New Delhi: The Quad countries — Japan, India, Australia and the US — will continue to work closely together to promote their vision, and are making progress towards their commitment for a greater “strategic convergence”, according to Satoshi Suzuki, Japan’s Ambassador to India.
In an interview to ThePrint, Suzuki said India and Japan have also collaborated in other countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Maldives in order to strengthen the Quad under the Indo-Pacific framework.
“The four (Quad) countries will continue to work closely together to achieve this vision by developing quality infrastructure, promoting maritime security, collectively fighting against terrorism, and coordinating in humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, among others,” the ambassador said.
In his previous stint as deputy minister for foreign policy, Suzuki was leading the Quad Senior Officials’ Meetings for two years, beginning in 2017.
“Strategic convergences were confirmed at those consultations, and a common commitment was formed among the four countries, in the spheres of regional security, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and maritime cooperation, among others. I am pleased to see the recent progress in materialising this Quad commitment, including India’s hosting of a counter-terrorism table-top exercise,” he added.
This comes at a time when reports have emerged that the Quad countries are working out a strategy to formalise the grouping by having their first summit-level meeting.
Suzuki said the Malabar naval exercise held last year by the Quad countries is another example of “Tokyo and Delhi working together with other partners to ensure a rules-based maritime order”.
Japan has appointed a liaison officer to the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) to contribute towards enhancing the Maritime Domain Awareness capabilities of the region, Suzuki added.
He said the Agreement on Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services, which was signed in September 2020, will facilitate conducting of joint exercises and further advance the defence partnership.
“Defence equipment cooperation is another area that has huge potential. Since the signing of the Agreement Concerning the Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology in 2015, the two defence authorities have been in intensive discussions on possible areas of cooperation in their joint working group meetings,” he highlighted.
Sri Lanka ECT pact has ‘significant value’
India and Japan are also collaborating in a number of infrastructure development projects in countries like Sri Lanka, where they signed a tripartite agreement to develop an East Container Terminal (ECT) in the Colombo Port.
Similar capacity building projects are also being discussed in countries such as Myanmar and Bangladesh.
On the ECT project, which has now been cancelled by the Sri Lankan government, Suzuki said: “The governments of Japan, India and Sri Lanka signed a Memorandum of Cooperation concerning the development of the East Container Terminal of Colombo South Port. We believe this framework for trilateral cooperation has a significant value for all the parties.”
Earlier this month, the Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka cancelled the tripartite agreement, which was signed by its predecessor, and instead, asked New Delhi and Tokyo to develop the West Container Terminal (WCT).
The matter is under discussion between the three countries, and an official decision to develop the WCT has not been announced either by India or Japan.
Japan opposes ‘regressive actions’ in Myanmar
Japan and India are also engaged in Myanmar in the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, apart from developing infrastructure in the Rakhine state from where the Rohingyas hail. However, with the military coup in Myanmar, the process has slowed down.
Japan called the coup a “regressive” move.
“In Myanmar, Japan and India have been synergising our development efforts to promote education in Rakhine state, but we have grave concerns over the present situation there. Japan has strongly supported the process of democratisation in Myanmar and opposes any regressive actions,” Suzuki said.
He added: “While being cognisant of such developments on the ground, I would like to stress the fact that Japan-India cooperation in third countries remains critical, as these efforts embody the visions and values which our two countries support, and are beneficial to the recipient countries, leading to a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.”
Japan and India are also building roads, bridges, rail networks and hospitals in Bangladesh and the Maldives.
“These are just a few examples, proving the value of Japan-India collaborations for the region. Of course, these efforts can be affected by the situations emerging in those third countries,” he stressed.
Japan seeks more clarifications on India’s Nuclear Liability Act
According to Suzuki, while the India-Japan civil nuclear deal was finalised in 2017, Tokyo is awaiting “further clarifications” on India’s Nuclear Liability Act.
“The civil nuclear agreement, which came into force in 2017, reflects a new level of confidence and strategic partnership between Japan and India. Three working groups have been held to date for advancing bilateral civil nuclear cooperation,” he said.
However, he added that in order to concretise this cooperation, “we need to seek further clarifications on India’s Nuclear Liability Act. I believe a similar concern is shared by various suppliers, and needs to be addressed”.
This issue was also discussed during the first, and so far only, round of the India-Japan 2+2 ministerial dialogue in December 2019.
‘Bullet train project progressing’
The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway (MAHSR), popularly called the bullet train project, is progressing well. Ambassador Suzuki said: “Technology transfer throughout the process of its construction will have an even bigger impact, because the project will involve very subtle technical handlings, and because we are doing this together.”
The 508-km MAHSR project, worth $12 billion, is using Japanese ‘Shinkansen’ technology. It was officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart at the time, Shinzo Abe, in September 2017.
The project faced several delays in land acquisition since it was first announced in 2014-15, and also got entangled in a political controversy with the Shiv Sena, whose president Uddhav Thackeray is Maharashtra chief minister, questioning its feasibility.
“The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway (MAHSR) is a flagship project symbolising our excellent bilateral relationship. Introducing the bullet train, with a maximum operating speed of 320 km/hr with utmost safety, is a feat in itself… I am pleased that tenders for the important civil packages are going smoothly, to be implemented by Indian companies at a time when economic stimulus is much needed,” Suzuki said.
India would gain by joining RCEP
On the issue of enhancing trading links between India and Japan and within the region, India “would gain” by signing the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the envoy said.
“If India wishes, it can join RCEP in a fast-track approach, as an observer, or participate in relevant meetings even before becoming a member… Japan believes that India would gain by joining RCEP economically, politically and strategically, because RCEP would allow India to be better integrated into the regional value chains,” he said.
The RCEP is a trade pact between 10 ASEAN members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and their five trade partners — Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. India walked out of the RCEP in November 2019.