India – Japan: Emerging Strategic Partners

Sub Title : India and Japan have always enjoyed close ties with each other. The bond is set to become stronger as military cooperation and collaboration between the two is strengthening

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 2 May – Jun 2023

Author : Col Chander Malhotra and Col Ashwani Sharma (retd)

Page No. : 31

Category : Geostrategy

: May 27, 2023


India’s relations with Japan date back to the 6th century AD  when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. Indian culture, streamed through Buddhism and impacted Japanese culture and thought, and this is the source of Japanese people’s sense of closeness with India.  The connect  in the modern era began in the Meiji era (1868-1912), when Japan embarked on the process of modernisation, moving away from being an isolated feudal society at risk of colonization by Western powers, to a model of a modern, industrialized nation state.

Common goodwill in both societies has been a notable element in the relationship. Japan and India signed a peace treaty and established diplomatic relations on 28th April 1952. This treaty was one of the first peace treaties Japan signed after World War II. From the time when diplomatic relations between India and Japan were established, the two countries have enjoyed cordial relations based on trade, cultural and technical cooperation.

The Trajectory

The trajectory of the relationship during the past  two decades plus has been an upward one with relations between the two countries growing from strength to strength. It started with  Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s visit to India in August 2000 when Mr. Mori and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to establish the “Global Partnership between Japan and India”. In 2006, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan, the relationship was enhanced to the “Global and Strategic Partnership”. In September 2014 during  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan the bilateral relationship was elevated further to “Special Strategic and Global Partnership.” During a reciprocal visit by  Prime Minister Abe in December 2015, the two Prime Ministers resolved to transform the Japan-India Special Strategic and Global Partnership into a deep, broad-based and action-oriented partnership, which reflects a broad convergence of their long-term political, economic and strategic goals. They also announced , “Japan and India Vision 2025 Special Strategic and Global Partnership Working Together for Peace and Prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region and the World”, a joint statement that would serve as a guideline for the “new era in Japan-India relations.”

In the Japan-India Vision Statement issued during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan in October 2018, two leaders reiterated their unwavering commitment to working together towards a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”.

Since 2021 the Prime Ministers of the two countries having been meeting each other at least once a year, with Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to  India in March 2023 for the Indo- Japan Summit Meeting  being the most recent one. During the summit the two leaders confirmed their commitment to discuss and work together on various issues in the international community in the lead-up to both the G7 and G20 summits and concurred to further develop relations and work closely toward the realisation of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”. The two countries have also agreed to promote the “Clean Energy Partnership” announced during Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to India in March 2022 to achieve carbon neutrality and ensure energy security at the global level, and to promote concrete cooperation in the areas of hydrogen, ammonia and LNG through the “Indo- Japan Energy Ministerial Dialogue” and other initiatives.

Economic Relations

In recent years, the India-Japan relationship has transformed into a partnership of great substance and purpose and the economic relationship between Japan and India has steadily expanded and deepened. The volume of trade between the two countries has increased substantially. India was the 18th largest trading partner for Japan, and Japan was the 13th largest trading partner for India in 2021. Also, direct investment from Japan to India has increased, and Japan was the 5th largest investor for India in 2021. Japanese private-sector’s interest in India is rising, and as of 2021 more than 1400 Japanese companies had branches in India.

At  the summit meeting in New Delhi in Mar 2023, the two leaders affirmed that they will promote active investment by Japanese companies in India in light of the 5-trillion-yen target of public and private investment and financing from Japan to India over the next 5 years.  The two sides also concurred on the importance of the Indian side further improving the business environment for smooth operations of Japanese companies in India, including cooperation for the diversification and enhancement of supply chains through the “India-Japan Industrial Competitiveness Partnership”. During his recent visit to India the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signed a loan agreement worth 300 billion yen (around `18,000 crore) with India for the fourth tranche of a Japanese loan to help build the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Corridor. Japan has been a leading financial donor in the form of ODA (Official Development Assistance) to India.

India’s primary exports to Japan have been petroleum products, chemicals, elements, compounds, non-metallic mineral ware, fish & fish preparations, metalliferous ores & scrap, clothing & accessories, iron & steel products, textile yarn, fabrics, and machinery, etc.


