How Indo-Japanese Relations Developed Under Shinzo Abe
Abe played a key role in forging closer relations between India and Japan, conceptualising the Indo-pacific and the QUAD or 'security diamond' as he called it.
Shinzo Abe is no more. The former prime minister of Japan, who remained Japan's most recognisable political face even after stepping down from office, was giving a speech when he was assassinated. A stunned Japan is struggling to comprehend the events that transpired quickly early today (Friday).
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he was “shocked and saddened beyond words” at Abe's death, calling the late Japanese leader "one of my dearest friends".
“He was a towering global statesman, an outstanding leader, and a remarkable administrator,” the Prime Minister wrote, adding, “He dedicated his life to make Japan and the world a better place.”
Modi seemed quite distraught by the news and made a series of tweets about Abe and his many interactions with him. For a long time, Modi was one of the only few foreign leaders that Abe followed on Twitter.
PM Modi recalled that he just met Abe during his last trip to Japan.
"He was witty and insightful as always. Little did I know that this would be our last meeting," the tweet reads.
India will be observing a day of national mourning as a sign of respect towards the former Japanese prime minister.
Relations between India and Japan can be traced back to the introduction of Buddhism in Japan during the sixth century and have been strong in recent decades. In recent years, with Modi at the helm in India and Abe in Japan have been especially significant for the relationship.
Abe played a key role in forging closer relations between India and Japan, conceptualising the Indo-pacific and the QUAD or 'security diamond' as he called it. During his first stint as prime minister starting 2006, Abe delivered a seminal speech to the Indian parliament, remembered as the "Confluence of the Two Seas" speech. It was in this speech that he laid the foundations for the concept that would come to be known as the Indo-Pacific. The main thesis was that the Indian and the Pacific Ocean must not be seen as two different geopolitical arenas but instead as a single integrated geopolitical theatre.
Conceptualising the region as one geopolitical theatre is the norm today, a norm which will arguably play a key role in bringing geographically distant nations together to uphold a free and open Indo-pacific.
Abe also played a key role in reviving the QUAD. The four nations of which now form the Quad — India, Australia, Japan and the United States —initially came together in 2004 to deliver disaster relief in the aftermath of the devastating Indonesian Tsunami.
The former Japanese prime minister envisioned 'an arc of freedom and prosperity', in which all the stakeholders of 'broader Asia' come together to form a free, open and prosperous Indo-pacific.
However, the QUAD failed to take off the first time around as Australia had at that time decided that it didn't suit its strategic interest. The country was at that time susceptible to Chinese pressure.
Abe returned to office in 2012. He backed his vision of a security diamond with a will to revive the QUAD. In 2017, representative of QUAD 2.0 met, which eventually paved the way for the revival of the grouping.
Even after stepping down, Abe was continuing to work on strengthening the QUAD. Abe assessed that a key part of Indo-Pacific was stronger bilateral relations between nations whose strategic goals converged. This was visible in the emphasis he attached to strengthening the bilateral relationship between India and Japan.
Under his watch, Japan invested heavily in Indian infrastructure, including in the sensitive parts of India's North East.
The bullet train project, which is being built with technological and economic assistance from Japan, is largest of the Japanese-funded infrastructure initiatives in India. Japan is providing around 81 per cent of the funding for the project in the form of a loan worth $12 billion, at a cost of 0.1 per cent, for a 50-year period including a 15-year moratorium.
Japan became the first foreign country to be allowed to invest in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The country is assisting India in developing civilian and strategic infrastructure in the Islands. Although the approval came after Abe had resigned, the groundwork had been done under his watch.
For connectivity projects in the North East, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed an agreement with India to provide $610 million for the North-East Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project. The two countries set up an India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of North East to focus on strategic infrastructure, electricity and disaster management. Infrastructure development in the North East assumed importance in the backdrop of repeated Chinese incursions into Indian territory and the lack of quality infrastructure connecting India to South-East Asia, a major constraint in India’s Act-East policy.
Defence and security relationship between India and Japan became the primary driver of their bilateral relationship. The two countries have shared concerns about China, with which both have major territorial disputes.
The security relationship witnessed remarkable progress under Modi and Abe. Japan became a permanent member of the Malabar Exercise between India and the US in 2015, and is also engaged with India and Australia in a trilateral dialogue.
The two countries advanced their cooperation in the maritime security domain, signed agreements on defence technology transfers and agreed to share classified military information. India also improved security partnership with Australia, arguably Japan’s second most important strategic partner. Australia and India held their first ever bilateral naval exercises in 2015.
Domestically, he played the leading role in attempting to free Japan from the constraints the post war constitution places on it. He succeeded in reinterpreting Article 9 of the constitution, which allowed Japan to have a military role in the defence of Taiwan.
Even after his death, Abe will continue to have significant influence in Japan's polity and policy making as his articulation of the threats that the region faces will continue to remain relevant.
It was clear from Abe's policies that he was acutely aware of the threat Japan and other democracies, including Taiwan, faced from the rising assertiveness of the Chinese Communist Party and did all he could to develop partnerships that will to play a significant role in managing the challenge.
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