In line with the Abe administration’s eagerness to strengthen ties with India, the two countries last week held their inaugural foreign and defense ministerial dialogue in New Delhi.
India has become the seventh country to start talks under the so-called “two plus two” formula with Japan. Tokyo has already started bilateral talks involving the foreign and defense policy chiefs with the United States, Australia, Russia, France, Britain and Indonesia.
The initiative is aimed at signaling closer diplomatic relations between the two countries.
During their meeting in the Indian capital, the Japanese and Indian defense and foreign ministers agreed to seek an early conclusion of an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement for logistics sharing between the Self-Defense Forces and the Indian military. They also agreed on joint fighter jet drills in Japan.
Holding dialogue with India, which has a fast-growing economy, to build mutual trust serves Japan’s national interest.
But Japan’s efforts to expand its relations with India should be based on a broad, long-term perspective for a sound international order.
Japan and the United States have been advocating the idea of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region as a regional policy goal.
The notion has been cast as a diplomatic vision for promoting economic development in Asia while securing the safety of key maritime trade routes running through the region.
But this initiative has been seen by many observers as a way to counter China’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure development project.
If Japan’s policy of pursuing closer ties with India is viewed as part of its efforts to counterbalance China’s rising power, it will be difficult for Tokyo to play a constructive role in laying the foundation for peace and prosperity in Asia.
From this point of view, military cooperation should not be stressed as a key feature of the expanded bilateral relationship.
Tokyo should make it clear that its cooperation with New Delhi will be aimed at promoting comprehensive mutual interests, such as infrastructure development, economic exchanges and anti-disaster and environmental protection measures, as part of its contribution to other parts of Asia.
India has traditionally been adhering to the principle of nonalignment and pursuing a multi-track diplomacy.
India has joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank while indicating recently its intention to withdraw from a regional free trade pact involving Japan, China, South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
India is facing a raft of economic challenges including a trade deficit and underdeveloped infrastructure. Irrespective of the diplomatic agendas of Tokyo, Washington and Beijing, India will remain focused on tackling domestic problems as well as issues with neighboring nations for the time being.
Some of India’s neighbors, such as Myanmar, share similar policy challenges. It is unclear what kind of international order will emerge in the region.
Japan would be better advised to distance itself from the increasingly bitter rivalry between the United States and China over global supremacy and try to establish itself as a reliable partner for other Asian nations pursuing economic and social development.
The Indian administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown a troubling tendency to resort to heavy-handed politics. This summer, Modi drew international criticism by stripping the state of Jammu and Kashmir of its special right to autonomy. It was India’s only Muslim-majority state located in the Kashmir region that is also claimed by neighboring Pakistan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to visit India later this month and meet with Modi. During his talks with Modi, Abe should urge the Indian leader to pursue a peaceful solution to all international conflict while stressing Japan’s commitment to the cause of the elimination of nuclear weapons from the world.
The principle of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” needs to be firmly underpinned by an unwavering commitment to the rule of law.