Satoshi Suzuki has been the Ambassador of Japan to India since October 2019. A post-graduate from the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hop- kins University, he joined Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1984. Since then, Suzuki has served his country in various capacities both in Japan and abroad. He was also the Deputy Minister for Foreign Policy in 2017.
In an interview with Ashok Tuteja, Suzuki talked about the takeaways from the recent India-Japan annual Summit and the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the Indo-Pacific, among other issues.
Q. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was in India in March for the 14th India- Japan Summit. What are the major takeaways from the summit?
A: We have witnessed the very successful official visit of Prime Minister Kishida to India on March 19. It was Mr Kishida’s first bilateral foreign visit since he took office last October, which demonstrates the significance he attaches to the partnership with India. In addition, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relationship between Japan and India, making the Summit all the more special. The visit provided an excellent opportunity to review bilateral cooperation in wide-ranging areas, chart the future course of our Special Strategic and Global Partnership and reaffirm our strong commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, free from coercion.
One of the major takeaways of the Summit was the announcement made by our two leaders about setting a target of 5 trillion yen (3.4 trillion rupees) of public and private investment and financing from Japan to India in the next five years. In addition to the Joint Statement signed by Mr Kishida and Mr Modi, which contains details of the bilateral cooperation, the two sides also signed and announced seven JICA loan agreements and amendments to the Implementing Agreement of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and its Annex, along with documents on issues of contemporary needs such as industrial competitiveness, clean energy, urban development, decentralised domestic wastewater management and the development of connectivity and resilience in the Northeast.
As for political and security cooperation, the Memorandum of Cooperation in the Field of Cybersecurity was signed on this occasion to promote collaboration in such areas as information sharing, capacity building as well as research and development. In addition, the Prime Ministers concurred to jointly tackle common issues of economic security, including building safe and secure telecommunication networks and diversification and enhancement of supply chains. These outcomes are good examples of how deep and comprehensive our bilateral relationships are.
Q. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had great chemistry with former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. What is the equation between Mr Modi and Mr Kishida?
A: Even before assuming office as the Prime Minister, Mr Kishida already had many positive interactions with Prime Minister Modi in his various previous capacities including as Foreign Minister. After his inauguration as Prime Minister, he also had a brief conversation with Mr Modi in Glasgow on the sidelines of the COP26 last October, in addition to a couple of virtual calls.
The Summit gave an excellent opportunity to discuss issues of mutual interest in the person and foster personal connection. Further, the two leaders had a tête-à-tête dinner at the Hyder- abad House. They have built a rapport through cordial discussions that lasted far beyond the scheduled time, which both the leaders enjoyed very much.
Q. What is your view on the Ukraine crisis and India’s response?
A: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shakes the foundation of the international order against which a firm stance is needed. Japan is also deeply concerned about the reference to the possible use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. In addition, we are deeply shocked by the killing of innocent civilians as a result of acts of the Russian forces and vehemently condemn the breach of international humanitarian law.
Japan has been in constant conversation with India regarding this important issue. During the recent Summit, the two leaders emphasised the need for all countries to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law without resorting to threats or use of force or any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo. They also expressed their serious concern about the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and emphasised that global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. The two leaders reiterated their call for an immediate cessation of violence and noted that there was no other choice but the path of dialogue and diplomacy for the resolution of the conflict.
Q. What is the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the Indo-Pacific and its implication for Quad cooperation?
A: As the world witnesses the Ukraine crisis, it has never been clearer that any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force, such as this time, must not be tolerated in the Indo- Pacific region. This view was shared by the Quad leaders in their virtual meeting on March 3. Further, it is precisely because of this situation that it is critical to promote efforts toward the realisation of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
With this sense of mission, Japan is going to host a Quad summit in Tokyo in the coming months. The leaders of four countries are expected to review their positive initiatives, including those in the areas of vaccines, climate change, critical and emerging technologies along with many others to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo- Pacific and beyond.
Q. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was recently in India to mend fences with India in the midst of the Eastern Ladakh military stand-off. What is Japan’s view on China’s activities in the neighbourhood?
A: As I mentioned, our principled view is that we shall not accept any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo and this view prevails anywhere in the world. In Japan’s immediate neighbourhood, in the East China Sea, China Coast Guard vessels continue to intrude into the Japanese territorial sea around the Senkaku Islands and the Chinese military has been expanding and increasing its military activities in sea and airspace. Issues with regard to the South China Sea are also important to Japan, as it is crucial for the peace and stability of the region. It is also because Japan depends on sea transport for most of its resources and energy. Not only on seas but anywhere in the world, together with India, Japan is committed to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, respecting international law and undaunted by coercion.
Q. To respond to the increasingly fluid situation in the Indo-Pacific, how do you think India and Japan can deepen their defence and security cooperation?
A: Defence and security cooperation between our two countries has flourished in recent years as our strategic convergence grows. The 2+2 meeting of our Foreign and Defense Ministers, the first of which took place in November 2019, demonstrates deep and wide-ranging cooperation in this field. One such example is various bilateral and multi-lateral exercises that India and Japan conducted, including the “Dharma Guardian,” the “Shinyu Maitri” and the “Malabar.” Another significant recent development is the operationalisation of the agreement concerning Recipro- cal Provision of Supplies and Services (RPSS). During the Dharma Guardian 2021 in March of this year, the Indian Navy, under the logistical agreement for RPSS, provided fuel to Japan Air Self-Defense Force aircraft that transported the contingent of Japan Ground Self-Defence Force, thus demonstrating the augmented joint relations between our two countries. Japan and India are also exploring opportunities for collaborations in defence equipment and technology. To further advance overall security cooperation, we are working to hold the second 2+2 meeting at the earliest opportunity.
Q. Please also elaborate on infrastructure projects taken up by Japan in India’s North-eastern states?
A: Japan is implementing a wide range of projects to contribute to the enhancement of connectivity and resilience in the North Eastern Region, not only in hard infrastructure development, such as road network connectivity improvement, electricity, water supply and sewage but also in soft areas of cooperation like people-to-people exchanges and Japanese language education. Japan is also implementing social and environmental sustainability projects, such as forest management and community empowerment. As a good example of our cooperation in hard infrastructure, Japan’s assistance in the construction of the Dhubri-Phulbari Bridge will completely change the lives of the people of the North East. This is going to be the longest river bridge in India and is expected to cut short the travel time across the river from more than 8 hours to less than 30 minutes. Furthermore, the bridge will create a corridor stretching from Bhutan, through Assam and Meghalaya, to Bangladesh.
Japan places special focus on cooperation in the NER as the region is located where Japan’s vision of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and India’s “Act East Policy” converge and as the region is important in terms of connectivity with South Asia, Southeast Asia and the BIMSTEC countries.