Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Role of Japan and India

Perspective By Katsuo Matsumoto*


Japan and India have provided soft loans and technical assistance to Asia and Africa under the policy of Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Development Partnership Administration (DPA) respectively.

The Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) concept, initially advocated by the Japanese government, is based on the recognition that a maritime order that is free and open under the rule of law represents a foundation for the stability and prosperity of the international community. The Indo-Pacific region, encompassing an area from the Asia-Pacific region to the Indian Ocean to the Middle East and Africa, constitutes a growth centre of the world. It is vital to maintain or bolster it’s free and open maritime order by eliminating various kinds of threats such as those from piracy, natural disasters, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and illegal operations to ensure the stability and prosperity of the Indio-Pacific region.

The entire Indo-Pacific region’s economic activities will be stimulated by connecting Asian economies that have grown significantly through attaining a certain degree of political stability, with Middle Eastern and African countries that are expected to grow in the coming years and by boosting the regional connectivity.

Japan, the U.S., India and Australia, which support this concept, are exploring the potential of a cooperative platform and intend to work on strategic and effective development cooperation efforts. Specifically, at the November 2017 Japan-U.S. summit meeting, both countries affirmed that the following three-pillar measures would be taken for the purpose:

• Promotion and establishment of fundamental values (the rule of law, freedom of navigation, etc.);

• The pursuit of economic prosperity (improvement of connectivity, etc.); and

• Commitment for peace and stability (capacity building on maritime law enforcement, etc.)

As for the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative advocated by the Chinese government, the Japanese government recently announced that it was ready to extend cooperation to infrastructure projects in the third countries on the condition that China keeps its infrastructure development open, transparent, economical and financially sound. In short, Japan will work with China as long as its external assistance conforms to international standards. Following this, the two governments of Japan and China have continued discussions on Japan-China private cooperation in the third country. The main sectors under review are transportation/distribution system, energy/environment, Industrialization/Financial Support, and regional development.

To drive the FOIP Initiative, cooperation between Japan and India is particularly important because of the following factors:

(A) The two countries, being geographically close to many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, find it a pressing challenge to see the region being stable and prosperous from the perspective of political and economic interests

(B) The co-working of two countries allows them to build a mutually-complementary relationship of cooperation, given that Japan has established a close economic network with Southeast Asia, and India has many Indian private companies that have taken root in the Middle East and Africa, driven mainly by overseas Indians.

(C) Japan and India, enjoying their long historical relationship, share various common values such as democracy and the rule of law, and their economic cooperation to date has delivered satisfactory results in terms of experience and volume, making it easy for the two countries to collaborate.

Specifically, at the Japan-India summit meeting of October 2018, the two countries affirmed the policy to promote projects for high-quality infrastructure in regions including Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and African countries. High-quality infrastructure is characterized by its cost-effectiveness in the long run, as it is robust, long-lasting, disaster resistant and environmentally friendly. Moreover, Japan and India agreed to establish the Platform for Japan-India Business Cooperation in the Asia-Africa Region with the aim to develop industrial corridors and networks in these regions.

How can Japan and India cooperate in the field of development partnership?

Japan and India have provided soft loans and technical assistance to Asia and Africa under the policy of Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Development Partnership Administration (DPA) respectively. When using existing cooperation modalities, the following ways are to be considered:

The first is the implementation of a joint study on regional development. In the past, Japan conducted a master plan of regional development of the Mekong region in Southeast Asia. Mekong countries participated in the process of formulating the masterplan, and each country took ownership and carried out individual development projects. Thus, Japan and India can jointly work to draw a regional development plan aimed at enhancing the connectivity between Asia and Africa.

The second is financial support for individual projects. For example, one can provide financial support for port development while the other can finance roads and railways connecting to the port. Currently, the two governments have started a discussion on a similar form of financial support for a hospital project in Kenya.

The third is to carry out human resource development of partner countries jointly. India has conducted human resource training for more than one hundred sixty partner countries under the scheme of India Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), also known as south-south cooperation internationally. If the Japanese experts can participate in these training courses as lecturers, it may contribute to enhancing the quality of training.

The fourth is to share the information on financial support. Sharing information on development projects including the timing of bidding to the private sector of the two countries would create an environment that facilitates collaboration among private companies to seek business opportunities.

To put FOIP into practice, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), an agency of the Japanese government for implementing ODA, intends to support development projects/programs aimed at penetrating and permeating the rule of law and free trade, and for improving marine-land connections, in consideration of dispute-affected countries and territories.

In fact, in ASEAN and Africa, JICA has extended regional development cooperation with a focus on establishing legal systems and building regional connectivity. As a good example, the Second Mekong International Bridge across the border between Thailand and Laos, supported by Japan, has functioned as the navel of the East-West Economic Corridor in the Mekong region. This bridge has helped to revitalize the regional economy and strengthen ties among neighbouring countries. Moreover, to secure the safety of the sea, we continue to cooperate in the area of coastguard operation mainly in ASEAN countries. In this cooperation, equipment supply and capacity development are packaged together to increase its effectiveness.

India is the oldest development partner of JICA as well as the largest in the past decade, and we will strengthen the ties through a new partnership of development cooperation in the FOIP concept. As stated by Indian prime minister in Shangri-La dialogue in 2018, the value of five S, Samman (respect), Samvad (dialogue), Sahayoga (cooperation), Shanti (peace), and Samriddhi (prosperity) is re-emphasised for our partnership building to engage with FOIP. n

(The above text is a personal opinion of the author and does not represent the opinion of JICA as an organisation.)

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