India and Japan moved another step towards an agreement to share military logistics for greater interoperability in a first of its kind discussion on the South China Sea. Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh discussed a series of issues, with navigation in the South China Sea being at the centre of deliberation.
The Defence Ministry said in a statement: "The Ministers recognised that peace and stability of the Indian and Pacific Oceans are crucial for ensuring the prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the entire world, and had a frank exchange of views on the current security situation in the Indo-Pacific region, including developments on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea."
The two countries, along with the United States, have announced the trilateral mine-countermeasures (MINEX) exercise to be held annually. Apart from a Malabar exercise where navies of India, Japan and the US involve in complex naval war games, the MINEX will also be carried out annually.
The MoD further added that the two Ministers "shared their intention that Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) and Indian Navy will make efforts towards participating in multilateral exercises including participation as observers".
Rajnath Singh was on a bilateral visit to Japan at the invitation of the HE Takeshi Iwaya, the Defence Minister of Japan. The two ministers held annual Defence Ministerial Meeting earlier this week.
The two countries have now decided to hold their first Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue (2+2) ahead of the Japan-India annual summit this year for "advancing cooperation towards peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region". Moreover, Rajnath Singh also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the bilateral issues.
The latest development may give a headache to China, which is witnessing India and Japan along with the US and Australia coming together to contain its aggression in the Indo-pacific region. For a long time, India avoided a reference to the South China Sea. Last week, France, the UK and Germany expressed concern and called for safeguarding Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea after China entered Vietnam's exclusive economic zone to block exploration activities.
India did not comment on the issue but the latest statement from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) clearly shows a departure from its earlier position. Indian and Japanese defence forces have increased their cooperation in recent years. Last year, the Armies and Air Forces of India and Japan conducted their first-ever bilateral exercises 'Dharma Guardian' and 'Shinyuu Maitri'.