A meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this month may yield more progress on a deal that would allow their armed forces to share military facilities.
The proposed agreement, likely to be discussed during the 13th India-Japan summit in Tokyo on October 28 and October 29, would increase their security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region by allowing the reciprocal exchange of supplies and logistical support, according to the Deccan Herald.
The proposed deal was first discussed in August, when Japan’s defense minister at the time, Itsunori Onodera, met with India’s defense minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, in New Delhi. It came up again this month during a meeting in Delhi between Modi and Abe’s national-security advisers.
Sources with knowledge of preparations for the summit told the Herald that the deal would allow Japan and India to exchange logistical support, including supplies of food, water, billets, petroleum and oil, communications, medical and training services, maintenance and repair services, spare parts, as well as transportation and storage space.
It’s not clear if any agreement would be signed this month, though there are signs India and Japan want to conclude it in the near term, given plans to increase joint military exercises next year and in 2020, according to The Diplomat.
For India, that means it would be able to use Japan’s base in Djibouti, which is strategically located at the Horn of Africa between the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, overlooking one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors.
In addition to Japanese troops, Djibouti also hosts a major US special-operations outpost at Camp Lemonnier, just a few miles from China’s first overseas military outpost, which opened in 2017 and which US officials have said raises “very significant operational security concerns.”
In turn, Japan would be able to access Indian bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which sit on important sea lanes west of the Malacca Strait, a major maritime thoroughfare between the Indian and Pacific oceans. (The majority of China’s energy supplies currently flow through the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Strait.)
India has started stationing advanced P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol planes and maritime surveillance drones at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
At the summit later this month, Japan is also expected to raise India’s potential purchase of 12 Shinmaywa US-2i search-and-rescue and maritime surveillance planes, which would also be stationed at the islands.
Delhi reached a similar logistical-support deal with France— which has territories in the southern Indian Ocean and a base in Djibouti — earlier this year and with the US in 2016. (India and the US reached another deal on communications and technical exchanges in September.)
Further discussion of an India-Japan logistical-support deal comes as those two countries and others seek to ensure freedom of movement in the Indian Ocean and to counter what is seen as growing Chinese influence there.
Earlier this month, Japan’s largest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, sailed into the port at Colombo, in Sri Lanka — a visit meant to reassure Sri Lanka that Japan would deploy military assets to a part of the world where Chinese influence is growing.
A few days after the Kaga left Colombo, Sri Lanka navy ships were scheduled to conduct exercises with both the Indian and Japanese navies.
Japan has also expanded its security partnerships with countries around the Indian Ocean and pledged billions of dollars for development projects in the region.
Beijing’s activity around the Indian Ocean region is particularly concerning for Delhi.
China’s base in Djibouti, its role in the Pakistani port of Gwadar, its 99-year lease of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, and other infrastructure deals with countries in the region have set Delhi on guard, Faisel Pervaiz, a South Asia expert at the geopolitical-intelligence firm Stratfor, told Business Insider earlier this month.
“India’s view is that South Asia’s our neighborhood, and if another rival military power is expanding its presence — whether in Bhutan, whether in the Maldives, whether in Sri Lanka, whether in Nepal — that is a challenge, and that is something that we need to address,” Pervaiz said.
India’s focus is likely to remain on its land borders with rivals China and Pakistan, Pervaiz said, but Delhi has made moves to bolster its position in the Indian Ocean region — a change in focus that has been called “a tectonic shift.”
India is working to develop a port at Chabahar on Iran’s southern coast, which would provide access to Central Asia and circumvent existing overland routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan.
“For India, the concern now is that although it maintained this kind of regional hegemony by default, that status is beginning to erode, and that extends to the Indian Ocean,” Pervaiz said. “India wants to maintain [its status as] the dominant maritime power in the Indian Ocean, but … as China’s expanding its own presence in the Indian Ocean, this is again becoming another challenge.”