenario in the Indo-Pacific and further strengthen strategic ties in bilateral cooperation to build a free and open Indo-Pacific, keeping in view China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
This initiative was driven by the mutual desire to frame an Asia that is not dominated by any one country and to ensure the emergence of a multipolar Indo-Pacific that is free, open, and inclusive. In the past discussions, global commons, including maritime, cyberspace, and outer space, have been key themes in the dialogue process. The recent dialogue focused on seeking ways to further cooperation for peace and progress in the Indo-Pacific region and the desire of both sides to create a rules-based framework in the Indo- Pacific.
Japan is the only second country after the US with which India has such a mechanism for discussions. The recent 2+2 ministerial dialogue is seen as an upgrade from the meetings between the officials, the first round of which took place in the year 2010 to the recent ministerial-level held on 30 November 2019. According to Japan’s Defence minister Taro Kono, “the talks symbolizes a higher level in Japan- India security ties in the Indo- Pacific region.” The decision to hold a ministerial-level 2+2 dialogue was taken earlier this year during a telephone call between Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Indian counterpart Dr. S. Jaishankar.
The idea of such a 2+2 dialogue was initiated during the summit meeting between Abe and Modi in Tokyo in October 2018. The joint statement released after the meeting emphasized the need for such a dialogue. The low-level dialogues between the two countries have been going on for a decade now. The new 2+2 initiative is an addition to existing strategic dialogue formats such as the National Security Advisor Dialogue, Defense Policy Dialogue, and the Annual Defense Ministerial Dialogue. India and Japan have had a foreign and defense dialogue at the secretary-level officials since 2010. The dialogue process was established as per the Action Plan to advance security cooperation agreed between the two countries in December 2009.
The two countries have already built a strong strategic partnership in the last decade. Both sides reviewed the status at bilateral, multilateral, and regional levels and exchanged their views on further bolstering the strategic defense and security ties. At a bilateral level, the ministers welcomed the recently conducted ‘Dharma Guardian 2019 and the second Shinyuu-Maitri 2019’ and in future agreed to proceed with coordination for the first India-Japan joint fighter aircraft exercise in Japan, as part of efforts to deepen bilateral security propelled by China’s military buildup and regional assertiveness.
In the joint statement, both ministers called for a speedy conclusion to the Acquisition and Cross–servicing agreement (ASCA). It is speculated that the two countries plan to sign the deal during Abe’s visit to India in mid-December 2019. Both countries noted satisfaction with the onset of exchange of information based on the implementing arrangements for deeper cooperation between the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Indian Navy, signed last year. In the future, both sides welcome the progress on cooperative research in unnamed Ground Vehicle (UGV) /Robotics.
While reviewing the multilateral cooperation both India-Japan expressed their satisfaction at trilateral cooperation represented by the ‘MALABAR 2019’ held from September-October 2019 off the coast of Japan, mine-countermeasures exercise (MINEX) held in Japan in July 2019 and ‘Cope India 2018’ in which Japan participated as an observer in December 2018. The recent initiative like Japan-India- Australia–US foreign ministerial consultations in New York in September 2019 was also lauded.
The dialogue emphasized regional cooperation, particularly on the security situation in the Indo-Pacific. Such need arises by the China factor and also to ensure that both countries’ worldviews are shaped accordingly. Both sides reaffirmed the importance of supporting ASEAN and unity for promoting peace, security, and development in the Indo-Pacific. In the future, both countries expressed their commitments to working together with ASEAN to achieve their shared objectives. Both ministers highlighted their commitment to support ASEAN-led frameworks such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the East Asia Summit (EAS), and ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting –Plus ( ADMM-Plus). Japan further appreciated India’s announcement of the ‘Indo- Pacific Oceans Initiative’ at the present 14TH EAS to create a safe, stable, prosperous, and sustainable maritime domain.
Grave concern was expressed over the growing threat of terrorism in the Indo-Pacific region and also acknowledged it as a significant threat to peace and security in the region. Discussion on the developments in the South China Sea figured prominently in the dialogue, as the ministers criticized China’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, as well as an increased military presence in the Indian Ocean. Both countries assessed the security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region to keep the dragon at bay. It aimed to reset strategic relations and set the road for the annual summit to be held in mid-December 2019. Overall, the dialogue is an important initiative to deepen India-Japan security and strategic engagements further. The ministers recognized the importance of continuing the success of this meeting and decided to hold the next meet 2+2 ministerial meeting in Tokyo.
*** The author is at present International Exchange Student, Department of Political Science at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Doctoral Fellow at ICSSR, New Delhi and a Doctoral Scholar at Centre for Canadian, U.S. & Latin American Studies (CCUS&LAS) Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi ***