For India with love, Tokyo
The Indo Japan bilateral summit underlined the solid foundation of ties between the two countries and the indelible imprint of Abe-Modi bromance on it. In years to come, it may prove to be a cornerstone of Abe's legacy.
In a way, it was fitting that one of the last acts of Shinzo Abe as the Prime Minister of Japan was to attend the annual summit with India on September 11. The two countries signed an important military logistics agreement, the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) that would permit the Indian Navy access to a Japanese base in Djibouti while the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JSDF) would get to use India's military installations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This is the fourth such pact that India has signed after the US, Australia and France. A fifth with Russia is likely to be signed later this year.
The ACSA will facilitate greater cooperation between the armed forces of both sides and facilitate more efficient provision of supplies from one side to the other. Alongside the strengthening of the Quad, a military setup including India, Japan, US and Australia to maintain rule of law and peace in the Indo-Pacific region, this new agreement further strengthens ties between the two countries. All three military branches - land, air and naval, are engaged in joint exercises, including the Dharma Guardian land exercise, the Shinyuu Maitri aerial exercise, and the Japan-India Maritime Exercise.
The Indo-Japan connect
The deepening of Indo-Japan relationship will probably be one of the cornerstones of the Shinzo Abe era in Japan. Abe's support for India pre-dates his rise to the top of the Japanese political echleon. Back in 2006, when he was the chief cabinet secretary, he had said it would not be surprising if India-Japan relations outweighed Japan-US and Japan-China relations in 10 years. He would go on to deliver the historic “confluence of the two seas” speech in the Indian parliament during his very first visit as the PM in 2007, where he outlined the vision of the Pacific and Indian Ocean as a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and prosperity.
His affinity for India saw him make regular visits to the country and resulted in tangible gains including restart of negotiations on nuclear agreement that was announced during Manmohan Singh's visit to Japan in May 2013, barely 6 months into his second tenure as the PM. In January 2014, he would make another visit to India, this time as the chief guest at the annual Republic Day parade becoming the first Japanese premier to grace the event. One would have thought that would be the highest point of Indo-Japan relations, but the story was about to get even better.
The election of Narendra Modi led NDA in India in May 2014 started a new era of bilateral ties that benefitted from the easy friendship that Modi and Abe developed almost instantaneously. In 2015, a pact for transfer of defence equipment and technology was signed--an uncommon agreement for Japan. The following year, the nuclear agreement was signed even as a section of Japan's political establishment was skeptical of doing it with a non-Nuclear Proliferation treaty member country. Through his force of personality and relying on his friendship with Modi, Abe pulled it through even as it was more critical for India as its deals with the US and French nuclear firms had Japanese connections. During his second stint as the PM, Abe visited India thrice, the most by any Japanese head of the state.
Keeping China in Check
Abe has also been a long time China hawk. Following the anti-Japan protests in China in 2005, he was convinced that Japan needed to diversify its business interests beyond China. The increasing military disputes in the South China sea only underlined the belief that China could not be trusted. This made him a staunch proponent of the Quad in Asia and of increasing trade ties with India.
Under his stewardship, bilateral trade between the two countries increased from 740 billion yen ($7.023 billion) in 2005 to 1,821 billion yen ($172.8 billion) in 2018 - a rise of 146 percent. From bullet trains to civil nuclear programme, funding for critical infrastructure to setting up industrial corridors, Japan has been a big investor in India's growth story. In the Abe era, Japanese investment in India increased a whopping 1165 percent from 29.8 billion yen ($2.8 billion) in 2005 to 377 billion yen ($35.8 billion) during the same period. The chemistry both leaders share with each other has rubbed off on corporates as well and in a wide cross section of sectors Indo-Japanese collaborations have achieved great success. Abe's $ 2.2 billion stimulus package to help Japanese companies shift production from China is also likely to help India attract these companies onshore.
While his departure will leave behind a void that may never be filled, his tango with Modi has laid such a solid foundation for India Japan ties that it is only destined for greater heights.