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Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe discussed Doklam: China in mind, India and Japan agree to deepen strategic

Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe Discussed Doklam: China In Mind, India And Japan Agree To Deepen Strategic

The reference to Pakistan-based terror groups is a new addition to the joint statement which said that the two leaders looked forward to “strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including Al-Qaida, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and their affiliates”.

Over dinner, Wednesday at Agashiye, one of Ahmedabad’s top restaurants, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the issue of the recent Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese troops. He recalled his own experience with China over claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, between 2012 and 2014, which had rocked bilateral ties between Tokyo and Beijing. That spat ended with a four-point term of reconciliation, and a handshake with Chinese President Xi Jinping towards the end of 2014.

Describing his dealings with the Chinese as “very challenging”, Abe complimented Prime Minister Narendra Modi for standing his ground on the Doklam standoff. And, then the two leaders spoke of their commitment to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. This, sources said, set the tone for the bilateral meeting Thursday.

And the joint statement later reflected the congruence of views, sending a strong signal on strategic convergence - India and Japan articulated their concerns on Pakistan-based terror groups, North Korea’s nuclear programme and China’s One Belt One Road project. They dropped any direct mention of South China Sea in the joint statement but underlined the importance of a “free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region”.

Officials said the Rohingya refugees crisis was a “passing mention” at the talks. The two sides agreed to cooperate on defence technology, including dual-use technology, and said they were in “serious discussions” on the US-2 amphibious aircraft, although there was no breakthrough on that front. They said they were cooperating on “surveillance” and “unmanned system technologies” in the defence sector - a clear reference to high-technology equipment for military purposes.

The two leaders, who held talks at the Mahatma Mandir convention centre in Gandhinagar and attended the business plenary session, also participated in the ground-breaking ceremony for a high-speed bullet train.

After the talks, Modi said, “Mutual trust and faith, understanding of each other’s interests and concerns, and continuous high level interactions, this is the uniqueness of Indo-Japan relations. The scope of our special strategic and global partnership is not confined to bilateral or regional levels only. We also have close cooperation on global issues.”

Abe said that as the situation in international scenario gets “more opaque”, the two countries are determined to make strides together. “We have just signed a joint statement which will serve as a milestone to open a new era for Japan-India relationship. Based on that, we will strongly promote Japan-India special strategic and global partnership to drive peace and prosperity for Indo-Pacific region and the whole world,” he said.

The reference to Pakistan-based terror groups is a new addition to the joint statement which said that the two leaders looked forward to “strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including Al-Qaida, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and their affiliates”.

This comes less than a fortnight after the BRICS declaration in Xiamen named LeT and JeM.

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said that when such statements are made, be it BRICS or with Japan, “they have value” as they “create a narrative”, and they have an “impact”.

Without naming China, the two leaders also took a strong position on the “One Belt One Road project”, underlining the importance of all countries ensuring the development and use of connectivity infrastructure in “an open, transparent and non-exclusive manner based on international standards and responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, and the environment”.

While India had openly criticised the Belt and Road Initiative and boycotted the meeting on the initiative in Beijing in May this year, Japan had sent a delegation to the meeting. The joint statement, however, reflected Japan’s “concerns” on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship project, almost identical to India’s statement on OBOR.

“They also reaffirmed the importance of ‘quality infrastructure’ which, among others, ensures alignment with local economic and development strategies, safety, resilience, social and environmental impacts, and job creation as well as capacity-building for the local communities,” the joint statement said.

The North Korean situation was reflected amply and elaborately in the statement, in view of Japan’s concerns. India too made common cause on the issue, and pointed to links between the Pakistan and Chinese nuclear programmes and the North Korean programme.

From the Indian perspective, the line that mattered most in the paragraph condemning North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles was this: “They stressed the importance of holding accountable all parties that have supported North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.”

The reference to “holding accountable all parties” was directed at China and Pakistan — India, in the past, had flagged its concerns. Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist A Q Khan shared high-technology and equipment with the North Korean regime which was also likely supported by Chinese technology and expertise.

On the North Korea issue, Abe said that “Modi and I are in full agreement”. But they dropped any direct reference to South China Sea, a rather sensitive issue for Beijing. Unlike the 2016 joint statement which had mentioned South China Sea specifically, the two sides only “reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in accordance with international laws”, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).

“The two Prime Ministers also reiterated their desire and determination to work together to maintain and promote peace, stability, and development in the Indo-Pacific region,” the joint statement said.

Asked about the omission of South China Sea, Jaishankar pointed to the paragraphs on Indo-Pacific and the principles of freedom of navigation. “When you have mentioned the full set, subsets are covered” - meaning SCS is part of Indo-Pacific.

On defence, they agreed to enhance defence and security cooperation and dialogues, including MALABAR and other joint exercises, defence equipment and technology cooperation in such areas as “surveillance and unmanned system technologies”, and defence industry cooperation. They also flagged cooperation between the two navies on “anti-submarine aspects”.

The joint statement said that the two Prime Ministers noted recent progress in bilateral cooperation on defence equipment and technology, including the commencement of the “technical discussion for the future research collaboration in the area of Unmanned Ground Vehicles and Robotics”.

On the US-2, the statement said, “Japan’s readiness to provide its state-of-the-art US-2 amphibian aircraft was appreciated as symbolising the high degree of trust between the two countries. The two governments decided to continue their discussions in this regard,” it said — Jaishankar said there were “serious discussions”.

“They recognised the importance of enhancing interactions between governments and defence industries of the two countries in order to encourage equipment collaboration including defence and dual-use technologies,” it said.

On the civilian nuclear cooperation, the two sides also formed a working group to strengthen their cooperation — months after the pact has come into force.

By: Shubhajit Roy

Courtesy: published on Sept 15, 2017

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