The Abe government’s new security doctrine has identified India as one of Japan’s most strategic of partners in the next decade. Abe’s government pushed for Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to visit India when an invitation from New Delhi to host the Japanese royal couple had been awaiting a response from Tokyo for nearly a decade. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited India in November-end and early December, reprising their visit to India over five decades back. The two had visited India as the Japanese Crown Prince and Princess in 1960.
In early January, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera came calling to explain to the Indian leadership Japan’s new security doctrines adopted at the end of last year. Later this month, Abe will be the chief guest at this year’s Republic Day Parade, the first ever Japanese dignitary to grace the occasion.
These string of visits, the recent India-Japan maritime cooperation and the Japanese proposal to sell the Indian Navy the Japanese ShinMaywa US-2i amphibious aircraft are evidence of how important India is in the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party’s geo-strategic matrix.
Significantly, Abe-led Japan has moved swiftly in its efforts to convince New Delhi into an entente which is obviously directed at the containment of China. Although India had, so far, pursued a policy of engaging with China, New Delhi has in the past few months shown an inclination to shed its characteristic reticence and has readily grasped the Japanese offer of a deeper strategic partnership. But some in South Block are not entirely convinced of this strategy and are wary of Tokyo’s ‘China threat theory’.
China and Japan have engaged in angry rhetoric and symbolic posturing since 2010 over the Senkaku islands, over which both countries claim sovereignty, although Japan occupies the islands. The squabble became more curious recently, in the context of Abe’s recent visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, with the envoys of both countries to the United Kingdom describing the actions of the other country with reference to Voldemort, the villain in the best-selling Harry Potter series. The two diplomats also, apparently had to be separated in a BBC studio last week.
India and China, too, have had strained relations over the last few years, with repeated intrusions by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops into Indian territory across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Abe had initiated the process of closer India-Japan ties during his earlier stint as the Prime Minister of his country in 2006-07. Although Abe had little time as he was the PM for barely a year in that tenure, the Abe and Manmohan Singh governments inked the India-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement, institutionalizing annual summits between the two countries.
This time Abe seems more determined to forge an India-Japan strategic entente during his stewardship. Abe during his years as an opposition leader campaigned for closer India-Japan ties. At a speech delivered at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) in September 2011, ‘Two Democracies Meet at Sea: For a Better and Safer Asia‘, Abe minced few words to tell New Delhi why democratic India and Japan were natural partners against China.
At that speech, Abe pointedly omitted China to say that India and Japan, the former Asia’s largest and the latter its oldest democracies, were natural partners. He said India and Japan should “work even more closely together with the US, Australia and other maritime democracies” like Indonesia and Vietnam to build a safer, liberal, robust Asia.
He had then appealed to his government as well as New Delhi that the two navies should have naval exercises more frequently, something that is increasingly becoming a reality. The two Coast Guards held an exercise in January. He had said the Indian naval ships should be welcome at the Japanese base at Djibouti while India should host Japanese ships in the Andaman & Nicobar islands. He said the Americans were getting weaker and India and Japan should work together to fill that void in Asia, claiming the the Indonesians would also join in, if that were to happen.
Abe, a grandson of Japanese PM in the 1950s, Nobusuke Kishi, who was a good friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, has implemented some of this strategic thinking ever since his re-election in December 2012, the first Japanese PM since 1948 to be re-elected.
The new strategic doctrine of the Abe government has identified India as one of the “primary drivers” of change in the global balance of power. The Abe government has adopted the ‘National Security Strategy’ and ‘National Defense Guidelines 2014’ which specify areas of deeper India-Japan strategic engagement. This is for the first time that a Japanese government has so aggressively sought India as a strategic partner.
Sources say Abe’s visit to India would focus on deepening strategic ties, instituting defence exercises and maritime security in the region, as well as sale of defense equipment to India. Japan’s new strategic doctrine states that India was “important for Japan” for maritime security as well as overall security because of its geographic location. Abe’s party, along with its ally, has a two-thirds majority in the Japanese Diet’s lower house, giving the government stability and the power to ensure passage of contentious laws.
The India-Japan entente has not been received well in Beijing. China has criticized Abe government’s security doctrine as hyping the China threat theory and believes Japan is trying to encircle China.