Modi-Abe ties good, but be clear-eyed

The 13th annual India-Japan summit went off well, with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fulfilling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire for informal and personal access to world leaders by hosting Modi at his holiday home. Several agreements were signed, including one on a $75 billion bilateral currency swap aimed at helping the rupee stabilise. The arrangement, following up on a previous $50 billion swap deal, far exceeds one for $30 billion that Japan announced with China when Abe visited Beijing just before Modi’s visit to Japan. Importantly, India and Japan have decided to hold a 2+2 dialogue between their foreign ministers and defence ministers. The US is the only other country with which India holds such a dialogue. Delhi and Tokyo also reached agreement on the implementing arrangement for deeper cooperation between the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. They will soon begin negotiations on an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, a military logistics pact that will allow Japan to refuel and replenish its ships at Indian naval bases on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are located near the Straits of Malacca, a choke-point through which much of China and Japan’s sea trade pass. Abe also announced that Japanese companies have committed to investing 320 billion yen — over Rs 20,000 crore — in India.

China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and its increasingly aggressive postures in the South China Sea is of deep concern to India and Japan and although the joint vision statement does not mention China by name, it is evident that the two sides’ commitment to work for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and “expand concrete co-operation with the US and other partners” was made keeping China in mind.

A rising China, especially should it be aggressive, is of concern to India. Still, Delhi must tread carefully. Several China-wary countries are engaged in a hedging strategy. Japan, for instance, is looking to India for support in securing sea lanes in the Indian Ocean but simultaneously, it is reaching out to Beijing, too. During Abe’s visit to Beijing last week, Japan and China agreed on a “new framework” to collaborate on infrastructure projects in third countries. Japan also expressed “readiness to actively participate” in the Belt and Road Initiative, over which India has strong reservations. Deeper co-operation with Japan is welcome, but Delhi will do well not to get carried away by its own propaganda over the Modi-Abe personal equation. Like India, other major powers are also hedging their security and economic bets in a time of renewed great power competition.

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Modi-Abe ties good, but be clear-eyed

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