08.12.2019 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The Japanese-Indian 2+2 Dialog’s Begun: What Could This Mean for the Situation in the Region?


A Japanese delegation headed by Minister for Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi and Minister of Defense Taro Kono paid a visit to India between November 20 and December 1, during which talks were held with their Indian counterparts, Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in what was the first round of the 2+2 Ministerial Dialog.

This was the first meeting held in the 2+2 Dialog format in Japanese-Indian relations, and they are now going to be held on a regular basis. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed they would set up this Dialog back during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan in October 2018.

It is worth noting that this was the 13th time leaders of the two countries met (if we are to count all the meetings which took place on the sidelines of various international events). This is an important sign of stability in one of the most remarkable trends in modern regional and world politics — India and Japan are building closer relations.

It is the stability of this trend that stands out against a backdrop of general “fluidity” in both the overall situation in the Indo-Pacific (and worldwide) and in (seemingly) inviolable military and political alliances, such as NATO and the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. This is in spite of the repetition of words such as “inviolability” and “cornerstone” in official published material.

Japanese-Indian rapprochement is a process that has been documented since the end of the noughties, and the motivation for it is perfectly understandable, as China has risen to become the world’s second largest global economic power. The trend became particularly apparent in early 2014, when India’s current Prime Minister took office, and it has been said that Modi “loves Japan”. Modi’s fondness for Japan was already visible when he served as Chief Minister of Gujarat, an Indian state which is now one of the driving forces of the country’s economic growth.

A number of documents were signed at the end of the last decade, forming a contractual basis to support the two countries’ comprehensive bilateral relations, as well as the extensive “Japan-India Joint Statement”, signed in 2016 by the Prime Ministers during one of Modi’s trips to Japan.

The annual summits that have since taken place have mainly made some clarifications and additions to the positions formulated in these documents. In particular, one of these additions was the decision the two prime ministers made last year to create the 2+2 Dialog.

It should be pointed out that the very existence of this kind of Dialog as part of the system of relations between any two states (apart from rare exceptions) is evidence that they share a great degree of trust and that both of them consider these relations important.

The “Joint Statement” adopted following the first Japan-India 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting is set out in 16 paragraphs, grouped into 3 main sections. The preamble emphasizes the importance of creating the bilateral 2+2 Dialog in and of itself, the work of which “will further enhance the strategic depth of bilateral security and defense cooperation”.

The first section (“Bilateral Cooperation”) expresses both satisfaction with the overall level of cooperation that has been achieved in this area, and an intention to conduct regular joint field training exercises involving all three components of their defense forces, as well as an intention to further cooperation in the military and technical field.

The section “Multilateral Cooperation” notes the importance of the trilateral Japan-India-US Summit Meetings held in November 2018 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting and in June 2019 on the sidelines of the last G20 summit, as well as the regular “MALABAR” (trilateral) naval exercises.

The section “Regional and International Affairs” focuses on the situation in the Indo-Pacific, especially in South-East Asia. There are phrases and words used in the text (“open Indo-Pacific”, “freedom of navigation” and the need to comply with “international law”), which have caught on and become part of the rhetoric used by China’s opponents in recent years. Their choice of words is an implicit indication of where Indian and Japanese concerns about the regional situation lie.

The parties “reaffirmed the importance of supporting ASEAN centrality” (and a number of ASEAN-led frameworks) in promoting “peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific”.

However, it should be pointed out that the document makes no mention of the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, RCEP”, which should become a central ASEAN-led project. Let’s not forget that India essentially pulled out of it at the beginning of November this year.

Japan is interested in going ahead with this project, and after the first 2+2 meeting had been held, the Japanese Foreign Minister held special talks on the topic with Prime Minister Modi. The Indian Prime Minister reaffirmed his position, which he had expressed a month earlier in Bangkok, due to the economic disadvantage joining the RCEP would have for India.

This is perhaps the only item on the extensive agenda for India and Japan’s bilateral relations where the two countries have not (yet) been able to find mutual understanding.

Paragraph 15 of the Joint Statement deals with the problem of terrorism on the Indian subcontinent, where Pakistan is mentioned in a negative light. This is how India has received important support in its rivalry with Pakistan “for sympathy” in the international arena.

Finally, paragraph 9 in the second section needs to be commented on in more detail, which states that the Japanese and Indian ministers welcomed the Japan-India-Australia-US Foreign Ministerial consultations held in New York in September 2019 (also on the sidelines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly). This statement has once again foregrounded the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which has quite a pronounced anti-Chinese orientation. It began to be talked about for the first time back in 2007, as a concrete way to realize the idea of creating an “Asian NATO”, which was born four years earlier in the United States.

In 2007 however, the same year, it seemed that the Australian labor government led by Kevin Rudd had already buried the idea of the “Quad”, as he set out to develop comprehensive relations with Beijing, which are extremely advantageous, especially in terms of the economic benefits. Apart from that, India was not going to join an anti-Chinese military and political alliance. This is despite an increasingly suspicious attitude towards China’s comprehensive growth.

It was only 10 years later that the head of the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) at the time, Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., recalled this project while he was in India. However, his initiative did not lead to any real action for the next two and a half years either.

However, the subject of the “Quad” has not been taken off the table completely yet in the big global game of politics. This was clear when the four foreign ministers met in New York. According to the official report, five topics were discussed, covering a wide range of relevant issues in the Indo-Pacific.

However, the fact that the respected ministers spent only one hour to discuss everything is rather an indication that the “patient” (“Quad”) is still showing some signs of life. Quad’s fate depends on too many (now extremely uncertain) factors.

The Quad summit, “eagerly awaited” by the ministers who met in New York, never took place.  It was supposed to be held on the sidelines of a series of ASEAN events in Bangkok, which took place this year in early November.

However, the potential leader of the “Quad”, the US President, did not feel he needed to show up at these events. This, by the way, caused quite a scandal among the participants. There is still no word of any plans for a special or informal summit (e.g. on the sidelines of the next G20 summit).

It is therefore safe to say that there is no telling what exactly could come of the Japan-India-Australia-US Foreign Ministerial consultations held in New York mentioned in the “Joint Statement”, held two months earlier in New York.

As for the first meeting within the framework of the Japan-India 2+2 Dialog and its results, it is hard to predict the degree of influence they might have on how the situation in the Indo-Pacific will progress.

However, Beijing has probably been keeping a watchful eye on the ministerial meeting. Still, this “Dialog” largely deals with challenges in defense and security (in relations between two countries that are becoming closer across all the board), which is approximately what is written in the “Joint Statement” now discussed.

However, political and economic interests in international relations are of no less importance today (and are perhaps growing even more important). While India’s political and economic relations with China have fluctuated above and below some kind of (very conditional) “middle line” for the past two or three years, Japan has more or less decidedly set out on a course to improve the political climate in relations between Beijing and Tokyo. They already seem to be doing fairly well in their economic relations.

A very important event is (tentatively) planned for spring next year, when Chinese leader XI Jinping may make his first state visit to Japan.

The First Japan-India 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting was indeed an important event, but it is just one of many other (multilateral) events in the Indo-Pacific.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.