India-Japan Relations: Evolution, Challenges & Recent Developments

In recent years, the bilateral ties between India and Japan have been enhanced exponentially due to various mutual interests that arose because of the changing global politics. The recently held 2+2 ministerial meeting between the two nations is one of the very many examples of India’s growing diplomatic relationship with Japan.

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How did it all begin?

  • The friendship between India and Japan can be traced back to the long history rooted in spiritual affinity and strong cultural and civilizational ties.
  • India’s earliest recorded contact with Japan was with Todaiji Temple in Nara, where the consecration or eye-opening of the towering statue of Lord Buddha was performed by the Indian monk, Bodhisena in 752 AD.
  • In the modern times, among the eminent Indians associated with Japan include Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, JRD Tata, and Judge Radhabinod Pal.
  • The Japan-India Association, which was set up in 1903, is today the oldest international friendship body in Japan.
  • Judge Radhabinod Pal, one of the judges of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), was the sole dissenting judge who exonerated all the Japanese leaders who were tried for war crimes post Second World War.
  • This has struck a deep chord among the Japanese public and it continues to reverberate to this day.
  • The bilateral ties have been strengthened over the years due to the shared values of the belief in democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law.
  • The two countries have built upon these values and created a partnership based on both principle and pragmatism.

India-Japan Ties during post World War II era:

  • Following the Second World War, India did not participate in the San Francisco Conference.
  • It had decided to conclude a separate peace treaty with Japan after its sovereignty was fully reinstated. This established the official diplomatic relations between the two countries on 28, April 1952.
  • Through this treaty, India had officially renounced all reparation claims against Japan.
  • It is one of the first treaties signed by Japan during the post Second World War era.
  • The diplomatic, trade, economic and technical ties between the two nations were very strong during this time.
  • Most notably, India’s iron ore was highly helpful for Japan while it was recovering from World War II devastation.
  • However, the relationship between the two nations was constrained due to Cold War politics at that time.
  • Japan was an ally of the US while India was pursuing the Non-Aligned Movement and was often leaning towards the Soviet Union.
  • Since the 1980s, efforts were undertaken to strengthen the bilateral ties.
  • India’s Act East Policy theorized Japan to be a key partner and its ties as an essential asset.
  • Ever since 1986, Japan has become India’s largest aid donor and it remains so.
  • The relationship between the two nations had faced a brief low in 1998 following Pokharm II – India’s nuclear weapons test that year.
  • Japan had imposed sanctions on India following the nuclear test. This included the suspension of all political exchanges and economic assistance between the two nations.
  • These sanctions were lifted three years later.
  • The relationship between the two nations has improved since then.
  • In 2014, the Indian PM Narendra Modi had visited Japan. This visit has strengthened the ties between the two nations and has resulted in the signing of several significant agreements, including the establishment of a Special Strategic Global Partnership.

What are the areas of cooperation in recent times?

Some of the areas of cooperation are as follows:

Economic Cooperation:

  • Both countries had signed the India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which was implemented in August 2011. It is estimated to have speeded up the growth of trade, economic and commercial relations between the two nations.
  • Japan has been extending loans and assistance to India since 1958. It is the bilateral donor to India.
  • Japan’s Overseas Development Assistance has assisted India’s efforts to hasten its economic growth.
  • The Japanese ODA has a special focus on power, transportation, environmental projects and projects for basic human needs.
  • India’s major exports to Japan include petroleum products, chemicals, elements, compounds, non-metallic mineral ware, fish and fish preparations, metalliferous ores and scraps, textiles and accessories, iron and steel products, textile yarn, fabrics, machinery, etc.
  • Japanese companies are increasing their presence in India in recent times.
  • More than 1400 Japanese companies exist in India. Half of these are manufacturing companies. This is a 5% increase since last year.
  • The total FDI inflow from Japan since April 2000 is $29.5 billion. It is mainly in the automobile sector, electrical equipment, and telecommunications, chemical, and pharmaceutical sectors.
  • Japan has played a significant role in India’s transport and infrastructure development.
  • Some of the key projects include:
  • Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (MAHSR) project (popularly known as bullet train) is expected to revolutionize India’s transportation sector. This project, worth Rs.1 trillion, is expected to create 20,000 construction jobs, 40,000 direct employment for its operation and 20,000 indirect jobs to the Indians. More than 80% of the project is funded by Japan through a soft loan at 0.1% p.a. for 50 years.
  • Delhi Mass Rapid Transport System: Japan has provided technical and financial assistance for the construction of the Delhi Metro of which 327km of the metro line is currently operational. About 54% of the project’s fund came from Japan.
  • The other notable projects include the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC) and Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC).
  • Japan, through its ODA, had financed 13 other infrastructure projects including Chennai and Ahmedabad metro projects and road connectivity projects in the North-eastern states.
  • A task force, consisting of the representatives of both the nations, was established to develop a concrete strategy for a phased technological transfer and ‘Make in India’ initiative.
  • Cooperation is also underway for the human resource development in India’s manufacturing sector through ‘Manufacturing Skill Transfer Promotion Program’.
  • To enhance cooperation in the field of smart cities to develop smart islands by initiating consultations to identify technologies, infrastructure, developmental strategies, and management processes to enable the progress of smart islands efficiently and effectively.

