During meetings this week, the two sides discussed ways to take their defence relationship forward

Japan and India have broken new ground by discussing the contours of a defence relationship, which will include joint development and production of defence equipment.

The two sides, during meetings here this week, attempted to take forward the initiative taken during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Tokyo visit in May this year, when Japan bent its strict rules prohibiting international trade in defence equipment by offering to sell India the ShinMaywa US-2, a highly sophisticated amphibious plane.

The business end of the conversation on India and Japan joining hands to produce defence equipment took place during a meeting between National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and visiting Japanese Senior Vice-Minister of Defence Akinori Eto. The two discussed the existing defence relationship that primarily involves joint exercises, innumerable rounds between the Coast Guards and plans for an expanded second-ever interaction between the navies later this year.

They also discussed how to take this defence relationship forward to include transfer of defence equipment and technology. While India has taken the route of joint development in defence with a few nations, primarily Russia and Israel, the initiative will be different and unique in the case with Japan.

This is because in 1967 Japan voluntarily relinquished international trade in defence equipment under the “Three Principles on Arms Exports.” These principles are: no exports of arms to communist countries; no exports of arms to countries under U.N. sanctions; and, no exports of arms to countries engaged in international conflicts. Nine years later, Japan added a ban on arms-related facilities and technologies to the list.

Relaxation of these norms has been slow in coming and, if it plays its diplomatic cards right, India could become the second country after the U.S. to gain from this. Australia and some European countries are already serenading Japan after it announced some exemptions in overseas transfer of defence equipment in 2011.

India would like to test the waters with the US-2 plane. Instead of simply purchasing the finished product, both sides will be looking at transfer of technology of some of the parts to Indian companies. The intention is to replicate a Maruti-Suzuki kind of venture. New Delhi feels the move to provide some of the inputs from India would benefit both sides because costs are high in Japan.

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