New Delhi: Japan on Saturday pitched for stronger maritime security cooperation with India, saying both nations should "proactively" assume responsibilities to ensure "open and stable seas" in the region, comments seen as an effort to contain China's growing assertiveness in South China Sea.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said India and Japan have huge interests in the region extending from the Indian Ocean through the South China Sea to the Pacific and both the countries should work jointly under their "special partnership" to ensure maritime security.
In an address at the Indian Council of World Affairs here, Kishida took a subtle dig at China on the South China Sea dispute and recalled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's proposal of "three principles of the rule of law at sea" including not using "force or coercion" in trying to drive claims.
"Japan and India have been increasing cooperation in the field of maritime security, through efforts such as joint maritime exercises between defense authorities, as well as the implementation of dialogue and combined exercises between coast guards. It is important to further strengthen our cooperation," he said.
Kishida, who called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday, is on his first overseas visit here after Abe registered a landmark victory in national election last month.
Stressing on enhancing maritime ties, the Japanese Foreign Minister said "we should even more proactively assume our responsibilities to protect 'Open and Stable Seas' under our special partnership."
Japanese diplomatic sources said Japan wanted India to play a central role in the Indo-Pacific region while referring to increasing activities by China in the seas and airspace around Japan, including alleged intrusion into its territorial waters, particularly in Senkaku Islands.
Calling Japan and India as the most successful democracies and free nations in Asia, Kishida said leadership from both countries is essential for the Indo-Pacific region. "Both India and Japan are maritime countries whose interests depend on the safety of sea lanes."
"Japan intends to contribute to building a new era for the Indo-Pacific region, based on the special partnership with India," Kishida said.
On Indo-Japan defence cooperation, he specifically referred to maritime exercise, discussions on amphibian aircraft US-2 which both sides may go for joint production, and negotiations on cooperation in defence equipment.
"It is important to further strengthen our cooperation through defence equipment cooperation including the US-2 amphibian aircraft and Japan's continued participation in the India-US Malabar maritime exercises," he said.
Talking about economic ties between the two countries, Kishida said Japan will extend strong support to India to help it become a global "base" of economic growth.
"Under Abenomics, the Government of Japan supports the overseas advancement of Japanese enterprises, while India has been strengthening its manufacturing industry by attracting investment under Modinomics," he said.
He also proposed construction of an energy network within the SAARC countries to boost untapped trade and investment opportunities in the region.
In his address, Kishida said Japan was prepared to provide "robust" contribution and cooperation to enhance connectivity in Northeastern region and link it with neighbouring SAARC and ASEAN countries.
He said the 'Japan-India Investment Promotion Partnership' agreed to at the summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Abe in September last year in Tokyo seeks synergies between "Abenomics and Modinomics".