By Madhuchanda Ghosh
India and Japan are redefining their relations in the backdrop of the changing security architecture in Asia. The post Cold War structural changes in Asia's security environment have given India and Japan much more strategic maneuverability as compared to the Cold War period. In the post Cold War Asia, the parameters of India's foreign policy are undergoing major changes as the country strives for a larger regional and global role for itself. Forging strategic partnerships with the United States and the major powers, the quest for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, rapprochement with China, aspirations for a bluewater navy are all indicators of a major shift in India's foreign policy approach. Japan appears to be moving from being a "trading state" of the Cold War era to becoming a "normal state" in the post-Cold War period, with growing political and military potential as reflected in its assertive foreign policy declarations and shedding of its self-imposed limitations on collective security and defense collaborations. As a corollary the low-intensity relationship between India and Japan is undergoing a remarkable turnaround acquiring a new dimension focused on mutual security and strategic interests.
Given the strong convergence of strategic interests, an absence of historical fault lines and no outstanding political issue between them, India and Japan are indeed natural partners. India's perception of Japan has historically been positive, going back to Japan's victory over Russia, which was perceived in India as being the beginning of an Asian resurgence. Japan's assistance to Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the key Indian nationalist leaders of India's independence movement, continues to shape popular Indian perceptions about Japan. The positive historical legacy, however, did not lead the two states to build a strong political relationship during the Cold War era as the strategic pressures prevented the two states from developing a meaningful engagement.
In the post Cold War regional geopolitical scenario the bond between the two nations has been bolstered by the deepening of political and strategic engagement over the last two decades. Of all the Japanese premiers, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been the most enthusiastic about giving a strategic orientation in Japan's relations with India. During his maiden visit to India, in his first term as the prime minister, Abe emphasized the "Confluence of the Two Seas," the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, which indicated Japan's strong intent to deepen its maritime security cooperation with India. Abe, in a research interview, viewed that India-Japan security cooperation would act as a stabilizing force in Asia, particularly in the light of the growing power disequilibrium. Given that the balance of power in Asia will be determined by events in the Indo-Pacific region, these two major Asian maritime democracies are keen to work together to promote peace, security and stability in the region. The Indian premier Narendra Modi's making Japan his second overseas destination, after assuming office, indicates the high degree of importance that Japan will be accorded in the Indian government's Act East agenda.
A strong political will to boost strategic cooperation could be noted in the 2014 Tokyo Declaration, as the two premiers raised the bilateral relationship to a "special strategic and global partnership." An important area of Indo-Japanese strategic convergence is enhancing maritime security. The maritime security environment in the Indo-Pacific region is rapidly deteriorating with the growing menace of seapiracy. The economies of both countries are heavily dependent on sea-based transport and the safe passage of energy resources from the Persian Gulf. Securing energy supply routes and ensuring freedom of navigation are, therefore, core strategic interests for both. India and Japan are keen on deepening maritime security cooperation to tackle seapiracy and protect the maritime commons. It needs to be noted that the importance India attaches to Japan as its key maritime security partner is particularly evident from New Delhi's decision to include Japan as a permanent member in the Malabar exercises, traditionally a bilateral India-U.S. naval exercise.
While India and Japan have succeeded in forging a robust politico-strategic partnership, the two states are yet to build a strong economic relationship. In 2012-2013 bilateral trade was only 18 billion dollars. India accounts for a minuscule 1 percent of Japan's total trade while Japan accounts for 2.5 percent of India's. Japan ranks fourth among investors in India but with only 7 percent of the total. In the coming five years, the Abe government intends to double the Japanese investment and the number of companies in India. India, on its part, has to mobilize 35 billion dollars of public and private Japanese investment, including official development assistance. The two states would gain significantly from the economic complementarities such as India's growing market of 1.2 billion people and Japan's search for new markets, Japan's strength in hardware and India's in software and India's huge infrastructural needs and Japan's technological expertise. India can offer Japan the world's largest pool of skilled manpower.
As India and Japan pledged, in the Tokyo Declaration, to maximize the potential of the strategic partnership in advancing peace, stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region, the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Abe to India is likely to witness an upgrade of the bilateral defense ties, with a particular focus on enhancing maritime security and freedom of navigation in the region. Prime Minister Modi would be keen on finalizing the purchase of US-2 amphibian aircraft and pursuing Japan on the issue of civil nuclear cooperation. Given Abe's strong admiration for India, his friendly ties with India's new prime minister and his urge to bolster the India-Japan strategic and global partnership, the forthcoming visit of the Japanese premier is likely to bring about a major transformation in India-Japan relations in the changing, complex Asian geopolitical scenario.