Military Cooperation:

  • India and Japan have close military and strategic ties.
  • Both nations have common interests with regards to free and secure Indo-Pacific.
  • They are cooperating to deal with the growing threat of terrorism, piracy and international crime.
  • India and Japan, along with the US, is a part of Exercise Malabar. This trilateral naval exercise initially began as a bilateral exercise between the US and India. Japan became the permanent member of this annual naval exercise in 2015.
  • Japan is currently increasing its strategic ties with India to counter China’s dominance in the Indo-Pacific.
  • It is currently calling for the reinstatement of the QUAD.
  • Two agreements were signed between the two nations in 2015:
  • Concerning Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information
  • Concerning the transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology
  • India and Japan had increased their security ties through 2+2 Dialogue, Defence Policy Dialogue, Military-to-Military Dialogue Talks, and Coast Guard-to-Coast Guard Cooperation.

Nuclear Deal:

  • Modi had visited Japan for the second time as Prime Minister in November 2016.
  • During this visit, both the counties have signed the Agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy – a momentous civil nuclear agreement.
  • Under this agreement, Japan has the right to supply India with nuclear reactors, fuel, and nuclear technologies.
  • This is noteworthy because India is not the signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is the only non-signatory to receive this exemption from Japan.
  • This deal took 6 years to negotiate. It was delayed due to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
  • This deal aims to help India build 6 nuclear reactors in Southern India to increase the nuclear capacity ten-fold by 2032.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

What is the first India-Japan 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial meeting all about?

  • The first-ever 2+2 ministerial meeting was held between the defence and foreign ministers of both the nations.
  • The talks under the new framework took place following a decision by the Prime Ministers of India and Japan during the 13th India-Japan annual summit last year.
  • It aims to give a further boost to the special strategic partnership
  • , especially in the maritime domain.
  • More broadly, the dialogue has been driven by the mutual desire to frame an Asia that is not dominated by a single country (China) and make Indo-Pacific free, open and inclusive to all.
  • This mechanism in itself is of significance because Japan is only the second country after the US with which India holds such dialogue format.
  • The India-Japan 2+2 dialogue is an endorsement of the special strategic partnership between New Delhi and Tokyo.


  • Both the sides, during the 2+2 dialogue had acknowledged the emerging security challenges and have committed to the advancement of the bilateral security cooperation based on the 2008 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation and the 2009 Action Plan to advance Security Cooperation.
  • Talks also focused on bilateral exercises. Last year, all components of the defence forces have held the bilateral exercises. This includes “Dharma Guardian – 2019” (held between the militaries of both the nations) and “SHINYUU Maitri – 2019” (bilateral exercise between IAF and Japanese Air Self Defence Force) and Japan-India maritime exercise.
  • Both the sides, during this 2+2 dialogue, had agreed to proceed for the initiation of the first India-Japan joint fighter aircraft exercise in Japan.
  • Negotiations on Acquisition and Cross-serving Agreement also saw progress during this dialogue. It allows both the nations’ armed forces to use each other’s bases for logistical support.
  • Both sides have highlighted the need for further strengthening of the defence equipment and technology cooperation.
  • Japan, during this dialogue, had pushed for the sale of the ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft for the Indian Navy. However, an agreement is yet to be concluded. If India purchases it, there will be an enhancement of India’s capability in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
  • To make India purchase it, Japan has committed to manufacturing 30% of the aircraft in India. This could eventually help improve India’s defence manufacturing.
  • Furthermore, both the nations have established a working group to study the possibilities in Visual Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) Based Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Augmentation Technology for Unmanned Ground Vehicles/robotics.
  • Increasing collaborations in the areas of technology development are of significance to India, especially in the field of Defence electronics since India’s domestic electronics manufacturing segment is still at a nascent stage.
  • These collaborations can greatly improve India’s domestic capability in the defence sector.


