The India-Japan 2+2 talks: what did they achieve?

The 2+2 talks between the Foreign and Defense Ministers of India and Japan on September 8 in Tokyo show how far India and Japan have come in recent times.

Japan was represented by Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada. On the Indian side, External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh were Delhi’s representatives at the talks.

The two countries have been trying to strengthen their security ties since signing the 2008 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation and the 2009 Plan of Action to Advance Security Cooperation. The first India-Japan 2+2 meeting was held in November 2019 in New Delhi. In addition, India was represented by Singh and Dr. Jaishankar, while Japan then sent Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Taro Kono.

New Delhi is an internet security provider in the Indo-Pacific region and an important player for Japan’s free and open Indo-Pacific vision.

Especially after the induction of its last and first locally built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, India is among a select league of nations capable of building its own aircraft carrier. In addition, the Andaman and Nicobar chain of Indian islands straddles the main maritime communication routes of the Indian Ocean region.

Mutually important

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) maintains a base in Djibouti, and India’s location is key to keeping Japan’s supply lines open in good times and bad. That will be a factor as Tokyo must revise its security reckoning in light of China’s belligerent tone toward Taiwan, particularly following the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

For India too, Japan is a very important component of its “Act-East Policy”, which aims to reinvigorate its historical ties with the countries of Southeast Asia and East Asia.

Japan and India have held various joint exercises to enhance cooperation, such as the bilateral Dharma Guardian and Japan-India Maritime (JIMEX) exercises, and the Malabar multilateral naval exercises. It should be noted here that the first-ever bilateral maritime exercise between the two countries, JIMEX, was only launched in 2012.

This time, Japan also participated for the first time in the multilateral naval exercise in the Indian Ocean known as MILAN exercises.

In July 2021, the agreement on reciprocal provision of supplies and services between the Indian Armed Forces and the Japan Self-Defense Forces came into force. Going forward, this will “facilitate the smooth and rapid delivery of supplies and services” between the two countries.

Indian and Japanese representatives at the joint press conference following the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministerial talks between Japan and India in Tokyo on the afternoon of September 8. (Picture of swimming pool)

Challenges

Nevertheless, many challenges remain where Japan and India have different visions.

First, of course, the differences over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While Japan has adopted sanctions in line with the United States and other Western countries, India’s position has been different. Notably, New Delhi still buys a huge amount of military hardware from Russia and has staunchly avoided castigating Moscow in public.

Second, sales of military equipment from Japan to India have not worked out, although the two countries have conducted many joint exercises between the different wings of their armed forces. India was supposed to import the Japanese Shinmaywa US-2i maritime reconnaissance aircraft, but this has yet to happen.

Third, Japan’s post-World War II constitution places limits on the kinds of things its self-defense forces are able to do. This hampers the kind of collaboration Indian and Japanese forces can achieve in years to come.

Fourth, Japan and India have different types of relationship with the United States. India is not an American ally, and it is only in recent years that Delhi and Washington have grown closer. Meanwhile, Japan has been a key US ally since the end of World War II.

On the other hand, India is a member of non-Western forums like the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South-Africa (BRICS) Summit and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCI). Then there is the question of interoperability since India still uses a considerable amount of weapons of Russian origin.

Fifth, Japan-India trade, which amounted to $20.57 billion in FY 2021-22, pales in comparison to Japan-China trade ($372.1 billion in 2021). Japan also needs China’s help when it comes to the North Korean equation, as Beijing is believed to have greater leverage over the hermit kingdom.

Reunion 2+2 takeaway

One of the positive lessons of the 2+2 meeting was the decision to conduct a joint exercise between the air forces of the two countries. At the same time, the Indian Defense Minister has invited Japanese defense industries to invest in the defense sector in India.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Tokyo in late September to attend the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In addition, the two parties have an annual summit at the Prime Minister’s level.

The joint statement issued after the 2+2 meeting notes that “Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to a rules-based global order that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, and stressed the need for all countries to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law”

So, although the 2+2 talks between the two sides have been successful, there are still areas where both sides will have to agree to disagree. And therein lies the challenge.

The talks also demonstrate that the momentum in India-Japan ties continues, even in the post-Abe era. It is something to celebrate in this year which marks the 70e anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Going forward, it is important that India and Japan lead by example in defense and foreign policy. As they say, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

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Author: Dr Rupakjyoti Borah

Dr. Rupakjyoti Borah is a Senior Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies. The opinions expressed here are personal. His latest book is The Strategic Relations Between India, US and Japan: When Three is not a Crowd.

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