India, Japan to share military bases

Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi

India and Japan may soon allow their armed forces to use each other’s military bases as well as provide logistical support to each other — a move which is sure to raise hackles in China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe will hold the 13th India-Japan summit in Tokyo on October 28 and 29. They are likely to discuss a proposal to ink an agreement which will lay the framework to share military assets and capabilities and provide logistical support to each other’s armies, navies and air forces, sources aware of the preparations for the summit told DH.

The proposed pact is perceived as yet another move by India and Japan to step up security cooperation in Indo-Pacific, in response to military muscle-flexing in the region by China. The agreement will set a framework between the armies, air forces and navies of India and Japan to provide supplies and services on the principle of reciprocity.

Sources said the pact would require armed forces of India and Japan to help each other with logistic supports, including food, water, billet, transport (airlift, if necessary), petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communications, medical services, base support, storage, use of facilities, training services, spare parts, repair and maintenance and airport and seaport services.

The proposal for inking such an agreement was first mooted when Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hosted her then Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera in New Delhi in August.

It was again discussed when the national security advisors of Modi and Abe, Ajit Doval and Shotaro Yachi, met in New Delhi last week. Sources told DH that the forthcoming Modi-Abe summit might see significant progress towards signing of the agreement.

The pact, once signed, will allow the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy to use the military facilities of Japan, including its overseas base in Djibouti, a tiny Horn of Africa nation in western Indian Ocean. Apart from the US and Japan, the People’s Liberation Army of China too set up its own military base in Djibouti, which is wedged between the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea and hence, a natural gatekeeper to an important and very busy sea-lane. New Delhi has since long been keen to get a toehold in Djibouti — in view of the geo-strategic importance of the country and China’s bid to turn it into yet another ‘pearl’ in its “String of Pearls” policy to encircle India.

If New Delhi and Tokyo ink the pact, it will also allow Japan’s army, air force and navy to use military bases in India, including the one in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which also sit astride critical sea lanes of communication.

India inked similar military logistics support agreements with the US and France in 2016 and early this year respectively.

Sources said the proposed agreement between New Delhi and Tokyo would send out an important signal to Beijing about the intent of the two nations to work closely to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in a free and open Indo-Pacific and provide security to sea-lanes from Djibouti to Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India.

Japan had been taking a hardline approach on its territorial disputes with China over Diaoyu or Senkaku islets in East China Sea over the past few years. Tokyo had been keen to foster closer ties between Japan and India in order to create a new “arc of democracy, freedom and prosperity” along with Australia, the US and other democracies in the region as a bulwark against China.

India had joined Japan, Australia and the US to relaunch a quadrilateral dialogue on Indo-Pacific in November 2017. The move had apparently been aimed at bringing the four democratic nations together and creating a bulwark against China in Indo-Pacific.

New Delhi, however, went for a subtle course correction early this year, as it started reaching out to Beijing to mend the complex India-China relations, which had hit a new low over the 72-day military face-off at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan in June-August, 2017. The prime minister made it clear in Singapore on June 1 that India never viewed the Indo-Pacific region as “a strategy or as a club of limited members”.

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India, Japan to share military bases

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