Diplomatic Bluebook 2022

Chapter 2

Japan's Foreign Policy by Region

5 South Asia

(1) India

Geopolitically, India is an extremely important country as it is positioned at the center of sea lanes in the Indian Ocean that connect Asia and Africa. Additionally, India is the third largest economy in Asia, with the world's second largest population and a huge middle-income group. In recent years, India has been implementing a variety of economic initiatives, including “Make in India,” and has been realizing steady economic growth. Although India's economy has substantially contracted due to the spread of COVID-19, it is aiming for an economic recovery through the promotion of its manufacturing industry with the new “Self-reliant India” campaign, and real GDP is recovering to pre-COVID-19 levels. In diplomatic relations, the “Act East” policy has been laid down in implementing active diplomacy to promote concrete cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, thereby enabling India to gain more influence in the international arena as a global power.

Japan and India are the two largest democratic countries in Asia, sharing common fundamental values, such as democracy and the rule of law, as well as strategic interests, and under the “Japan-India Special Strategic and Global Partnership,” have broadly deepened cooperation in their economies, security, people-to-people exchanges, etc. The Japan-India relationship is blessed with the greatest potential for development of any bilateral relationship in the world, and its importance is increasing as the uncertainty of the existing international order increases. Additionally, India is an important partner in realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP),” and multilateral cooperation, such as between Japan, Australia, India and the U.S., is progressing. The deepening of bilateral and multilateral cooperation between Japan, which faces the Pacific Ocean, and India, which is located in the center of the Indian Ocean, will greatly contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. India is also an indispensable player in building the economic order in the Indo-Pacific region, and in that sense, it is expected that India will return to the RCEP Agreement in the future.

In 2021, amidst the response to COVID-19, Japan and India continuously had high-level exchanges of views, including Japan-India Summit meetings and telephone calls. At the Meeting of G7 Foreign and Development Ministers held in the UK in May, a Japan-India Foreign Ministers' Video Teleconference Meeting was held, and in September, Prime Minister Suga and Prime Minister Modi held a face-to-face Japan-India Summit Meeting during Prime Minister Suga's visit to the U.S. to attend the Second Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Summit Meeting. At the October summit telephone call held immediately after Prime Minister Kishida assumed the office of Prime Minister and at the November Foreign Ministers' telephone call held immediately after Foreign Minister Hayashi assumed the office of Foreign Minister, the leaders confirmed that Japan and India, as well as Japan, Australia, India and the U.S., would work closely toward the realization of a FOIP. They also looked ahead to 2022, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and India, and agreed to raise the “Japan-India Special Strategic and Global Partnership” to an even higher level. In July, with Prime Minister Modi in attendance, a launch ceremony was held for the “International Cooperation and Convention Center in Varanasi,” which was constructed via grant aid from Japan, and Prime Minister Suga sent a video message in which he expressed the hope that it would become a symbol of the friendship between Japan and India. Moreover, numerous working-level discussions between Japan and India have been realized. In January, there was a joint committee established based on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, in February, there were disarmament and non-proliferation talks, in September, there was a Maritime Dialogue and a Joint Committee Meeting on High-Speed Rail Project, and in November, there was a Space Dialogue teleconference.

Additionally, in response to the serious spread of COVID-19 in India since April, Japan cooperated in strengthening India's health and medical systems by providing ventilators and oxygen concentrators to India.

