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Japan, India to upgrade defense, diplomatic talks to ministerial level

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (2nd from L) and his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman (far R) hold talks in New Delhi on Aug. 20, 2018. (Kyodo)

TOKYO -- The Japanese and Indian governments have agreed to upgrade their regular "two-plus-two" talks between defense and foreign affairs officials from the vice-ministerial level to the ministerial level, officials associated with the Japanese government have disclosed.

India has been cautious about such a move, but agreed to the Japanese upgrade proposal following recent improvements in India-China ties. The two governments intend to hold talks at this higher level as early as next year.

For Japan, India is a valuable partner in promoting its "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy," which promotes the rule of law and a market economy in the region. India lies along a sea route that connects Asia to the Middle East and Europe, and the country's economic and security policies are important to Japan.

The two-plus-two talks began at the vice-ministerial level in 2010, and Japan proposed several years ago that the talks should be upgraded to ministerial. However, India was hesitant about the idea, citing difficulties in securing a date for such a meeting. It was understood that New Delhi did not want to provoke Beijing, as the two countries share a long border with a history of territorial disputes.

India's attitude softened this year as its relationship with China improved following a summit between its leaders in April. India, known for valuing balanced diplomacy, plans to hold the first two-plus-two meeting of defense and foreign affairs ministers with the U.S. in September. These positive changes, coupled with the gradual rapprochement between Japan and China, appear to have prompted India to judge that the stage has been set to strengthen cooperation with Tokyo.

The governments of Japan and India initially considered having the first ministerial meeting in India in August. They eventually shelved the plan because a date could not be agreed upon, but decided to hold the talks sometime next year or later.

Both Japan and India want to curb China's rapid expansion into South Asia through its "One Belt One Road" infrastructure development initiative for countries along the old Silk Road commercial links between Europe and Asia. Beijing has been involved in port development projects along the Indian Ocean in countries such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and has sent many of its submarines to the waters near this area. Tokyo and New Delhi intend to work together in supporting countries along the Indian Ocean to strengthen their maritime monitoring capabilities.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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