India and Japan cooperate with each other at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, across a wide spectrum. Some examples:-

  • Japan continues to maintain a high degree of interest and support for India’s mega infrastructure projects like the Delhi-Mumbai Freight Corridor, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor.
  • Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGR) announced in 2017 and projects in some third countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka and in Africa will be taken up jointly.
  • In August 2017, the two countries announced the establishment of the Japan-India Coordination Forum (JICF) for Development of India’s North-Eastern Region.
  • Japan cooperates in supporting strategic connectivity linking South Asia to Southeast Asia through the synergy between ”Act East” policy and ”Partnership for Quality Infrastructure.”
  • India and Japan are members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue along with Australia and USA.
  • Malabar exercise is carried by India Japan and USA on a regular basis.
  • There are various frameworks of security and defence dialogue between Japan and India including Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting (“2+2” meeting), annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue and Coast Guard-to-Coast Guard dialogue.

Importance of India

India plays a pivotal role  in Tokyo’s strategic calculus. In his new plan for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”,  Prime Minister Kishida, in no uncertain terms, argued the case of India as an “indispensable partner.”  India will be central in all the four pillars of Kishida’s FOIP Plan, namely (a) principles for peace based on respect for diversity, inclusiveness and openness; (b) addressing challenges in an Indo-Pacific Way anchored on equal partnership; (c) multi-layered connectivity; and finally (d) security and safe use of both the sea and airspace.

Japan’s commitment to mobilize $75 billion by 2030 in public and private funds, through private investments and yen-denominated loans for Indo-Pacific infrastructure will be focused on advancing connectivity in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands. With the aim of ensuring assurance of  requisite supply chains and supporting economic advancement, India and Bangladesh will be the key anchors in advancing the “Bay of Bengal-Northeast India industrial value chain concept. India will thus play a key role in the geopolitical scenario as far as Japan is concerned.

Strategic Relationship and Cooperation in Defence

While the relationship between India and Japan has been strengthened by their shared democratic values and a commitment to the rule of law, both countries recognise the importance of a rules-based international order and have worked together to promote peace and stability in the region.ass a result, one of the most significant developments in Indo-Japan relations has been the deepening of economic ties between the two countries. Japan has emerged as a major investor in India’s infrastructure sector, particularly in the areas of transportation and energy. This has helped India develop its economy and infrastructure and has created numerous employment opportunities.

Strategically, India and Japan have strengthened their partnership through their shared interests and concerns in the region. Both countries have also been working together to promote the Indo-Pacific region as a free and open area.  One of the key drivers of India-Japan defence cooperation has been the growing maritime security concerns in the Indo-Pacific region. They have been cooperating closely in the areas of maritime domain awareness, anti-piracy operations, and disaster relief.

The “Special Strategic and Global Partnership” of 2007 and its elevated versions subsequently have been a catalyst for further cooperation between the two countries. India and Japan have been strengthening their defence ties over the past decade. This strategic partnership has led to a range of defence-related agreements and initiatives, including joint military exercises, collaboration on defence technology and proposed sale of military hardware.

As stated earlier, in 2017 the two countries established a joint working group on defence technology and cooperation to explore opportunities for joint research and development projects. India and Japan have been collaborating on defence technology, particularly in the areas of robotics, unmanned systems, and cybersecurity.  In addition to these initiatives,  India and Japan have also been engaging in high-level defence dialogues and visits.

In 2018, India and Japan held their first 2+2 dialogue between their defence and foreign ministers. The dialogue covered a range of issues, including regional security, counterterrorism, and defence technology cooperation. During the last 2+2 meeting between the two countries’ Defence and Foreign Ministers on 8 Sep 2022, the ministers confirmed that they will cooperate toward the common goal of realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).” They also confirmed their support to ASEAN’s unity and centrality and the importance of concrete cooperation between FOIP and India’s “Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI)” and “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

On matters related to bilateral security they affirmed the following:-

o             Expansion of Japan-India security and defence cooperation, and to continue to conduct bilateral and multilateral exercises in a multi layered manner.

o             The realisation of concrete cooperation in the areas of defence equipment and technology cooperation.

o             To strengthen cooperation between the Japan Joint Staff and the Indian Integrated Defence Staff and welcomed the coordination to launch the “Joint Service Staff Talks”.

o             The Ministers welcomed the progress in cooperation among the coast guard authorities.

o             The Ministers welcomed the announcement of the Memorandum of Cooperation in the field of cybersecurity during Prime Minister KISHIDA’s visit to India in March and the holding of the Japan-India Cyber Dialogue in June 2023.

