Friendship Matters

Delay in acquiring US-2 aircraft doesn’t bode well for Indo-Japanese ties

Pravin Sawhney

ShinMaywa’s US-2 amphibious aircraft
ShinMaywa’s US-2 amphibious aircraft

With the end of the Doklam crisis, India and China are assessing each other’s military and geopolitical options. While India has redoubled its efforts to woo the United States, it appears to have underplayed, if not ignored, Japan’s support to it against China. Beijing, however, has been quick to realise the damage that strategic, including defence technology, bonding between India and Japan could do to its expansionist foreign policy.

No sooner had the Japanese ambassador in India, Kenji Hiramatsu, recently supported India’s case at Doklam, China was quick to condemn Tokyo’s envoy in Delhi. The reason for doing so is straightforward: Both India and Japan are major powers at the two ends of the western Pacific and Indian Ocean that China needs to tame in order to meet the United States’ challenge for supremacy of the Two Oceans. While the US’ Trump administration has yet not defined its priority between global leadership role and ‘America First’, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe understands the need to woo India to restrict China’s geo-strategic ambitions. But whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi values Japan’s partnership as much will be evident when Prime Minister Abe comes to India for the annual summit meeting starting September 13.

For instance, the 11 November 2016 summit joint statement between Modi and Abe in Tokyo underlined how India, unlike Japan, has missed the importance of close defence ties to meet the Chinese challenge. According to the joint statement, “Prime Minister Modi conveyed his appreciation for Japan’s readiness to provide its state-of-the-art defence platforms such as US-2 amphibian aircraft. It symbolises the high degree of trust between the two countries and the distance that Japan and India have covered in advancing their bilateral defence exchanges.”

In order to meet China’s challenge, deep defence cooperation should form the pivot for harmonising India’s Act East policy with Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. India and Japan have an annual trilateral dialogue covering defence policy, military to military relations, and cooperation between the two Coast Guards. Moreover, under the Defence Framework Agreement, the two sides have confirmed the entry-into-force of transfer of defence equipment and technology. This is significant considering India is the only country besides the US and Australia with which Japan is willing to share its defence – cutting edge – technology.

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