India-Japan: Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific
Mitrajit Bakshi

The Indo-Pacific, stretching from the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to the central Pacific Ocean, is home to a large diversity of marine resources and ecosystems and plays a significant role in regional and global trade networks. Two states which look to capitalize on such cooperation are India and Japan. Both states are positioned as complementary powers due to the nature of their development and current needs. The two states are strategically aligned in the Indo-Pacific and have thus expanded their bilateral defence ties and cooperation in multilateral organizations like the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue). To understand the current scope and potential of cooperation between India and Japan it is necessary to look at seven areas of convergence between them.

1. Rules-Based Order

Residing in two different regions and connected only by the ocean, India and Japan face no strategic dilemma with regards to each other and have had amicable relations in the past. Now, against the rising hegemon known as China, their shared goals of a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific have allowed them to become suitable partners for each other. The Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept is the brainchild of Late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and was designed to tackle potential conflict areas by imposing a rules-based order on the region (Choong, 2019). This would entail, according to Abe (2014) “the clarification of claims based on international law, no resort to the use of threat of force in enforcing claims and the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes”. Included in this concept was Prime Minister Abe’s saying ‘the confluence of the two seas’, with which he prompted India to look at the Indo-Pacific to look at it not only as a geographical construct but also civilisational one, which would help the region become free, open and inclusive to all efforts towards prosperity (Choong, 2019). In 2014, India and Japan elevated their status of their cooperation to ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ (Perwita & Tertia, 2018). In 2015, to bring stability to the Indo-Pacific they created a regional framework which aligned the India’s Act East Policy with Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP).

2. Maritime Domain Awareness

India’s MDA involves the collection of information on developments in the IOR to better inform policy and military choices when securing its strategic interests in the region (Baruah, 2022). As an island state, Japan’s MDA is based on gathering and disseminating information security (managing territorial disputes and protecting approaches to the mainland), safety (cautionary and reactionary measures to natural disasters) and economy (effective resource management and the protection of its SLOCs)(JAXA). The common factor between the MDA of both states is the increased awareness of Chinese encroachment in their respective regions. To push back on China’s presence in the Indo-Pacific and maintain their strategic interests, the Quad announced a collaborative effort called the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA). The initiative entails building a comprehensive surveillance of the Indo-Pacific to reach a shared understanding of the developments and threats of the sea. The Quad looks to achieve this goal by linking regional collaboration mechanisms like spaced, land and sea-based surveillance assets as well as regional fusion centres like India’s IOR IFC and Japan’s MDA Situational Indication Linkages (MSIL)(Singh & Pandalai, 2022).

3. Quad Summits

One of the key structures which allowed India and Japan to engage in cooperative measures in the Indo-Pacific was the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue now known as Quad. The idea first came into existence when the militaries of the four member states India, Japan, Australia and the US engaged in joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief after the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004(Hanada, 2019). The concept was then carried forward by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe based on the increasing regional cooperation mechanisms like the trilateral security cooperation including Australia and Japan and the thawing of relations between India and US (Hanada, 2019). The concept was revived in 2017thanks to policies of the four states slowly shifting to towards the Indo-Pacific, in part due to the rising power of China (Hanada, 2019). Under Biden, the Quad has been elevated to a summit level dialogue. With ASEAN centrality as a core principle, maritime capacity building has also been provided to Southeast Asian states to reduce their dependency on China and counter Chinese influence in the region (Perwita & Tertia, 2018).

4. Energy Security

India largely depends on energy supplies procured via maritime trade routes from West Asia and Africa (Rao, 2014). Japan imports about 80% of its oil and gas resources from the IOR, passing through the Malacca strait through the South and East China Seas (Paul, 2019). Before the Fukushima disaster, domestic production only amounted to about 19% of its energy requirements, of which nuclear power accounted for about 15% (Barai & Saha, 2015). Cooperation on energy resources is beneficial for overall energy security as it can focus on increasing said security through softer means. Both states adhere to the 3E+S or Energy Security, Economic Efficiency, and Environment + Safety policy to create sustainable and clean energy systems. To that end, the Japan-India Energy Transition Cooperation Plan was launched at the 9th Japan-India Energy Dialogue. They also have recognised the challenges involved in integrating renewable energies into a power system without undermining the security and resilience of the system. Despite their efforts towards renewable and clean energy systems, the two states still acknowledge the need of petroleum and natural gas imports and have developed on a multilateral level, various projects to increase the diversity of energy imports.

