Japanese PM Visiting India to Discuss Indian Stance on Russian Invasion of Ukraine

By Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Reporter
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
March 18, 2022 Updated: March 18, 2022

NEW DELHI–Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to visit India on March 19 amid fears of India’s divergent position on Russia.

Kishida is expected to discuss the Russia-Ukraine crisis with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as how the event impacts the security environment in the Indo-Pacific as the region faces mounting threats from the Chinese regime, according to experts.

India is one of the few major countries that has not condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, taking a neutral diplomatic stance on the conflict. Analysts say this posture is due in part to New Dehli’s need to maintain ties with its major arms supplier Moscow, especially amid rising tensions with Beijing.

“Kishida wants to persuade all countries in the Indo-Pacific to integrate their voice to deter such aggressions like China’s invasion against Taiwan. That is why he is trying to persuade India to criticize Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute told The Epoch Times in an email.

“India can share the same feeling because China can invade India, he believes,” said Tokyo-based Nagao.

India is a part of an informal partnership known as a “QUAD” along with the United States, Australia, and Japan. It is the only country in that grouping that hasn’t denounced Russia’s actions, though it did call for peaceful negotiations and for the Ukrainian people’s human rights to be protected.

Harsh V. Pant, head of the Strategic Studies Programme at New Dehli-based Observer Research Foundation, said that India is not in a position to publicly criticize Russia.

“India has a longstanding historical relationship with Russia but more important is the defense relationship,” Pant told The Epoch Times.

Almost 70 percent of India’s defense arsenal is of Russian origin, though the country is reducing this by diversifying with imports from the United States, Israel, France, and Italy. India has also started indigenous production.

Indian soldiers need to use Russia’s “high-end, sensitive machines” in tough conditions, according to Nagao, and the country’s military also needs to have continued access to repair parts from Russia.

Epoch Times Photo
Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi with the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on December 06, 2021. (Picture courtesy Press Bureau of India)

Pant said the sensitivity of India’s defense dependence on Russia should be understood from the fact that while Russia is invading Ukraine, India is facing Chinese military build-up on its disputed border.

“Antagonizing Russia is something that India can’t afford. India needs both Russia and the West ironically to meet the China challenge and this is something that India has tried to convey to its partners in the QUAD,” said Pant, adding eventually a framework should develop within QUAD to address India’s concerns and realities.

Aparna Pande, director of the Hudson Institute’s Future of India and South Asia Initiative said that Japan and India have often differed on issues before.

“For example when India tested nuclear weapons—but that difference has not impacted their relationship as each side understands the other’s point of view,” Pande told The Epoch Times in an email.

“PM Kishida will most likely put forth Japan’s point of view and ask for India’s support. PM Modi will most likely put forth India’s point of view and ask for Japan’s understanding,” said Pande.

The QUAD partnership remains strong and so does the Indo-pacific strategy, according to Pande.

“The United States too understands India’s predicament though, like Tokyo, Washington too would like India to move away from dependence on Russia and become more closely aligned to Japan and the U.S. even in the realm of defense,” said Pande.

Kishida’s visit will allow India and Japan to further talk about the Russia-Ukraine crisis and look at how the Ukraine crisis is impacting the debate on the Indo-pacific and the challenges there, said Pant.

“That’s something that both Modi and Kashida would be interested in sharing with each other.”

Epoch Times Photo
A monitor displaying a virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden (top L), Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison (bottom L), Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (top R), and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen during the virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) meeting, at Suga’s official residence in Tokyo on March 12, 2021. (Kiyoshi Ota / POOL / AFP)

Differing Concerns

While India and Japan share warm ties, their differing stances towards Russia may prove a point of contention.

Nagao said that Japan’s opposition to Russia’s aggression is related to its concern about China’s territorial ambitions in the Indo-Pacific. Moscow’s invasion could encourage Beijing to make moves against Taiwan and India.

Tokyo is also concerned that the war is diverting U.S. attention and resources away from the Indo-Pacific.

“[I]f Russia wins the war against Ukraine, the US will need to prioritize Russian deterrence in Europe. The US could not withdraw its military forces from Europe and redeploy them to the Indo-Pacific to deter China. Japan is aware that it would face a serious situation if it had to deter Russia and China at the same time,” said Nagao.

Japan also shares a maritime border with Russia and the two countries have fought a war in the past.

Russia has repeatedly provoked Japan in recent years. Russian military planes tried to enter Japan’s territorial airspace 258 times in 2020 alone, according to Nagao.

“In 2021, five Chinese warships and five Russian warships jointly circled Japan. These incursions are evidence that Russia is a threat to Japan,” he said, adding that the United States and Australia share the same concerns about Russia.

Japan on March 18 announced additional measures against Russia, slapping sanctions on 15 Russian individuals including defense officials and nine Russian organizations including state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, Japan imposed sanctions on 76 Russian individuals, seven banks, and 12 organizations.

India’s realities, meanwhile, are different. India not only shares a strategic relationship with Russia but Moscow also supports India’s fight against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, Nagao noted.

“There is a possibility that the international community will ask India to stop its military operation in Pakistan, but Russia will vote in the United Nations Security Council in favor of India. In addition, because India depended on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, their human-to-human connection is still deep and influential,” said Nagao.

While India’s break with QUAD members on the Russia issue poses a threat to the partnership’s cohesion, Nagao doesn’t believe that it will severely impact the group’s cooperation going forward.

In recent years, India has imported more arms from the United States, UK, Israel, and France than from Russia, and Washington has started to support New Dehli in its efforts to counter Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

“When India attacked terrorist camps in Pakistan in 2016 and 2019, joint statements of India-US, India-Japan, and the QUAD offered support for India’s effort to deal with terrorism,” said Nagao.

That both India and Japan share growing challenges in Indo-Pacific should bring the two countries together, regardless of differences of opinion with respect to Russia and the Ukraine war, according to Pant.

Both countries should work together for the stability of the Indo-Pacific and ensure that no “single country like China” can dominate the region, he said.

“Both India and Japan are the key pillars in the new emerging security architecture [in the Indo-Pacific] where the idea is not only to challenge China but also to provide solutions to regional problems—be it health, trade, technology, infrastructure, connectivity …which are very important but there’s a paucity of leadership,” Pant added.

Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.