Although dates and venues for the India-Japan prime ministerial level annual summit, to be held in India this time, are yet to be decided, unmistakable signs are this upcoming dialogue would boost further the ties between the two nations.

According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs press release, in the telephonic conversation Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made upon Suga’s elevation as Japan’s Premier, the latter accepted an invitation to visit India for the bilateral summit likely to be held after improvement in the current pandemic situation. The two leaders agreed to strengthen the India-Japan Special Strategic & Global Partnership, terming it as more relevant in today’s pandemic times.

Besides, one finds, Suga made it clear in his first remark after becoming the country’s Premier that his dispensation would be a cabinet of continuity to advance further his predecessor Abe Shinzo’s policies. This clearly implies Suga would further Shinzo Abe’s policy towards India too. Abe’s tenure saw new heights in Japan’s India ties. It witnessed India becoming a priority partner in his pet project Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). Other major breakthroughs during the Abe period included the India-Japan Special Strategic Partnership, the mechanism of the prime ministerial-level summit, the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, and the Indo-Japan civil nuclear partnership.

Importantly, optimism about Indo-Japanese ties is inherent in the relationships the two nations have had since ancient times. Cultural exchanges between India and Japan date back to the 6th century with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from India, via China and Korea. Indian monk Bodhisena went over to Japan in 736 to spread Buddhism.

The process of the Japan-India interaction has acquired a great momentum in the post-Second War landscape. It is well documented that in 1951, India refused to attend the San Francisco Peace Conference, for it viewed the limitations being imposed on the Japan threat as detrimental to Japan’s sovereignty. In 1952, India signed a peace treaty with Japan. Subsequently, New Delhi established diplomatic relations with Tokyo. India waived all reparation claims against Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi visited India in 1957. He was impressed with the kind of historic treatment he received in New Delhi.

During Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s August 2000 India visit, the two nations established the “Global Partnership”. During Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee’s visit to Japan in December 2001, he and his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi signed “Japan-India Joint Declaration”. During Koizumi’s visit to India in April 2005, New Delhi and Tokyo issued the Joint Statement “Japan-India Partnership in the New Asian Era: Strategic Orientation of Japan-India Global Partnership”. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan in December 2006 culminated in the signing of the “Joint Statement Towards Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership”.

During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan in September 2014, the two nations signed several key agreements, including “Special Strategic & Global Partnership”. Then Japanese Prime Minister Abe declared to invest 3.5 trillion yen of public and private investment and financing into India in five years.

In December 2015, India and Japan signed an agreement to build a bullet train line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. During PM Modi’s visit to Japan in 2016, India and Japan signed the “Agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy”. The two sides also signed agreements on manufacturing skill development in India, cooperation in space, earth sciences, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, transport and urban development.

During Prime Minister Modi’s October 2018 visit to Japan, New Delhi and Tokyo signed a new Memorandum of Cooperation on healthcare to pursue the synergies between Ayushman Bharat and Japan’s Asia Health and Wellbeing Initiative. In November 2019, Prime Minister Modi launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) at the East Asia summit in Bangkok. Japan is the lead partner in this connectivity pillar.

Besides, cooperation between New Delhi and Tokyo has flourished through their Quadrilateral Foreign Minister-level summit and 2+2 dialogue mechanism (consisting of foreign and defence secretaries). In the Quadrilateral summit, held in Tokyo on October 2020, the Foreign Ministers of Japan and India, together with the United States and Australia, are believed to have discussed cooperation on 5G connectivity, cybersecurity, a supply chain initiative for manufacturing, maritime cooperation, and infrastructure connectivity.

Today New Delhi and Tokyo have a convergence of views on the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Both sides stress the rule of law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity in the region. They conduct joint military exercises, including the Dharma Guardian land, Shinyu Maitri and maritime ones. Japan is for India’s inclusion in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the US-Australia-Japan driven Blue Dot Network (BDN).

Clearly, Japan-India ties have expanded throughout history in almost all sectors. Notwithstanding the cold war politics, non-alignment, India’s import substitution model economy, India became the first recipient of Japan’s Official Development Assistance loan in 1958. Japan’s ODA to India today is the largest in the world. Japan is also the largest donor to India. Other major donors to India are the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France.

Japan has been helpful to India’s effort to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has made public and private efforts in India in the fields of healthcare, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), environment and women empowerment. Japan’s assistance through UNICEF has contributed to a significant reduction of wild polio cases in India. The Embassy of Japan in New Delhi has put Japan’s “Blue Sky” initiatives into practice to tackle environmental pollution in India.

Ironically, however, Japan is still not being sensitive to India’s territorial integrity. The advisory map of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows the Karakoram Pass as the terminal point of India’s Line of Control with Pakistan. India claims this terminal point is NJ 9842. The Japanese map also depicts Aksai Chin as an integral part of China. India claims Aksai Chin as part of its territory. Indian diplomacy may be geared to use all its mechanism with Japan at the prime-ministerial, quadrilateral and 2+2 levels to see to it that Tokyo amends its position along New Delhi’s lines on these issues.

Abhijitha Singh, an alumnus of the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, is specializing on Japan.