India and Japan have signalled deeper strategic ties to try to level the playing field with China.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, signed a slew of agreements in New Delhi over the weekend that underscore their personal chemistry which is being translated into ever warmer economic, military and strategic relations
The steps are designed to ensure that the rise of China, the top trading partner for both nations, doesn’t come at the expense of smaller economies in the region.
“Modi and Abe are telegraphing a striking message: We’re taking this relationship to the next level, even at the risk of roiling China,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
“As close as these two countries are, they had held off to an extent in order not to overly alarm China.”
Modi and Abe, whose personal ties date back to 2007, are both seen as conservative nationalists seeking to overhaul their economies and strengthen their militaries. Japan offers deep pockets, and India presents a growing market with a population set to overtake China as the world’s largest in 2022, Bloomberg reports.
Abe has shifted Japan away from seven decades of post-war pacifism to empower its armed forces while Modi is investing more than US$60 billion in India’s navy to deter China from establishing a foothold in the Indian Ocean.
Those actions support US goals to rally Asian nations against China’s efforts to control more of the South China Sea, which carries about a third of global trade.
Among the highlights of Abe’s three-day visit that ended on Sunday:
– A US$15 billion deal for Japan to help build India’s first high-speed rail link
– A breakthrough on nuclear energy cooperation that paves the way for companies such as Westinghouse Electric Co. and General Electric Co. to sell equipment to India
– 1.5 trillion yen (US$12.4 billion) in Japanese financing and export insurance to spur investment in India
– Defense agreements aimed at containing China’s expansion in regional waters
– Japanese funds to build roads in India’s northeast, where one state is claimed by China
The deals bring India, which formally avoids security alliances, further into the US military orbit.
Japan will join India and the US as a regular member in the biannual Malabar naval exercises to “help create stronger capabilities to deal with maritime challenges in the Indo-Pacific region,” the two leaders said in a joint statement.
The three nations are already becoming “interoperable” after Japan joined as a guest for their most complex naval exercises in October, US Ambassador to India Richard Verma said last week.
Next year, India and Japan will hold a second round of trilateral diplomatic talks with Australia, another US ally.
Modi and Abe also signed pacts to share classified intelligence and pave the way for a long-pending deal to export Japan’s US-2 amphibious aircraft to India.
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