Japan-India Summit Meeting (September 23, U.S.; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)Japan-India Summit Meeting
(September 23, U.S.; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)

(2) Pakistan

Pakistan is situated in a strategic location connecting Asia and the Middle East. Thus, its political stability and economic development are essential for the stability and growth of the region. Pakistan is also one of the most important countries in the context of international counter-terrorism measures. Furthermore, the country embraces a population of more than 200 million, and approximately 65% of the total population is under 30 years old, thus making its economic potential high. In foreign relations, the India-Pakistan relationship has remained tense since August 2019 when the Government of India decided to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution, which recognized the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Under the “All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership,” the relationship with China has been enhanced in a wide range of fields toward the construction of an economic corridor between China and Pakistan (CPEC), which is an important constituent element of China's “Belt and Road” initiative. Regarding the relationship with the U.S., U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August, and, as U.S.-Pakistan relations had been centered around Afghanistan-related responses, it is worth paying attention to see how the relationship develops. Pakistan places great importance on its relationship with Afghanistan because Afghanistan's stability is directly linked to Pakistan's stability, and, even after the change in the situation in Afghanistan in August, Pakistan has been actively pursuing diplomacy, including relations with the Taliban, such as by hosting the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December. On the economic front, Pakistan's growth rate had fallen due to the impacts of COVID-19 but is now on a recovery trend. The Khan administration has faced a serious shortage of foreign currency reserves since its inauguration in 2018, and has been working on the implementation of IMF programs.

With regard to relations with Japan, in addition to Foreign Minister Motegi holding a Japan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Meeting with Foreign Minister Qureshi on the occasion of the UN General Assembly in September, discussions have been held at the working level to maintain and strengthen bilateral relations, such as a High-Level Economic Policy Dialogue that was held in March and a Security Dialogue that was held in June in the teleconference format. When the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, Japan received cooperation from Pakistan for the safe departure from Afghanistan of Japanese nationals and local embassy and JICA staff.

Additionally, Japan has provided grant aid to Pakistan in the fields of health, water hygiene, and disaster prevention, etc., and has also provided cold chain development support and debt relief measures as support in the fight against COVID-19.

(3) Bangladesh

Bangladesh, in which Muslims account for around 90% of the population, is a democratic country located in the Bay of Bengal and is geopolitically very important as an intersection between India and ASEAN. In terms of diplomacy, with the deterioration in peace and order in Rakhine State of Myanmar since August 2017, more than 700,000 displaced persons have flooded into Bangladesh, but their return has not yet been realized. There are concerns that their prolonged displacement will put a growing burden on the host community and that local peace and order will deteriorate. On the economic front, Bangladesh maintained positive growth despite being impacted by COVID-19, and, in FY2020, achieved an economic growth rate of 3.51%. With a population of around 165 million people, Bangladesh has a production base with abundant low cost and high-quality labor, and the high potential of its market from considerable infrastructure demand is continuing to attract attention. The number of Japanese affiliated companies developing business in the country has increased from 61 in 2005 to 329 in 2020. However, the securing of a stable supply of electric power as well as infrastructure improvement remain as challenges for foreign companies investing in the country.

As for relations with Japan, after the Third Japan-Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Level consultation held online in February, in June, Foreign Minister Motegi and Foreign Minister Abdul Momen held a Japan-Bangladesh Foreign Ministers' telephone call, and, in addition to confirming cooperation for bringing COVID-19 to a close and for further strengthening diplomatic relations toward the 50th anniversary in 2022 of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the Ministers had a close discussion on how to deal with the problem of the displaced persons from Rakhine State in Myanmar.

Additionally, Japan provided an emergency support loan of 40 billion Japanese yen to support Bangladesh's response to COVID-19 and also provided approximately 4.55 million doses of Japanese-made AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX Facility by the end of 2021, for which Bangladesh expressed its gratitude. In this way, Japan is continuing its efforts to strengthen bilateral relations with Bangladesh, which has been friendly toward Japan.

