Asia's Game of Thrones
India Mulls Enhanced Naval Cooperation with Japan

India’s naval chief is heading to Japan to explore the possibility of new cooperation with his Japanese counterparts, the Hindustan Times reports:

Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba is on a five-day visit to Japan during which he will explore new avenues of cooperation with the country which has emerged as a close partner of India in recent years, both on the nuclear energy front as well as military.

The visit also comes at a time when India, Japan and the US are preparing for their next edition of the Malabar exercise which will focus on submarine hunting amid increasing forays by the Chinese underwater vessels in the Indian Ocean.

“The visit aims to consolidate existing maritime cooperation initiatives as well as explore new avenues,” a statement by the Navy said.

India and Japan share similar maritime challenges such as long coastline, extensive Exclusive Economic Zone, coastal security, large coastal shipping and fishing fleet, wherein both navies have opportunities to learn from each other’s experiences, it added.

In itself, an official visit between the Indian and Japanese navies may not seem immediately newsworthy. But the news comes amid an important wider trend of increasing closeness between the two countries. In 2015, for instance, Japan permanently joined the annual Malabar naval exercises led by the United States and India, despite Beijing’s objections. And just this past month, India and Japan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement allowing Japan to export its nuclear technology to India: a confidence-boosting bet on India’s reliability as both an economic partner and a responsible developer of nuclear energy.

The shared threat of China is one obvious reason behind India and Japan’s growing friendliness. Tokyo is warily eyeing Beijing’s assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, just as New Delhi worries about China’s growing “string of pearls” in the Indian Ocean. But there are other factors that make the two countries natural partners. In Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe, India and Japan have two like-minded nationalist leaders intent on raising their countries’ international standing by forging new regional partnerships. India and Japan share certain cultural affinities as well, from the non-Abrahamic religions that dominate their cultures to their status as Asia’s two largest democracies.

It is worth watching, then, to see what comes of the naval summit, and how India and Japan will continue to build on their cooperation in the years to come. Modi and Abe may not make pivots as obvious as Duterte’s, but signs suggest that they are patiently forging a strong partnership that could have important long-term consequences throughout Asia.

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