India and Japan have also been stepping up their military-to-military ties. In 2018, the two countries conducted their first joint military exercise, called “Dharma Guardian,” involving ground forces. Since then, they have conducted several other exercises, including naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. The last and fourth edition of India-Japan bilateral Army exercise ‘Dharma Guardian’ began at Camp Imazu in Shiga province, Japan was completed on 02 March 23. In addition, two Japanese Navy ships Uraga and Awaji made port call at Kochi from February 14 to 16. The two Air Forces also held the maiden air exercise ‘Veer Guardian’ in March 2023. Military-to-military cooperation and integration between the two has thus gone up significantly in recent years.

Japan has been actively supporting India’s defence modernisation efforts. Recently Japan had offered to sell India ShinMaywa’s US-2 amphibious aircraft  which can be used for both civilian and military purposes. Japan has also offered to assist India in developing its own defence industry through joint research and technology transfer.

Mitsubishi Electric’s Presence in India in Space and Defence

Mitsubishi Electric (MELCO) is a global leader in the defence and aerospace industries, providing a wide range of advanced technology solutions for military applications. In the space sector, MELCO has been providing advanced technology solutions to ISRO. MELCO is now offering  the Indian armed forces certain high technology solutions for some of their platforms and defence related projects, particularly in the area of defence electronics which is steadily growing.

MELCO’s defence electronics portfolio includes radar systems, drone deterrence, electronic warfare systems and communication systems. These products are designed to meet the specific requirements of a modern military and the Indian armed forces can benefit immensely with a focus on technology transfer and indigenization.

MELCO has been actively seeking cooperation with Indian companies to develop and manufacture defence electronics products. The initiative aims to transfer technology and build a robust defence electronics manufacturing ecosystem in India. Furthermore, MELCO has plans to collaborate with the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to develop advanced technology solutions for defence and aerospace applications.

MELCO’s portfolio includes high tech, Gallium Nitrate (GaN) based TR devices and modules which form the backbone of modern day radars and communication devices.

In the Japanese Defence industry, MELCO is a leading defence manufacturer providing equipment to the Japanese Ministry of Defence and supporting Japanese operations for over half a century. Its advanced technological capabilities, high-quality products and dedicated after-sales service have been proven by the delivery and deployment of many of Japan’s advanced defence assets.

Responding to the everchanging security environment, MELCO actively engages in the R&D of sensors, EW, HGV countermeasures and space, to deliver cutting-edge solutions to our customers and meet stringent requirements.

In accordance with the Japanese government’s ‘Three Principles on the Transfer of Defence Equipment (2014)’, MELCO is committed to contributing to national security by enhancing deterrence. In collaboration with the Japanese government, MELCO is engaged in joint development, direct equipment transfer, and supply chain participation with governments and companies in various countries. In 2020, MELCO became the first Japanese company to successfully export defence equipment to an overseas user.

Through the continuous pursuit of technological advancements in defence systems, MELCO has been a contributor to the homeland safety and security of Japan as a major supplier of electronics systems to the Japanese Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defence Forces since the 1960s.

Radar Systems

MELCO manufactures multi-function radars for destroyers, ground-based radars and fire control radars for aircraft.

MELCO have also completed the indigenous development of the world’s first airborne AESA radar for fighter aircraft, and are now developing an airborne digital beamforming radar.

Electronic Warfare Systems

Electronic Warfare (EW) systems enables users to detect and control signals in the electromagnetic spectrum – e.g. radar, radio or infrared – for protection against potential threats.

Space Systems

To augment land, sea and air defence, we supply a comprehensive range of space systems intended for defence applications. This includes communications & observation satellites, ground infrastructure, and Space Situational Awareness systems.

Network & Communication Systems

We offer a line-up of various communications equipment for ground, shipborne, and satellite. These enable users unit to transmit in remote locations without existing infrastructure, such as in disaster response scenarios.

SATCOM on the move

Source: Japan Ground Self Defense Force web site

In Conclusion

India – Japan bilateral relations have always been based on mutual trust and respect. During the last few years the relations have improved further as both the countries view each other as strategic partners. While bilateral trade has always been good, time has now come for technical cooperation and joint ventures between the countries in strategic systems including defence and space domains. MELCO has a significant presence in the India providing advanced technology solutions to ISRO and  is now keen to collaborate with Indian partners in the defence domain as well. With its focus on technology transfer and collaboration with Indian companies and the defence research and development organization, MELCO is likely to continue to play a significant role in India’s defence electronics industry in the coming years.