(4) Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is situated in a strategic location on the sea lanes in the Indian Ocean. The country is traditionally one of the friendliest countries to Japan and its geopolitical and economic importance is note-worthy. With regard to domestic politics, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected in the November 2019 presidential election, in the general election which was postponed to August 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa won with 145 seats, greatly exceeding a majority (113 seats) in parliament. On the economic front, after the end of the conflict, the economy of Sri Lanka was growing at an annual rate of 7% and maintained steady annual growth of over 3% in recent years. In 2020, the economy was depressed due to the impacts of COVID-19, but it has been on a recovery trend, with positive growth of 4.3% in the first quarter of 2021 and positive growth of 12.3% in the second quarter. Further growth is expected based on the recovery from negative growth in 2020 and on the country's geopolitical importance and access to the Indian market. As for relations with Japan, bilateral relations are being maintained and strengthened, such as through the 2nd Japan Sri Lanka Senior Official Level Policy Dialogue in February and the teleconference meeting between Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo and President Rajapaksa (concurrently serving as Defense Minister).

In terms of support for measures against COVID-19 and in response to requests by Sri Lanka, by the end of 2021, Japan has provided 1.46 million doses of Japanese-made AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX Facility and has provided cold chain development support, for which Sri Lanka expressed its gratitude.

(5) Nepal

Nepal has geopolitical importance as an inland state in South Asia between the great powers of China and India. In domestic affairs, Sher Bahadur Deuba, the President of the Nepali Congress Party, was appointed as Prime Minister in July and a new government was inaugurated. On the economic front, the new administration is prioritizing the reconstruction of industries impacted by COVID-19 and the development of infrastructure to improve the investment environment. For many years, Japan has been a major donor to Nepal and the two countries have traditionally built friendly relations through a variety of exchanges including between the imperial family and the former royal family, and through mountaineering.

Nepal has been impacted by the spread of COVID-19, and by the end of 2021, Japan has provided Nepal with 1.61 million doses of Japanese-made AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX Facility and has also provided cold chain development support.

In April, Japan also exchanged notes regarding grant aid to provide health and medical equipment (for MRIs and CTs, etc.) that contributes to preventing underlying diseases from worsening, and has additionally been providing debt relief through the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and supporting Nepal through international organizations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Nepal has expressed its gratitude for such support from Japan. In December, the International Conference on Nepal's Reconstruction 2021 was held in Kathmandu, and Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Honda Taro sent a video message on Japan's reconstruction assistance in Nepal after the April 2015 earthquake.

(6) Bhutan

Bhutan sets Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a guideline of the administration and is working on the priority issues of reducing poverty, improving the quality of healthcare and education, gender equality, the preservation of the environment, culture and traditions, stabilization of the macroeconomy, etc., under the 12th Five-Year Plan (from July 2018 until June 2023). Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Bhutan has introduced strict border control measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Bhutan has traditionally been friendly toward Japan, and there is a rich history of exchanges between the Japanese Imperial and Bhutanese Royal families. Amid concerns about the impact of COVID-19, Japan provided Bhutan with support for the development of a cold chain for vaccines.

(7) The Maldives

Situated in a strategically important location in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is an important partner to Japan in achieving a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” Economic growth in the Maldives is mainly led by fishing and tourism, which account for about 30% of GDP, and the country's per-capita GDP has reached the highest level in South Asia. However, the economy in 2020 sharply fell due to the spread of COVID-19, primarily from the shock to the tourism industry, but in 2021, the economy turned to positive growth. In domestic affairs, the Solih administration was launched in November 2018. In the parliamentary election held in April 2019, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) captured two-thirds of the seats in parliament, thus solidifying the political footing of the administration of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Since his inauguration, President Solih has been promoting a foreign policy of strengthening cooperation with every country that hopes to build mutually beneficial relations, and of advancing cooperation with other countries in the region including India.

Regarding relations with Japan, in June, Foreign Minister Motegi and Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid held a Japan-Maldives Foreign Ministers' telephone call and, when Foreign Minister Shahid visited Japan in August as the President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, he paid a courtesy call to Prime Minister Suga and had a meeting with Foreign Minister Motegi. Additionally, in response to the spread of COVID-19 within the Maldives, Japan has provided approximately 110,000 doses of Japanese-made AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX Facility by the end of 2021 and has provided cold chain development support, for which the Maldives expressed gratitude. In these ways, such efforts are continuing to strengthen bilateral relations.