The Malabar series will be held in April off the Okinawa coast

The Japanese Navy will take part, for the second year running, in the joint naval exercises by India and the United States. These will be held off the Okinawa coast, which has the highest concentration of U.S. Marines in the region.

The Malabar series of exercises, from April 2 to 10, will include Japanese ships, in keeping with the growing proximity, in a wide variety of spheres, between New Delhi and Tokyo, said government sources.

India had stopped involving more countries in the Indo-U.S. exercises after China, in 2007, sent demarches to all the participants of a five-nation naval exercise held in the Bay of Bengal. With last year's Japanese participation raising no political storm, India was once again agreeable to the idea of allowing the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force to participate.

The sources said that as India was keen, following the acquisition of marine heavy-lift capabilities, to engage with the U.S. Marines, the Pentagon agreed to have one such exercise off Okinawa.

The sources also pointed to the presence of the Chief of Staff of the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force, General Yoshifumi Hibako in the country and to the recent visits to Japan made by the Indian Chiefs of the Navy and the Air Force.

“We have had all the three service chiefs meeting each other in six months.”

Japanese interest in developing a robust defence cooperative arrangement with India comes even as a National Defence Programme Guidelines, released recently, mentions three countries as rising powers. Japan has a tense relationship with China and is still negotiating a peace treaty with Russia. India is the only country with which it does not have security issues.

“It is extremely difficult for countries to individually deal with global security challenges such as access to seas, outer space and cyber space. With India, we are looking for more maritime cooperation, which, needless to say, Japan requires, as it is a trading nation. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is the other area,” said the sources.

Framed after a gap of seven years and a failed attempt by the former Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, the guidelines bring India into sharp focus. After mentioning the U.S. and the Association of Southwest Asian Nations (ASEAN), its traditional parameters, the guidelines state that Japan must increase its cooperation with India and other countries that share the common interest of enhancing the security of maritime navigation from Africa to the Middle East to East Asia. By entering into a closer bilateral security relationship, India could, in future, get access to platforms and technologies that Japan had made its priorities in the defence arena, such as maritime patrol, air defence, response to ballistic missiles, transportation and command communications.

The sources also drew attention to the greater importance to be given to India — as was reflected in two key speeches, made by Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, on diplomacy, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Seiji Maehara's address to the Diet. In Mr. Kan's speech, India figured in four out of Japan's five foreign policy pillars while in Mr. Maehara's address, India, though mentioned, was ranked below several other countries with whom Japan wants to strengthen relations.

The previous attempt to institutionalise a U.S. allies-plus India naval exercises had been abandoned after it drew fire from China. In 2007, a massive Malabar series exercise was held in the Bay of Bengal with the participation of the navies of India, the U.S., Singapore, Australia and Japan. The Left parties held demonstrations on the eastern coast. The issuance of demarches by China to all participants saw Australia, then under the Prime Ministership of Kevin Rudd, breaking ranks. This was followed by other countries also agreeing to go slow on the concept. But the uproar saw Defence Minister A.K. Antony denying any move towards creating a military bloc. “It's only an exercise,” he had said.

According to the U.S. Navy, the aim of the exercise is to “strengthen the stability of the Pacific Region,” but India denies this, deeming it simply as a learning exercise for the Indian Navy. The Navy will concentrate on aspects such as anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, air defence, live-fire gunnery training, and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations, maintain the sources.