  • A major focus was also given to the Indo-Pacific and cooperation to make it free and inclusive to all.
  • In this context, both the nations discussed furthering their cooperation in the field of capacity building in maritime security and Maritime Domain Awareness through cooperation with other nations.
  • Japan has welcomed the establishment of the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) by India in December 2018. Japan will dispatch a liaison officer at the IFC-IOR.
  • They have reiterated the significance of supporting ASEAN centrality and unity of the promotion of peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.
  • Both sides have welcomed the adoption of “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” (AOIP) during the 34th ASEAN summit in Thailand on June this year and have reaffirmed their support for the ASEAN-led frameworks like the East Asian Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-plus (ADMM-Plus).
  • Several other initiatives were taken by both sides to achieve free and open Indo-Pacific like India’s “Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative” and Japan’s Vientiane Vision 2.0 (boosting of defence cooperation between Japan and ASEAN).

International Affairs:

  • India and Japan have highlighted the importance of North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges per related UNSC resolutions.
  • Both the sides have also condemned all acts of terrorism and have called on other states to take measures against it.
  • Greater emphasis was given to the threat posed by the terrorist networks that are operational in Pakistan.
  • India and Japan agreed that there is a need for stronger cooperation to address terrorism and violent extremism through increased sharing of information and intelligence.

Why is there a sudden closeness between the two nations?

  • The regional environment in the Indo-Pacific has led to the growing diplomatic ties between the two nations.
  • China’s increasing dominance in the region and India inclination towards closer ties with the US in recent years have contributed to the increase in the diplomatic interactions between the nations.
  • Despite the close ties with the US, the unpredictable policies under the Trump Administration have complicated the bilateral relationship between the US and Japan.
  • The US’ policy on the denuclearisation of North Korea is threatening Japan’s national security. Therefore, Japan is undertaking closer defence ties with all nearby nations including India.
  • China is also threatening Japan’s interest in the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, Japan is taking measures to forge a strategic alliance in the form of QUAD to deal with this problem.
  • These are some of the security issues that have led to Japan’s closer ties with India.
  • Furthermore, India has a very large consumer base and almost all developed nations are competing to make use of it.
  • Japan has been trying to sell its bullet train technology to other nations for a long time with very little success. Many are choosing Chinese technology over the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train).
  • Shinkansen is being introduced in the busy Mumbai-Ahmedabad section in India.
  • Closer ties with India can ensure market to the Japanese bullet trains.
  • India too requires closer diplomatic ties with Japan. It is looking for massive investments in the infrastructure sector and Japan is one of the major investors.
  • Pollution is one of the major problems that are plaguing the Indian cities. Japan’s clean technology can help India address it.
  • It should be noted that Japan is the only country that is allowed to invest in India’s North-East.
  • Both the nations have teamed up to set up a diesel power plant in Andaman and Nicobar Islands (this has not been allowed to other nations).
  • They are also collaborating in the development of the East Container Terminal in the Colombo Port in Sri Lanka along with Sri Lanka’s Port Authority (SLPA). This is a different investment model than that of the Hambantota Port.

What are the areas of contentions?

  • Despite the very close bilateral ties, few issues remain a challenge to the India-Japan relations.
  • For instance, trade ties remain underdeveloped when compared to India’s trade ties with China.
  • The bilateral trade between India and Japan in 2017-18 stood at $15.71 billion, while India bilateral trade with China stood at $84.44 billion in 2017 despite the political tensions between the two nations.
  • Despite India’s close ties with the US and Japan, it is also the member of multilateral forums like BRICS, SCO etc.
  • India’s balancing act is not appreciated by Japan since it is against its overall strategy to counter China.


Boosting the bilateral ties is of strategic significance for both India and Japan. Both nations have built a strong strategic partnership in the last decade. While China may have been the factor, building this relationship was easier due to the absence of any baggage, unlike, for instance, with the US. With this in consideration, India can take more progressive steps to enhance the diplomatic ties with Japan for achieving its strategic and economic interests

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