Japanese PM’s visit to New Delhi: Advancing the Goals of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific in South Asia

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More than 15 years after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first discussed Indo-Pacific cooperation during a visit to New Delhi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio. Kishida met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also gave a significant speech on Japan’s Indo-Pacific policy and its new security posture. The two nations reaffirmed their agreement on a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific during the former’s 27-hour visit. A new plan for a free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) region envisions India as an “indispensable partner” for preventing regional coercion and upholding a rules-based order. Kishida stated that there will be four pillars supporting Japan’s FOIP strategy, including “principles for peace and rules for prosperity,” “doing challenges in an Indo-Pacific way,” “multi-layered connectivity,” and “expanding efforts for security and safe use of the sea to the air.”

“I would want to use this occasion to strengthen the complex bilateral relationship that exists between our two nations and is built on the common ideals of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. backed by the ongoing interactions between the individuals,” Kishida said. He also listed additional measures to strengthen Japan’s FOIP, emphasizing the importance of the high seas’ independence and called upon the nations to make territorial claims based on international laws.

He also announced $75 billion to support Japan’s FOIP strategy, reiterating his country’s commitment to a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific. With China is flexing its military muscles in the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal, both prime ministers decided that any unilateral move intended to alter the current situation in the East and South China Sea would be unacceptable. The global community is experiencing a historic geopolitical tipping point with the unending conflict in Ukraine, where Kishida went after India. The focus of both of his trips has been to strengthen the bilateral strategic and international alliances to effectively tackle the food crisis and rising fertilizer costs. Cooperation between the G7 and the G20 has more important in order to address the numerous difficulties that the global community is now experiencing as both New Delhi and Tokyo are currently in charge of the G20 and G7 respectively.

Japan’s FOIP and India’s role

Japan has also decided to enhance its defence budget. By 2030, Japan pledged to raise more than $75 billion in public and private financing for infrastructure projects around the Indo-Pacific region, demonstrating its commitment to the FOIP. Since India and Japan last met at a summit in March 2022, it was an opportune time to interact bilaterally. India is obviously essential, but Japan will improve cooperation with the US, Australia, South Korea, Canada, and other countries simultaneously. Moreover, India is heavily reliant on energy imports from West Asia and Africa that are transported there by sea. Around 80 per cent of Japan’s oil and gas supplies come from the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and are transported there via the South and East China Seas and the Malacca Strait.

The Indo-Pacific plays a vital role in regional and international commerce networks and is home to a wide variety of marine resources and habitats, extending from the Indian Ocean Region to the central Pacific Ocean. The historic presentation by the late Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in the Indian Parliament in 2007 in which he emphasized the need for India and Japan to develop the union of the Indian and Pacific Oceans to secure freedom and prosperity was the foundation of his speech. PMs Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi jointly declared in 2014 that the bilateral relationship had been upgraded to a “Special Strategic Global Partnership.” A regional framework was established in 2015 to restore stability to the Indo-Pacific, aligning it with India’s Act East Policy and Japan’s FOIP Strategy.

Besides, the need to establish a “free, open, and inclusive” Indo-Pacific has been a key aspect of Modi’s foreign policy. Modi has made it clear that India’s independence, openness, and inclusion at home serve as the cornerstone on which it bases its promotion of these principles overseas. Modi has frequently mentioned the clear connection between these ideals in India’s foreign policy and its domestic politics and society.

India and Japan, due to the nature of their growth and contemporary demands, are positioned as complementary powers. The two nations have increased their bilateral defense relations and collaboration in multilateral organizations like the QUAD as a result of their strategic alignment in the Indo-Pacific. The expanding Chinese presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, together with shared fears about Chinese aggression, have placed India and Japan on the same strategic page. Moreover, the Russia-Ukraine war has shaken the cornerstone of the world order.

Bangladesh and FOIP

Bangladesh can be a crucial player in implementing FOIP due to its pivotal geographical location and can play a vital role in connecting South Asia to South-East Asia through the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG B) initiative that was launched in 2014 between late prime minister Abe and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh, situated at the intersection of ASEAN and India, can contribute significantly to the advancement of regional cooperation and the pursuit of these geopolitical objectives. India and Japan are already cooperating on the Bay of Bengal infrastructure development through their strong regional cooperation. Among these initiatives are the construction of LNG infrastructure in Sri Lanka, the building of pipelines and electrification in Myanmar, and the improvement of Bangladesh’s road network.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in South Asia Monitor [Link] and Indo Pacific Network [Link]