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Asia’s new strategic partnerships

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In Brief

On 29 December 2009, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finalised an Action Plan based on the October 2008 Japan-India Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation. This follows the same steps as the formalised expansion of Australia-Japan security ties, with the March 2007 Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation, followed by an Action Plan endorsed by Prime Ministers Howard and Abe in Sydney in September 2007 (revised and expanded in December 2009).

The Japan-India Joint Declaration was modelled on the Japan-Australia accord.


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Despite changes of government in both Australia and Japan, there are striking similarities between the two Action Plans.

The differences are subtle. The Japan-India Action Plan is strongly bilateral and focused on Asia. Given the absence of a common alliance partner in the U.S., it lacks references to trilateral cooperation with the U.S. Nor is there any reference to North Korea or the Proliferation Security Initiative. India has concerns about North Korea proliferating missiles and WMDs to Pakistan, but is not actively concerned with North Korean denuclearisation.

‘Defence co-operation’ is given a separate heading in the Japan-India document. Specific military-to-military dialogues are listed, as well as a range of naval exercises and defence exchanges. Joint exercises between the Australian and Japanese militaries are not included in the Japan-Australia Action Plan, although it mentions the meeting between Australian Customs and the Japan Coast Guard to discuss joint exercises. There is also a reference to cooperation in anti-piracy operations.

Given their shared maritime security concerns, the Japan-India agreement represents a blueprint for greatly expanded naval cooperation. The sub-sections on Coast Guard Cooperation and Disaster Management are also more fully elaborated in the Japan-India plan.

The most important development in the expanded 2009 Japan-Australia Action Plan was ‘Work towards and agreement on mutual logistics support’, which is not replicated in the Japan-India plan. Overall, the Japan-India document is a more detailed, developed and substantial plan of practical security cooperation than the Japan-Australia plan, excluding the sub-section on Cooperation on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, which is limited to an annual dialogue in the Japan-India plan. This was partly caused by a key difference between Japan and India over India’s unwillingness to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), given that China and the United States had not signed on to the same treaty.

Table 1: Comparison between Japan-Australia, and Japan-India Action Plans

Japan-Australia 2009 Action Plan    Japan-India 2009 Action Plan

Strengthening cooperation on issues of common strategic interest

– Enhance policy coordination on security issues in the Asia Pacific region and beyond

– Cooperate in the East Asia Summit, the ARF

Strengthening cooperation on issues of common strategic interest

– Enhance information exchange and policy coordination on security issues in the Asia Pacific region

– Pursue bilateral cooperation in existing multilateral frameworks in Asia, in particular the East Asia Summit, the ARF

Security and Defence Cooperation

– Annual ministerial meetings; high level exchange; working level exchange; enhance bilateral strategic discussions and exchanges; development of annual calendar of cooperation and exchange activities

Strategic Cooperation Mechanisms

– Annual strategic dialogue at Foreign Minister-level; regular consultations between national security advisor of India and Japanese counterpart; annual subcabinet/senior officials 2+2 dialogue

– Regular meetings between Ministers of Defense; annual defense policy dialogue at the level of Defense Secretary etc; developing an annual calendar of defence cooperation and exchanges

Maritime and Aviation Security/Law Enforcement

– Explore ways to cooperate in regional and global anti-piracy efforts

-Cooperation in fields of illicit drugs, money laundering

Defense Cooperation/Cooperation in Fight Against Transnational Crimes

– Exercises, exchanges and training on issues such as anti-piracy and transnational crimes; establishment of information exchange network on money laundering

Maritime and Aviation Security

– Australia Customs and Japan Coast Guard to meet to discuss joint exercises, personnel exchange, and training opportunities

Coast Guard Cooperation

– Cooperation to ensure maritime safety, maritime security through joints exercises and meetings between the two coast guards


– Strengthen bilateral cooperation among counter-terrorism officials;

Cooperation in Fight Against Terrorism

– Mechanism for intelligence exchange and technical cooperation on counter terrorism

United Nations Reform

– Continue dialogue and cooperation on UN reform, including actively pursuing early realisation of Japan’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council

Cooperation at the United Nations

– Regular dialogue and cooperation on UN reform including early realisation of permanent membership of the UN Security Council of Japan and India

Security and Defence Cooperation/Peace Operations

– Cooperation in international peace cooperation activities; explore further opportunities for cooperation with Japan’s Program for Human Resource Development in Asia for Peacebuilding

Cooperation at the United Nations

– Regular dialogue and cooperation on UN peacekeeping operations; sharing experience in and information on UN peacekeeping operations and peacebuilding

Humanitarian Relief Operations, Including Disaster Relief

– Consult closely on regional disaster response issues and identify areas for cooperation

Disaster Management

– Capacity building for disaster management and sharing Japanese experience on disaster relief

Disarmament and Counter-Proliferation of WMD

– Hold annually the Australia-Japan Bilateral Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Talks

Cooperation on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

– Annual dialogue on disarmament and non-proliferation at the level of Joint Secretary, MEA/Director-General of MOFA


What is behind the Japan-India agreement at this time? First, there has been momentum for the further expansion and deepening of Japan-India relations, with four prime ministerial summits in Japan and India since 2006. Prime Minister Hatoyama is simply taking up where his predecessors, Abe and Aso, left off. Second, Japan and India share a whole range of strategic concerns, including a strong focus on maritime security and defence of the sea lanes. Third, Japan and India share a common goal in seeking to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Fourth, the Action Plan generates added momentum for an expansion in Japan-India trade, investment and economic cooperation. The Hatoyama administration is committed to signing an EPA with India in the short term. Fifth, the Action Plan embodies the Hatoyama administration’s external policy, which is strongly focused on Asia.

The big question is whether the bilateral security agreement represents a latent containment of China policy. Both sides would vigorously deny this. A recent Sankei Shinbun editorial, however, expresses a wish for expanded Japan-India security cooperation to curb China’s military rise. Another question revived by the bilateral Japan-India accord is whether it portends a revival of the Quadrilateral Japan-Australia-India-US Initiative in some form. The missing link was plugged with the Australia-India Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation signed in November 2009.

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