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With China in mind, Abe departs with military pact with India

September 12, 2020 13:37 IST

With the signing of the pact, the Quad grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the US is set to gain more heft now, notes Dr Rajaram Panda.

Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, shakes hands with Shinzo Abe

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with then Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in Osaka, June 27, 2019. Photograph: Kiyoshi Ota/Reuters

With an eye firmly on China's expansionist behaviour in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, India and Japan signed a Mutual Logistic Support Arrangement as Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo held their annual summit in a unique fashion over the telephone and decided to conclude the much anticipated pact.

At a press conference on August 28, Abe announced his decision to demit office on health grounds. However, this did not deter him to go ahead with the leadership level dialogue as scheduled on September 10.

The pact was signed by Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and Japanese Ambassador Suzuki Satoshi in New Delhi on September 10.

India has signed similar agreements with the US, France, South Korea, Singapore and Australia.

The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) inked with the US in 2016 gives India refuelling facilities and access to American bases in Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Guam and Subic Bay.

With the six countries with whom India has such agreements, India can now support each other's warships and aircraft as well as boost defence ties.

Such a move shall enhance India's strategic reach in the Indian Ocean and can counter China's expanding footprint across the Indo-Pacific.

Ajay Kumar and Satoshi Suzuki

IMAGE: Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and Japan's Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki sign the agreement on Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services between the armed forces of India and Japan's self defence forces. Photograph: ANI Photo

The India-Japan relationship has assumed a multi-dimensional perspective in recent times in the wake of geopolitical changes in the region, demanding a unified response to the threats perceptions stemming from such changes.

During Abe's long tenure at the helm, India-Japan ties scaled new heights as convergence of interests on a host of issues provided a stronger spine to bilateral ties. Apart from defence and security cooperation, cultural and economic ties also deepened.

The deepening of defence ties in recent years is in response to China's growing weight across the region.

The India-Japan MLSA agreement will enhance the inter-operability between the armed forces of both countries. The agreement will provide their militaries access to each other's bases for supplies and services.

The significance of the pact cannot be missed as it comes amid tensions with China along the Line of Actual Control and Beijing's aggressive behaviour across the Indo-Pacific region.

The agreement will facilitate the smooth provision of supplies and services between the forces on the ground, thereby contributing further to global peace and security.

During their telephone conversation, Modi and Abe concurred on a wide range of topics such as security, the economy and economic cooperation including the high-speed rail project where both countries can work together closely.

Indeed, Abe has been a pillar of strength for India's Look East and Act East Policy, someone who developed a close bonhomie with Modi and his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh.

Indian Navy ships conduct a passage exercise with the USS Nimitz

IMAGE: Indian Navy ships conduct a passage exercise with the USS Nimitz, the US navy's aircraft carrier, in the Indian Ocean amid the border stand-off with China.

Abe's speech in Parliament in August 2007 during his first term wherein he proposed the Indo-Pacific construct and partnership across the region based on the confluence of two seas and ushered in the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor with India as a key partner amid Beijings BRI and Maritime Silk Route initiatives still reverberate in Indian minds.

The subsequent quadrilateral concept including India, Japan, Australia and the US originally floated by Abe in 2007 and now reactivated has gained currency bearing Abe's footprint.

The Malabar exercise between the navies of India, Japan, Australia and the US confirms to this assertion.

In recent times, bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral naval exercises between the countries in the Indo-Pacific have been taking place with regularity.

The main objective is to send a message to China as it tries to unilaterally change the established regional order by trying to impose its will to the detriment of the interests of other nations in the region.

China's rise coincides with the relative decline in American power. It is further aggravated by United States President Donald J Trump's inward-looking policies that seeks to correct the trade deficit with China.

Such a stance has given rise to a trade war between the two largest economies in the world with ripple effect across the globe.

This has not deterred China from pursuing its assertiveness on a host of regional issues, even though many countries in Asia like India, Japan, South Korea and also in Europe such as France and Germany are looking to shift their production bases from China either back to their home countries or other countries.

The suspicion over information on the coronavirus released to the world by China is another trigger, leading to mistrust.

This does not suggest that the US has abdicated its responsibility as a security provider to its allies in Asia.

On the contrary, it has deepened security ties with a view to reassure allies and friends in the wake of perceived threat from China.

 US President Donald J Trump, Prime Minister Modi and Shinzo Abe

IMAGE: US President Donald J Trump with Modi and Abe during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, June 28, 2019. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

India and the US signed the bilateral Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA), the first of three foundational agreements proposed by Washington to deepen bilateral military cooperation between the two countries in August 2016. This logistics support pact with the US helps naval ties between the two countries.

Following the signing of the LEMOA, a significant number of at sea replenishments have taken place between the Indian and US navies.

Indian and US warships are being refuelled regularly by each other's tankers at sea, easing logistical constraints under the LEMOA legal framework.

For example, an Indian warship deployed in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy patrols was refuelled by a US tanker.

All issues relating to cash payment or the reciprocal provision of logistics support were straightened out.

Similarly, the amphibious transport dock, the USS Anchorage, with the Marine Expeditionary Unit that arrived in Visakhapatnam on December 22, 2018 for a four-day port visit was provided supplies and services under the LEMOA framework.

At a time when China-US ties have nosedived, those between India and the US have grown. The full scope of the LEMOA enables the navies of the two countries in terms of reciprocal provision of logistics support, supplies and services.

The pact served as a template for similar arrangements with other countries with whom India subsequently entered into such pacts.

After tough negotiations, India and the US also signed the Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (Comcasa), valid for 10 years.

Comcasa aims to provide a legal framework for the transfer of highly sensitive communication security equipment from the US to India that will streamline and facilitate inter-operability between their armed forces.

This effectively means opening up India's military communications network to the US military.

Both nations are also exploring to sign the third foundational agreement, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), to share geospatial intelligence.

Negotiations on the military pact between India and Japan, on the 'reciprocal provision of supplies and services' between the armed forces of the two countries signed on September 10, 2020 had commenced in October 2018.

With the signing of the pact, it is hoped that the 10-year agreement, to be extended automatically every decade unless one side decides to terminate it, will contribute to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.

With this, the Quad grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the US is set to gain more heft now, complimenting Chief of Defence staff General Bipin Rawat's remarks about the Quad as a 'good mechanism' to ensure freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific.

An optimistic view on the churning of the geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific in the wake of the perceived Chinese threat would be that these pacts with six countries shall have a stabilising effect and dispel any alarmist perspective of a potential conflict.

Dr Rajaram Panda was formerly Senior Fellow at the IDSA, New Delhi.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/