Saturday, 3 June, 2023

Bangladesh, India’s northeast key to Japan PM’s Indo-Pacific plan

 NEW DELHI: India and Japan on Monday discussed steps to strengthen cooperation in security, trade and technology as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida unveiled a new plan for a free and open Indo-Pacific that envisages India as an “indispensable partner” for preventing coercion and upholding a rules-based order, reports Hindustan Times.

The Ukraine crisis and coordination between India’s G20 presidency and Japan’s G7 presidency were part of discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visiting Japanese counterpart. Both leaders agreed on the importance of including views of the Global South in the G7 and G20 processes.

The two sides signed an agreement on the fourth tranche of a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) worth 300 billion yen ( ₹18,800 crore) for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail. Modi told a joint media interaction that both sides are “progressing fast” on the project.

He outlined practical steps for expanding cooperation in food security, climate change, global health and cybersecurity. In the context of connectivity, Kishida said Japan will promote the “Bay of Bengal-Northeast India industrial value chain concept” with India and Bangladesh for the growth of the entire region.

Soon after arriving in New Delhi, Kishida visited Rajghat to lay a wreath at the mausoleum of Mahatma Gandhi. Besides holding bilateral talks at Hyderabad House, Modi hosted a working lunch for Kishida and his top aides. Noriyuki Shikata, cabinet secretary for public affairs in Japan’s PMO, said Japan will look at projects to improve connectivity between the Indian and Bangladeshi economies and work on getting more Japanese companies to invest in the region. Cooperation on Myanmar is “difficult to promote” in the current situation, whereas Japan is looking at an economic partnership agreement with Bangladesh, he said.

Strengthening the India-Japan partnership, which is based on respect for rule of law, promotes peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, Modi said, adding that he and Kishida reviewed progress in bilateral ties and discussed collaborating on defence equipment and technology, trade, health, and digital partnership.

“We had a fruitful discussion on the importance of reliable supply chains in semiconductor and other critical technologies. Last year, we set a target of Japanese investment of five trillion yen in India in the next five years... It is a matter of satisfaction that there has been good progress in this direction,” Modi said, speaking in Hindi.

Trade between India and Japan has grown from $15.71 billion in 2017-18 to $20.57 billion in 2021-22, with the balance in Tokyo’s favour. The implementation of the comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) from August 2011 accelerated economic and commercial ties. Japanese foreign direct investment in India has increased in recent years, standing at $1.49 billion in 2021-22, but remains small compared to the total outward FDI.

Kishida said his discussions with Modi focused on the role India and Japan can play when the world is “standing at history’s turning point, fraught with difficulties”.

The G7 Summit to be hosted by Japan in May will focus on upholding international order based on rule of law, and the two leaders concurred on the need for close cooperation for successful hosting of the G7 and G20 Summits, he added. Modi also accepted Kishida’s invitation for India to attend the G7 Summit as a guest country.

Though both sides refrained from saying so in public, the challenge posed by China’s aggressive actions was part of the discussions. Asked at a media briefing whether this figured in the talks, foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra replied: “They [leaders] spoke about the challenges that we face in the region and how India and Japan and other like-minded countries can work together to address those challenges and cooperate in the wider expanse of the Indo-Pacific.

“The centrepiece of Kishida’s visit was the Sapru House Lecture, at which he laid out Japan’s “New plan for a free and open Indo-Pacific — Together with India as an indispensable partner”. The address built on the historic speech by late former premier Shinzo Abe in India’s Parliament in 2007, which spoke of India and Japan nurturing the coupling of the Indian and Pacific Oceans to ensure freedom and prosperity.

Kishida laid out four new pillars for cooperation for a free and open Indo-Pacific or FOIP — principles for peace and rules for prosperity, addressing challenges in an Indo-Pacific way, multi-layered connectivity, and extending efforts for security and safe use of the sea to the air.

Without directly referring to China, Kishida emphasised in his speech that Japan’s new plan is aimed at opposing use of force to unilaterally alter the status quo, defending rule of law, countering economic coercion, and creating connectivity that doesn’t rely on one country.

Kishida painted a central role for India in almost all aspects of this plan, which he referred to as “our FOIP”. He said: “‘Our FOIP’ needs to be undertaken together with various countries and stakeholders. Japan will strengthen coordination with the US, Australia, [South Korea], Canada, Europe and elsewhere. Of course, India is indispensable.”

Both in the speech and his talks with Modi, Kishida denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “I reiterate that Japan strongly condemns Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and will never recognise it. Prime Minister Modi too expressed to President Putin that ‘today’s era is not of war’,” he said in his speech.

In the evening, Modi joined Kishida for a walk at Buddha Jayanti Park and a visit to the Bal Bodhi Tree.

They spoke as they walked through the park after showering flowers at the Bal Bodhi Tree, considered an offshoot of the main tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. “One of the aspects which connects India and Japan is the teachings of Lord Buddha,” Modi tweeted. The two leaders also sampled lassi, aam panna, golgappe and chai while continuing their conversation.

Shikata said Kishida put forward his views on the Ukraine crisis in a “straight-forward” manner and said India and Japan should not condone any unilateral change of status quo anywhere, including Asia. The two leaders “concurred on the importance of maintaining and strengthening the international order based on rule of law” and on their common responsibilities in this context at the G7 and G20, Shikata said.

Kishida also acknowledged “considerable discrepancies in the attitudes across various countries towards Russia’s aggression”, and Shikata said it is essential for Japan to engage with the Global South to see “where we can find common ground”.

India and Japan’s Shared concerns over Chinese aggression and the growing Chinese footprint in the Indian and Pacific Oceans have brought the two sides on to the same strategic page, according to Rajeswari Rajagopalan of the Observer Research Foundation. “Despite their differences on some issues, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the India-Japan relationship is likely to stay the course and gain momentum, thanks to China,” she wrote in a recent piece.