Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in New Delhi Friday morning on a short 27-hour packed official visit that included talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a speech at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) on the Indo-Pacific and a visit to Rajghat.
Expectedly, Ukraine and Russian "aggression" was mentioned at least twice during Kishida’s speech at the ICWA, indicating that the war in Europe will continue to cast its shadow at the G20 summit in September. Japan is a close ally of the US and since the end of the second world war has been committed to defending Japan which had adopted a pacifist constitution. Recently Japan has altered its pacifist policies in view of China’s assertiveness across the Indo-Pacific.
Ukraine and Russia are points of difference between India and Japan, but beyond that and specifically on the Indo-Pacific, there is complete convergence of views. Both India and Japan see China as a disruptive force in Asia and hope to contain its far-reaching influence.
Both countries have long-term territorial disputes with China and are wary of its muscular moves. "India-Japan special strategic and global partnership is based on our democratic principles, respect for international rule of law,’’ Prime Minister Modi said in his opening statement after his meeting with the visiting dignitary.
"This year India is chairing the G20, and Japan is chairing the G7. And therefore, this is the perfect opportunity to work together on our respective priorities and interests,’’ Modi said. Explaining India’s stand he added, "Giving voice to the priorities of Global South is an important pillar of our G20 Presidency. We have taken this initiative because we are a culture that believes in "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam", and in taking everyone along.’’
Prime Minister Kishida as host of the G7, which will be held in Japan in May, invited the PM to Hiroshima. Kishida will be here again for the G20 summit in September. Chances of harmonising the views of the G7 and G20 group appear an uphill task at the moment. New Delhi is well aware of this.
The two leaders reviewed bilateral defence ties, discussed cooperating in digital technology, trade, investment and health. Modi said that they also spoke of the importance of reliable supply chains for semi-conductors and other critical technologies.
"That Kishida chose to travel especially to India to launch his new vision of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FIOP) underscores the centrality Japan accords to India in promoting this expanded vision. He acknowledged India’s indispensable role in his speech. Earlier, the FIOP concept was anchored in concerns about China’s expansionism. In the new version, Russia joins China as a threat to a rules-based order because of its military intervention in Ukraine,” former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said.
Unveiling Japan’s Indo-Pacific plans while addressing a select gathering at the ICWA event, Kishida emphasized the importance of an Indo-Pacific that was "free and open’’ that "respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of all countries in the region, respected diversity and openness and was committed to settle disputes through negotiations. In this endeavour "India is indispensable’’ Kishida said to Japan's Indo-Pacific plans.
This includes Japan’s assistance to emerging economies, support for maritime security, a provision of coast guard patrol boats and equipment, and other infrastructure cooperation. This falls in line with India’s desire to focus on the Global South. Kishida explained that people and livelihoods were at the heart of Japan’s idea of a rule-based world order. Japan would partner with India and other countries in giving help to developing nations in urgent need of succor after the pandemic and soaring food and energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
"It’s significant that Prime Minister Kishida chose New Delhi as the location to announce his FOIP vision, calling India an indispensable partner and invoking PM Shinzo Abe’s historical speech of 2007 when he had mooted the idea of the Indo-Pacific. His speech focussed on the new areas of focus and pillars of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in keeping with the new challenges of the times and many of these such as climate change, global health, and cybersecurity are concerns we share too, and can work together on," said Deepa Wadhwa, India’s former ambassador to Japan who was at the meeting.