Bilateral cooperation between India and Japan have flourished over the years sharing convergence of views on rule-based maritime order and respect for territorial and sovereign integrity in the Indo-Pacific region. In the light of growing defence cooperation between the two countries Ananta Aspen Centre supported by The Nippon Foundation held a digital session on “India-Japan Defence Cooperation: ACSA, Malabar and Beyond” with Admiral Tomohisa TakeiJMSDF, (Retd.); 32nd Chief of Staff, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, and Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chairman, National Maritime Foundation; Former Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy.

The relationship obtained positive momentum during Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's visit to India in August 2000, when the two nations established the ‘Global Partnership”. This momentum reached an inflection point in 2007 when the then prime minister of Japan Mr. Shinzo Abe made his influential speech at the Parliament of India where he spoke about the Confluence of the Two Seas. Since then, the relationship has continued to move forward with annual summits between the two Prime Ministers.

The Indo-Pacific itself has become an area of focus since the speech delivered by Prime Minister Abe at the Indian Parliament. The defense relationship between India and Japan has been a major pillar of cooperation. The relationship has strengthened immeasurably through Quadrilateral Foreign Minister -level summit and 22 dialogue mechanism consisting of foreign and defence secretaries.

The two countries recently signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). This is an agreement for the supply of materials and services to each other’s military and is looked upon as an important intersection point in the military relationship between the two countries.

However, there are two key areas of concern. First, the need to deepen India- Japan defense cooperation in the “Gray Zone” ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific. The maritime traffic that converges to and dispersed from the South China Sea (SCS) is estimated to be one-third of global shipping. Nearly 3.37 trillion dollars’ worth of trade and 21 percent of global trade pass through the SCS clearly illustrates the importance of free and open Indo-pacific. Global trade depends on trade rules in the SCS, not only for the countries in the vicinity of SCS but also for the countries in Europe and Africa. Moreover, seven security hot spots pose a challenges to the peace and stability in the region where China is a key player directly involved in the four security zones and indirectly in the others. Second, security challenges of Biden’s administration in the Indo-Pacific region. The primary challenges of Biden administration in the Indo-Pacific foreign policy would be to prevent China from controlling the media, on the other hand it may take time to prioritize issues in the Indo-Pacific.  It is necessary for the United States to quickly restore the military power plans with China in the Western Pacific which is leading to China’s dominance.

Therefore, Japan and India as countries that share the common values must continue to emphasize to the United States the importance of free and open Indo-Pacific. It is essential to deepen defense exchanges between Japan and India based on three constraints; first geography; second domestic policy and third military capability. Given the geographic separation and connectivity via sea, both India and Japan, the two realistic maritime forces can lead the formalization of security architecture in the region.      

On the other hand, development of domestic policy relies on ideologies, political system,       constitutional framework and other legal procedures. Japan defense policy adopted article 9 of Japanese Constitution in 2015, prohibiting use of military force internationally. Even with expansion of the peace and security legislation, certain restrictions on deploying self-defense forces capability to defend other countries remains. Therefore the defense cooperation between Japan and India in war time lacks realities.

The present geopolitical landscape in the region offers avenues for both countries to co-produce equipment and enhance capacity building for both the defense forces.

In the past decade Indian Ocean has become the hub of intense global activity for several reasons. The most important trade routes pass through this region, connecting some of the fastest growing economies of Middle East, Africa and East Asia with the rest of Europe and America.     The Strait of Hormuz and the Malacca straits are key gateways.  A very large segment of the world maritime trade flows through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. No nation in the past decade has invested so much of capital in beefing up maritime capability than China.

Moreover, China has been  violating international conventions and norms trying to change the global order to its advantage in a win-all situation. The South China Sea conflict is a prime example       which disregards UNCLOS and the international code of justice. This ignites the reason for India and Japan to cooperate in the maritime realm ensuring freedom of navigation and a free and open Indo-Pacific.    

In terms of defense cooperation India and Japan have come a long way. The first JIMEX exercise was conducted in 2012 between the two Japanese maritime self-defense force and the Indian Navy. Now, India has signed an agreement on Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with Japan which will allow access to each other’s provision of supplies and services during the bilateral exercises and training, UN Peacekeeping Operations, and other Humanitarian activities. Both countries are working together in carrying out joint naval exercises, research programmes inclusive of tactical training and communication fostering Navy to Navy cooperation. The defense cooperation is also possible based on the idea two countries would yield supporting or supportive equations in each sub-regions that is a concrete measure to further cooperation between two Navies. India - Japan maritime and Navy to Navy cooperation can head and how important it is for both the countries to continue working together for ensuring a rules-based and open and free Indo-Pacific.

This defence session was a part of a series on “India-Japan Partnership Perspectives”

Please watch the full session on YouTube:




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