tokyo and delhi: expanding strategic collaborations in the indo-pacific

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe at a hotel in Yamanakako village, Yamanashi prefecture on October 28, 2018

by Darshana M. Baruah

The 2018 India-Japan annual summit underlined the importance of strategic cooperation between the countries in their respective Indo-Pacific visions. The willingness in the Modi-Abe government to extend its cooperation across the Indo-Pacific resulted in the announcement of the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, which, though yet to realise concrete goals, finally saw the identification of a few countries (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Kenya) as areas of priorities at the 2018 summit.

While India and Japan continue to collaborate in the Indo-Pacific, there have been some significant developments in the maritime domain, which could translate into strategic and practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

There are three key developments, announced at the 2018 summit, which could significantly alter the way India and Japan interact and engage in the region:

An agreement on Maritime Domain Awareness

This agreement intendeds to cover information on white shipping or commercial shipping. It could, however, provide the architecture to include strategic intelligence and information sharing in the future. MDA for the Indian Navy translates to being aware of all movements “on, over and under the seas”. While priorities lie within a navy’s Area of Responsibility (AOR), the sheer size and scope of the area to be monitored in order to generate situational awareness is tremendous.

An effective regional MDA can only be created through partnerships. Information and intelligence sharing between partners through a model of burden sharing contributes significantly to generating the big picture required to maintain, both, a free and open maritime environment, as well as, one’s own strategic advantages. Japan has a remarkable recognisance fleet, with the capabilities to monitor and carry out our surveillance, and patrol over large areas of the region. Tokyo has approximately 73 long-range maritime patrol aircrafts (P-3C and P-1), which can be deployed across the East China Sea, South China Sea, and the entire Western Pacific.

India’s AOR is the Indian Ocean, which encompass the Bay of Bengal through to the Western Indian Ocean. Like Japan’s P-1’s, India deploys its P-8I’s (with limited numbers) for surveillance and reconnaissance patrols to generate its MDA, amongst other methods. While Tokyo and Delhi’s AOR’s are different, there is an overlap to a certain degree, especially in monitoring sub-surface vessels entering the Indian Ocean. This agreement could therefore go beyond white shipping and create a mechanism by which the two navies feed into each other’s MDA to generate a broader picture across the Indo-Pacific. It is worth noting that Japan already has a framework for information sharing with the U.S., which covers a much larger area to generate its own MDA picture. Given how India now has similar agreements with the U.S., there exists the possibility for Delhi to work with like minded partners to fill its gaps in creating the required situational awareness in its area of interests.

Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA)

The 2018 vision statement underlines the importance of ACSA, as it “will enhance the strategic depth of bilateral security and defence cooperation”. The Fact Sheet further reiterates its importance, noting, “mutual logistics support in the Indo-Pacific Region contributes to regional peace and stability.” Agreements like ACSA (which Japan has signed with U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada) and logistics support agreements like LEMOA (which India has signed with U.S. and France), within their limitations, allow navies to use each other’s bases, either at home or overseas, thereby fundamentally increasing a country’s ability to sustain its presence in an expanded region. Such agreements allow for the faster and easier use of logistical requirements and clearances, and to avail of services like food, water, medicines, repair, maintenance, etc. While signing such an agreement with Tokyo indicates the possibility of Delhi’s ability to operate from and around Japan’s base in Djibouti, its strategic advantage actually lies in the easier access to Japanese bases within its own territories. If there is a political will and understanding, this agreement, when signed, could allow for Indian ships to go to, and deploy out of, Okinawa. Such an arrangement would significantly add to the Indian Navy’s overseas deployment in those waters, and its ability to sustain itself in the Western Pacific. The Okinawa chain of islands is also strategically located and is close to the Straits of Taiwan. India’s ability to operate in these areas would be a significant political signal at a time when Delhi is increasingly concerned over Beijing’s ability to operate in the Indian Ocean region.

Smart Islands

India and Japan have suggested the need to develop smart islands since 2016, but have, for the first time, identified the need to develop smart islands in India. Given Delhi’s renewed focus on developing its Andaman and Nicobar Islands, it is safe to note that smart islands might refer to joint collaborations in these islands.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, again a set of strategic islands, sits close to all the entry points into the Indian Ocean. These islands could alter the Indian Navy’s ability to patrol, monitor, and operate in areas further away from the Indian mainland. While the strategic importance of these islands is well known in Delhi, there are significant challenges in developing them. Environmental concerns demand the need for a sustainable and eco-friendly model of development for these islands. There is also a need to considerably upgrade the infrastructure and digital connectivity. Japan is already collaborating with India in laying submarine optical fibre cables, connecting Chennai and the Andaman islands, to address the need for significant digital connectivity in the islands. Beyond physical infrastructure, where Japan is a leading actor, Tokyo can also help build a model for a smart island through sustainable methods like, renewable energy, waste management, and eco-tourism. The Japanese company, Hitcahi, is leading the smart islands project in the Isles of Scilly in the U.K. archipelago. The project aims to create a sustainable method of island development, which can then be applied to the U.K. and beyond. As India continues to map its own development model, collaboration with Japan on strategic islands like the Andamans will contribute significantly in Delhi’s ability to operate in the Indo-Pacific region.

The India-Japan summit has laid out the foundations for a stronger operational strategic collaboration between the two countries. While the scope and possibilities continue to rise, Delhi is still limited by its foreign policy choices, and the balance it needs to maintain between alignments and alliances. However, if there is an appetite and willingness, such agreements and understandings will provide the basis for India to grasp and expand its regional profile within the limitations of its capacity. If Delhi can think creatively, and is willing to expand its horizon, there now lie foundations and platforms that would, both, respect India’s foreign policy choices, and allow it to expand its engagements and rise up as a regional power.

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