By Krishn Kaushik and Yukiko Toyoda
NEW DELHI/TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will on Monday announce a new plan for an open and free Indo-Pacific in New Delhi and seek India’s support to partner with Tokyo to check China’s growing influence across the region.
Under the plan, which will be announced during Kishida’s two-day visit to India, Japan will increase support to emerging economies, especially in the region, Japanese officials said.
India and Japan have been adding more depth to their relations, especially in defence and strategic affairs, as both face threats from a dominant China.
Kishida’s decision to announce his new plan during the annual summit between the two countries underlines the importance Tokyo places on New Delhi as a key player in the Indo-Pacific region.
Japanese officials said that Kishida believes that given India’s strategic geopolitical location in the Indian Ocean, and as the world’s largest democracy, it will play a significant role in realising his vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
India and Japan, along with the United States and Australia, are members of the so-called Quad which seeks to counter China’s growing heft in the region.
Quad members say it is not a military grouping but they will jointly participate in the annual Malabar naval wargaming exercise in Australia this year, which will also host the Quad summit in May.
Former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe shared a close relationship with Modi and Japanese officials said Kishida is keen to build a similar bond.
During his talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Kishida is expected to seek India’s cooperation for the new plan, which will include steps Japan will take to strengthen cooperation in countries that adhere to the principles of peaceful resolution of disputes and freedom of navigation.
This, officials said, also comes in the context of Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s aggressive maritime posture.
While Japan has been pushing for more sanctions against Russia, India, which heads G20 this year, has been trying to prevent the forum from being used for any such announcement.
India has declined to blame Russia for the war and has sought a diplomatic solution while boosting its purchases of Russian oil.
Kishida also wants to improve the maritime warning and surveillance capabilities of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and hopes India will actively join hands with Japan to develop infrastructure like ports in Asia and Africa.
Modi and Kishida met three times in 2022, including at Abe’s funeral, and will meet at least three more times in 2023 on the sidelines of the G20, G7 and Quad summits.
The two countries have a comprehensive economic partnership and trade was worth $20.57 billion in 2021-2022, with India importing Japanese goods valued at $14.49 billion.
(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik in NEW DELHI, Yukiko Toyoda and Sakura Murakami in TOKYO; Editing by Y.P. Rajesh)