Japan nudges India to keep challenging China

Japan nudges India to keep challenging China

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. REUTERS

Japan has subtly nudged India to remain committed to countering hegemonic aspirations of China in Indo-Pacific, even as New Delhi's efforts to mend ties with Beijing recently got a fillip with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "informal summit" with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Earlier this week, Modi received a call from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two prime ministers discussed the situation in Asia, according to a note on the website of the Embassy of Japan in New Delhi.

Abe was quoted telling Modi during the 20-minute call that he "would like to further promote coordination and cooperation towards the achievement of a free and open Indo-Pacific".

The note issued by Government of Japan did not mention Modi's response to Abe.

The Government of India, too, did not come out with any press release on the call the prime minister received from his counterpart in Japan.

The words of Japanese Prime Minister, however, appear to be significant, as they signalled that Tokyo would like New Delhi to stick to its stand against hegemonic aspirations of China, particularly in Indo-Pacific.

Abe called Modi over a fortnight after the latter had an "informal summit" with Xi at Wuhan in central China on April 27 and 28.

The meeting between Modi and Xi fueled speculation that New Delhi might put on the back-burner its "quad' initiative with Japan, Australia and the United States to contain China in Indo-Pacific, as it was trying to bring its ties with the Communist country back on track and would prefer to avert annoying Beijing.

Not only India but Japan, Australia and the US, too, have of late been calling for "free and open Indo-Pacific" to counter China's bid to flex its military muscles and expand its geopolitical influence across the region.

Beijing, however, views it as a ploy by the US and other countries to contain the rise of China.

Modi told Abe that he was looking forward to his upcoming visit to Japan this year, according to the note issued by Japanese Government in New Delhi.

During the annual summit in New Delhi in September last year, Modi and Abe agreed to reinforce their efforts to align India's "Act East" policy with Japan's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" strategy.

They agreed to enhance maritime security cooperation, improving connectivity in the wider Indo-Pacific region, strengthening cooperation with the Southeast Asian nations.

India also joined Japan, Australia and the US to re-launch the quad initiative on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila in November last year. 

The move, however, drew flak from India's old friend Russia as well as some of the Southeast Asian nations.

Just about three weeks before Modi-Xi informal summit at Wuhan, senior diplomats of India, US and Japan had a trilateral meeting in New Delhi and agreed "to remain engaged and strengthen cooperation in support for a free, open, prosperous, peaceful and inclusive Indo-Pacific region through partnership with countries in the region".

They discussed the outcomes of a recent meeting of the Trilateral Infrastructure Working Group – a significant, but hitherto little-known initiative by the three nations, apparently aimed at providing an alternative to the Belt and Road initiative of China in Indo-Pacific region.

New Delhi has not yet signalled any departure from its position on "free and open Indo-Pacific".

But Modi's "informal summit" with Xi at Wuhan and his plan to hold another similar meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Sochi off the coast of Black Sea on Monday fueled speculation about New Delhi's move to rebalance its ties with the "big powers", particularly in the context of Indo-Pacific.