With the “Indo-Pacific Region” featuring prominently in the very title of the joint statement between India and Japan’s 2025 vision, the writing on the wall is apparent. The momentum at which Indo-Pacific has assumed focus in New Delhi’s strategic thinking is unmistakable, both characteristically and substantively. And Japan, for sure, is among the key frontal pivots of this focus. The recently concluded official India visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to an end with two major deliverables amongst a score of others. Firstly, both Abe and Indian PM Narendra Modi agreed to secure stability in the Indo-Pacific region, which remains indispensable to Tokyo and New Delhi’s national security. And secondly, the two governments have sealed the agreement for cooperation in the peaceful uses of civil nuclear energy, and paved the way ahead for nuclear commerce and clean energy missions.
India’s regional standing has influenced its integration with key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region. Re-orientation of India’s strategic focus from a “Look East” to an “Act East” policy, finds manifestation in its approach, by and large, towards the Indo-Pacific. A vital demonstration of India’s growing maritime focus extending beyond the Indian Ocean comes with Japan’s participation in the recent trilateral maritime exercise between India, US and Japan (Malabar) in October 2015. The manoeuvres followed a month after Japan-India-US concluded the Foreign Ministers’ Trilateral Dialogue in New York. Simultaneously, the twin themes of regional connectivity and maritime security also echoed piercingly in the inaugural Japan-India-Australia Trilateral Dialogue.
The joint statement signed between Abe and Modi highlights safeguarding global commons in the maritime, space and cyber domains. What features prominently is underscoring the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), freedom of navigation and over flight and unimpeded lawful commerce in international waters. The ongoing strategic upheaval in the South China Sea and its critical sea lanes of communication, underpin the vitality of seeking to ensure continuing stability in the Indo-Pacific. Japan and India are in agreement that effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and early conclusion of the negotiations to establish a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea by consensus are tangible methods to secure peace in the region. It needs to be noted that unilateral action such as massive land reclamation of submerged reefs undertaken by China in the South China Sea have notched up regional tensions.
Perhaps the most awaited announcement during Abe’s visit was surrounding the civil nuclear agreement, which finally was confirmed and shall be signed following finalisation of the technical details including those related to the necessary internal procedures. New Delhi has been conferring exhaustively with Tokyo over sealing a civil nuclear agreement since the past five years. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, and Joint Secretary (Disarmament and International Security Affairs, MEA) Amandeep Singh Gill have ardently pursued negotiations in this regard and successfully managed to seal a valuable international civil nuclear agreement for India. Incidentally, earlier this year, Tokyo also agreed to reprocessing rights for India with regards to the spent nuclear fuel. Incidentally, the Indo-US nuclear deal stands to benefit from New Delhi’s nuclear agreement with Japan, vis-à-vis Westinghouse’s proposed plant in Gujarat, in which Japanese conglomerate Toshiba has a vital stake.
Shinzo Abe, however, might have to rally hard to get a smooth passage back home in the Japanese Diet (Parliament), where Japanese lawmakers could test the tenacity of the government’s resolve to see through the nuclear deal with India. Japan has been anxious about China positioning itself as a global nuclear manufacturer, owing to its capability of reverse engineering. Having reverse-engineered the entire design of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor and repackaging it as the Advanced China Pressurised (ACP)-1000, China can now build an AP1000 from the ground up in five years. Currently building four such reactors, the Karachi plant in Pakistan reportedly will be China’s first client.
Japan and India have been accurate in their judgement of seeking to ensure effective national export control systems, and more so, of India’s intensified engagement with international export control regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group. The primary objective from an Indian and Japanese perspective remains strengthening international non-proliferation efforts, since both nations are continuing to confront the perils of nuclear proliferation in their respective neighbourhood, in the form of Pakistan and North Korea, and the illicit nuclear web of transferring sensitive nuclear and missile technology thereafter, spun by both.