India-Japan Defence Cooperation on Higher Pedestal

The Japanese Prime Minister Abe had earlier said during the joint press interaction, “We have created a new chapter in India-Japan relationship with important defence initiatives.”

Issue: 6 / 2015By Ranjeet KumarPhoto(s): By PIB

The Indo-Japan defence and strategic relations have been put on a higher pedestal during the visit of Prime Minister ShinzO Abe for the annual summit in New Delhi from December 11 to 13. Though India and Japan have been confabulating over measures to strengthen defence and strategic relations since early years of the last decade, domestic political compulsions due to the sensitivity of the Japanese people over nuclear non-proliferation forced the Japanese leadership to move slow.

However, over a decade ago the Japanese leadership had expressed its resolve to strengthen defence relations with India during the visit of the then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Tokyo during which a wide ranging defence cooperation agreement was signed that committed Japan to jointly work on sensitive technology and transfer them to Indian defence firms for manufacture. A decade later some ground level activity has been cleared. During the 2006 December Tokyo summit of the Prime Ministers the two sides had said, “The two leaders welcome the Joint Statement issued following talks between the Defence Minister of India and the Minister of State for Defence of Japan in May 2006 and reiterate their commitment to enhance defence cooperation to achieve the common goal of promoting the security, stability and prosperity in Asia and in the world at large as well as in tackling regional and global security challenges. They urge their concerned agencies to develop an annual calendar of cooperation and exchanges relating to defence and security and to progressively enhance cooperative activities, including high-level exchanges and consultation between services. The two leaders appreciate the recent developments in service-to-service cooperation. The two sides will also undertake a goodwill exercise between the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Indian Navy in 2007.”

A decade later the two sides had raised the level of bilateral naval interaction to trilateral under the umbrella of the Indo-US Malabar naval exercises. This has naturally evoked strong reaction from China. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson reacted to this decision by stating, “Our position is very clear. It is hoped that the relevant country will not provoke confrontation and heighten tensions in the region.” Japan and India have always been conscious of the possible Chinese reaction and they have refrained from making strong bilateral moves in the defence arena. However, continued belligerent behaviour from China towards both India and Japan forced the two Asian giants to come closer during the visit of ShinzO Abe to India. Hence it was not surprising to the diplomatic and strategic observers when during the New Delhi summit India agreed to invite Japan to the Malabar exercise on a regular basis. The two governments had earlier concluded an agreement to transfer of technology and defence equipment and also the agreement concerning security measures for the protection of classified military information, which further strengthens the foundation of deep strategic ties. Both the Prime Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to continue discussions to deepen the bilateral defence relationships including through two-way collaborations and technology cooperation, co-development and co-production.

However, it is the actual cooperation in the sensitive defence technology that worries China most as Japan is said to be most advanced in cutting-edge defence electronics

In this context a significant mention was made regarding the US-2 amphibian aircraft. The two sides committed themselves to explore potential future projects on defence equipment and technology cooperation such as US-2 amphibian aircraft. Defence sources later said that the Indian Government has already decided to directly purchase 15 US-2 and later manufacture the aircraft in India under the ‘Make in India’ programme through technology transfer.

The spokesperson of the Japanese Foreign Ministry Yasuhisa Kawamura told this writer, “Defence related agreements are indeed the most important part of this particular visit by Prime Minister ShinzO Abe to India.” The Japanese Prime Minister Abe had earlier said during the joint press interaction, “We have created a new chapter in India-Japan relationship with important defence initiatives.”

Wary of China’s reaction, the Japanese diplomatic sources emphasised that India-Japan defence partnership is not directed at any third country. Talking to this writer, the Japanese official said, “As far as the Malabar exercise is concerned, Japan plans to work with India and the US for peace, security, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the important trade and energy lanes of the Indo-Pacific region.”

However, it is the actual cooperation in the sensitive defence technology that worries China most as Japan is said to be most advanced in cutting-edge defence electronics. Sources said that both Indian and Japanese officials would soon work out the nitty-gritties of the US-2 acquisition and technology transfer under the ‘Make in India’ programme. It would be for the first time that a nuclear sensitive Japan has agreed to transfer of technology and actual sale of defence platform to a third country in view of its pacifist tradition which does not allow the sale and transfer of equipment and technology to a third nation. However, after an intense debate in the Japanese Diet and among Japanese public, the Japanese Government reformed its defence export policy, which permitted the Japanese Government to allow the sale and transfer of US-2 amphibian aircraft. It is expected that this will pave the way for more robust engagement in high technology defence production, which will prove to be a source of envy to the neighbouring rival nations.