5. Maritime Security and Logistics Support

Maritime security cooperation first started between India and Japan in March 2000 when Indian coast guards were invited to meeting of Asia-Pacific coastguards (Paul, 2012). In the present day, this cooperation, now called the India-Japan Special Strategic Global Partnership has expanded into a flourishing defence and security relationship. Both states took part in the 5th maritime bilateral exercise between the Indian Navy and the Japanese Marine Self Defence Force in July 2021 (MEA, 2022). This exercise included weapon firings, cross-deck helicopter operations, complex surface drills, anti-submarine and air warfare drills (MEA, 2022). The states also participated in the multilateral Malabar exercise with US and Australia in the Philippine Sea (MEA, 2022). To help security cooperation between forces on the ground to be a smoother, more interconnected process, India and Japan signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) on September 9th 2020(Rej, 2020). According to the document of the agreement, the supplies and services provided by each state can include food, water, transportation, petroleum, communications services, medical services, base operations support, storage services, use of facilities, spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, airport and seaport services(Suzuki & Kumar, 2020).

6. Bay of Bengal

When speaking of security cooperation between India and Japan, it is important to talk of the Bay of Bengal region. Situated between the Strait of Malacca and the western portion of the Indian Ocean, it is an important region which facilitates trade and transport of goods and services as well as bilateral and multilateral cooperation between members of the Indian subcontinent and extra-regional powers. While also the site for numerous Malabar security exercises, recently, the Japanese and Indian navies conducted a large naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal where Indian naval ships Shivalik and Kadmatt participated in a maritime partnership exercise with Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) ships Uraga and Hirado (Arora, 2022). According to the Ministry of Defence:” The exercise was aimed at strengthening bilateral relations, promoting defence cooperation, enhancing mutual understanding and inter-operability between the two navies and sharing best practices,”(Arora, 2022).

Japan understands Bay of Bengals significance in the global trade network as it plays a similar bridging role in the IOR that the South China Sea does in East Asia (Brewster, 2018). To gain traction in the commercial sense in the region, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been promoting infrastructure projects to improve connectivity in the region and provide an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (Brewster, 2018). As India and Japan work closely in the region, they have collaborated on infrastructure development in the Bay of Bengal. Some of these projects include development of LNG infrastructure in Sri-Lanka, pipelines and electrification in Myanmar, road infrastructure in Bangladesh (MEA, 2018).


Finally, to conclude talking about Indo-Japan Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, the perspective of the cooperative initiatives by the Indian government shall be taken into consideration.

The first one is the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), which is India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific, equivalent to Japan’s FOIP. The initiative mainly seeks to promote the maritime security and governance of the IOR through like-minded partnerships between regional and extra-regional states (Panda, 2020). The idea is for these partnerships to be based on practical strategies to improve the wealth and welfare of the region (Panda, 2020). These strategies are divided into seven categories called pillars: maritime security, maritime ecology, maritime resources, capacity building and resource sharing, disaster risk reduction and management, science, technology and academic cooperation, trade, connectivity and maritime transport (De, 2022). Out of these areas Japan has taken the lead on trade and connectivity pillar. The state is most suitable to take on this role thanks to the high quality of logistics service, infrastructure projects and technological innovation which can lead to smooth connectivity and trade. In this regard, Japan has set up the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI), which aims to alter the geography of cross-border production networks and diversify supply sources (De, 2022).

The second initiative, Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) promotes the IPOI’s maritime security and governance of the IOR via maritime diplomacy (Panda, 2020). According to the elements of SAGAR are security, capacity building, collective action, sustainable development, maritime engagement, regional connectivity (Sarangi, 2019). Japan engages with this initiative under the maritime engagement element with mutual logistics arrangements as well bilateral exercises with the Japanese Coast Guard. The regional connectivity umbrella involves collaborations on projects like Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC)(Sarangi, 2019).


Since India and Japan are situated in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean respectively, they are in a unique position to ensure the maritime security and cooperation in the region. While the cooperation has successfully increased India and Japan’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, risks to their strategic interests still remain. Aspects like, piracy and terrorism may be on the decline, but the region has been rife with great power rivalry. China has not been deterred by the restraints that an Indo-Japan cooperation and is vying for the maritime dominance in the region. This means that there is competition over influence over the littoral states in the region and China holds the advantage thanks to its large capital and the ties it has created in the region through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In light of these challenges, India and Japan must seek to further their bilateral cooperation if they intend to ensure prosperity in the region. They must create a greater alignment in objectives on how deal with extra-regional influence and protect strategic interests in the region such as concentrating their efforts around more practical initiatives like the IPOI. By increasing bilateral cooperation in the region, India and Japan can realise the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific through a demonstration of their relationship with each other and other states in the region and create a standard which others can follow.

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