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#2754, 16 December 2008
Look South Policy? Japan's Approach to India in the 21st Century
Tomoko Kiyota
Tomoko Kiyota Research Intern, IPCS

Relations between India and Japan have made remarkable progress since Japanese Prime Minister Mori visited New Delhi in 2000. In December 2001, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Tokyo, and the Indo-Japan Joint Declaration was announced. In 2005, when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited New Delhi the two countries signed "Indo-Japan Partnership in New Asian Era: Strategic Orientation of Japan -India Global Partnership". In 2006 and 2007, two Prime Ministers, Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe held reciprocal visits and signed three declarations including "Indo-Japan Strategic Global Partnership". Significantly, on 22 October 2008, they announced "The Indo-Japan Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation". It was exceptional for Japan to establish formal security cooperation with India, making it the third country after the United States and Australia with whom Japan established such cooperation. Japan had restricted to use of force after World War II and the US has been Japan's principal ally since the 1960s. However, after the Gulf War, Japanese foreign policy has been changing gradually. Japan forged security cooperation with Australia in 2007, and India in 2008. The question arises why did Japan choose India as a partner of security cooperation?

The security cooperation between India and Japan encompasses wide programs, like fighting against the transnational crimes, terrorism, piracy and proliferation of WMD. Two countries also lunched an annual dialogue at various levels and are trying to reinforce security cooperation between their maritime forces. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan highlighting the importance of India points to, India's rapid economic growth, increasing political influence in the world, the sea-lane of communication (SLOC) defense, thriving democracy and shared values such as the rule of law.

However, these reasons are unconvincing to explain why Japan's 'security' cooperation with India. Quite a few scholars pointed to the China factor. In spite of the fact that the Japanese Prime Minister confirmed the "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests" with the Chinese counterpart, and denied harbouring intentions to contain a third party inh collusion with his Indian counterpart. However, the fear of China's rise undeniably exists in Japan. In Defence of Japan (Annual White Paper: Bouei Hakusho), the Ministry of Japan echoes its concern about China's unknown military build-up. Especially during the Koizumi era, the Japan-China relations had worsened. This concern could be an incentive that spurred Japan to move closer to India.

Besides, the US's strong appeal to India also convinced the Japanese government of its policy. Since 2001, The US has been trying to expand security cooperation with many countries and the so-called "Quadrilateral Alliance" forged in May 2007 among the US, Japan, Australia and India is part of this strategy. However, the elections in Australia in the end of 2007 changed this tide as the new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was apprehensive of the Chinese government's reaction to the alliance. Thus, the Australian government decided to take a backseat in the alliance. The drive for Indo-Japan cooperation has also cooled down since then. Nonetheless, the two countries concluded the Joint Declaration. It seems that they recognized that security cooperation would be meaningful even without Australia.

On the other hand, there are some pessimistic views towards the future of the two countries, too. First of all, the Japanese constitution and its laws limit practical security cooperation with India. They don't permit Japanese self defence forces to conduct joint patrol, take action against piracy, or joint military exercises. This could be the biggest barrier against security cooperation between India and Japan. Although the momentum to amend 9th Article was gained tentatively in the Abe regime but it would be premature to do so since a majority of the Japanese people are indifferent towards this cooperation. Thus, the incentive to change laws and make practical relationships with India is low.

Second, Japan having fallen victim to an atom-bomb attack, strongly criticized India's nuclear tests and the special treatment of India at the NSG still remain fresh in Indian memory. Japan's biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan has been criticizing the government feeble attitude towards the Indo-US nuclear pact and NSG. The New Socialist Party of Japan wrote "we cannot share military cooperation and nuclear capability build up programs". This critical view was one of the reasons that made the government wobble and move slowly towards the security cooperation.

Although there are some obstacles and difference of views with India, Japan has to deepen its relations with India irrespective of the government in office. Today, India is a very important country for Japan, as a guardian of Indian Ocean for the SLOC security, as an economical partner, and a security partner balancing the risk posed by China. However it remains to be seen if Japan will be able to position itself as an important partner for India and forge a commonality of interests with India?

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