RCEP still on Japan’s agenda

Officials will try against to make India revise its decision to quit the arrangement

November 23, 2019 12:13 am | Updated 12:13 am IST - NEW DELHI

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar meets his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi in Nagoya on Friday.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar meets his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi in Nagoya on Friday.

Japanese officials are going to make another attempt to make India revise its decision to quit the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), while Indo-Japanese maritime and military initiatives, the Indo-pacific policy, and joint projects in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and other countries will be discussed at a series of meetings leading up to Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit next month.

External Affairs Minister Subrahmaniam Jaishankar is in Nagoya for the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting on November 22 and 23, and there he met his counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi on Friday. On November 30, Mr. Jaishankar will hold another meeting with Mr. Motegi, on the sidelines of the Inaugural ‘2+2’ ministerial-level India-Japan dialogue, which will include the Foreign and Defence Ministers, in Delhi. And in mid-December, Mr. Abe will travel to India for the annual India-Japan summit.

“We are confident that this summit would lead to further strengthening of India-Japan strategic partnership, special and global partnership and the 2+2 dialogue will actually feed into the main summit. So I think the discussion flowing out of the 2+2 will form an important component of what will be the main outcome during the summit,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said at a briefing on Thursday, confirming the upcoming meetings.

Mr. Abe is expected to pitch for India to rejoin the ASEAN-led Free Trade Agreement RCEP during the meeting. “We are not giving up yet,” said a Japanese official, who is aware of the preparations for the visit, and said the other members of the 15-nation RCEP grouping, which includes 10 ASEAN countries, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, had also asked the Japanese government to try and ensure India reconsiders its position before the final signing goes ahead in February 2020. However, it appears unlikely that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which had made a strong protectionist argument for walking out of the agreement on November 4, would reconsider its decision unless it receives more concessions, particularly on safeguards from Chinese goods.

According to officials, the Abe-Modi summit, which is expected to take place at an unconfirmed location “in the east” in mid-December, will also look closer at the India-Japan partnership for the northeastern region. In the past few years, Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) has agreed to work with India on 12 projects in the region, including the northeast road connectivity improvement project in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram, which, when completed, would help in trade and transit through Myanmar and other ASEAN countries. Forest management initiatives in Sikkim, Tripura and Nagaland are also being funded by the ODA under this programme.

Sources said the 2+2 summit next week, which will be attended by Mr. Motegi, Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono (formerly Foreign Minister), Mr. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, is expected to finalise the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which is due to be signed by Mr. Modi and Mr. Abe. According to Ministry sources, the ACSA, which is on the lines of similar military logistics agreements with the U.S. and France, will be India’s broadest such deal, and will focus on maritime domain awareness in particular. Japan is also expected to join the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), which will track movements in the maritime region. The agenda for the talks on the India-Japan ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ will include extensive talks on counter-terrorism initiatives, cyber-warfare, maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief coordination. Given that the talks are preceded by the first-ever counter-terrorism exercise between the Quad countries (Australia, India, Japan, the U.S.), and the Abe-Modi summit will be followed closely by the India-U.S. ministerial 2+2 in Washington, officials expect the Quad and Indo-Pacific maritime initiatives to take the centre stage during the talks.

The sources said another major issue for discussion during the 2+2 and the Prime Ministers’ summit will be India-Japan cooperation for infrastructure projects in other countries, particularly Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The newly elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, will be in New Delhi on November 29, just ahead of the 2+2, and the Modi government is hoping that he will reaffirm support for the project the government of his predecessor Maithripala Sirisena had signed with India and Japan for the East Container Terminal at the Colombo port.

( With inputs from Dinakar Peri )

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