Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday unveiled his government’s much-awaited plan for a free and open Indo-Pacific while projecting India as an “indispensable partner” to achieve the ambitious goal of peace, prosperity and stability in the region.
The plan that comes amid China’s growing military muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific comprises four key pillars and seeks to enhance connectivity, foster the region into a place that values the rule of law and keep it free from “force or coercion”.
Outlining a number of initiatives, Kishida said the Bay of Bengal-Northeast India industrial value chain concept will be promoted in cooperation with India and Bangladesh to foster the growth of the entire region.
The Japanese prime minister made the plan public while delivering a lecture at the Indian Council of World Affairs hours after holding wide-ranging talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In order to protect the oceans from various risks, Kishida said States should not use force or coercion in trying to drive their claims and that they should seek to settle disputes by peaceful means, in comments that came against the backdrop of Tokyo’s rising tensions with China in the East China Sea.
“I believe that this region will be a place where freedom and the rule of law are valued, free from force or coercion,” he said.
Under the free and open Indo-Pacific plan, Japan will support various connectivity projects including in India’s Northeast, work towards enhancing maritime security with friendly countries and finance projects in diverse areas in the countries of the region.
“I have described Japan’s plan to develop a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’. To achieve this, India is an indispensable partner.
“I believe that Japan and India are in an extremely unique position in the current international relations and, furthermore, in the history of the world,” Kishida said after highlighting the broad contours of the initiative.
He said Japan and India have a great responsibility for maintaining and strengthening “a free and open international order based on the rule of law.” In his address, the Japanese prime minister said Japan strongly condemns Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and that it obliged “us to face the most fundamental challenge – defending peace.” Kishida said that principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo by force should be adhered to in every corner of the world.
“I reiterate that Japan strongly condemns Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and will never recognise it.
“Prime Minister Modi, too, expressed to President (Vladimir) Putin that ‘today’s era is not of war’. Japan opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by force anywhere in the world,” he said.
The four pillars of Kishida’s plan for ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) that he said are “suited for history’s turning point” are principles for peace and rules for prosperity, addressing challenges in an Indo-Pacific way, multi-layered connectivity and extending efforts for security and safe use of “sea to air”.
The new plan builds on former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s 2007 vision for the Indo-Pacific. Delivering the prestigious Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June last year, Kishida said he would lay out the plan for Indo-Pacific next spring.
Kishida described the connectivity pillar of the plan as a core element of the cooperation and noted that Japan will support connectivity initiatives in South Asia.
“Northeast India, which is surrounded by land, still has unexploited economic potential. Viewing Bangladesh and other areas to the south as a single economic zone, we will promote the Bay of Bengal-Northeast India industrial value chain concept in cooperation with India and Bangladesh to foster the growth of the entire region,” he said.
He also indicated that Japan will support the Pacific Islands region in helping them deal with many challenges such as rising sea levels due to climate change, infectious diseases such as COVID-19, and natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions.
“To protect the free oceans, we will support the strengthening of maritime law enforcement capabilities of each country through human resource development, strengthening cooperation among coast guard agencies, and joint training with the coast guards of other countries,” Kishida said.
The Japanese prime minister also underlined the importance of ensuring safe and stable use of the air and to enhance maritime domain awareness.
“In order to improve the capacity for grasping the situation of the air, we will proactively promote the transfer of warning and control radars, and human resource development and exchange,” he said.
“It is also important to take advantage of satellites for maritime domain awareness, and we will promote human resource development and information sharing. Further, we will enhance cooperation among aviation authorities to address new technologies including drones,” he added.
The Japanese prime minister also delved into Tokyo’s close ties with New Delhi.
“India is the largest democracy in the world. I have always viewed with great respect at the way such a huge and diverse country as India has developed democracy,” he said.
“Japan, for its part, was the first country in Asia to achieve modernisation and embrace democracy. It is fair to say that both countries are naturally receptive to and fully committed to the idea of electing governments through general elections and deciding policies through public debate,” he said.
“Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no voices at all in either Japan or India that said that a totalitarian system of governance would be better,” he added.
Kishida also referred to India’s G20 presidency and Japan’s G7 chairship.
“This year, as Japan holds the G7 presidency and India holds the G20 presidency, my hope is that, through working together with ASEAN and other many countries, we will bring about peace and prosperity to the international community, which faces a time of challenges,” he said.