India and Japan are looking at the possibility of cooperating on projects in Bangladesh and Myanmar as part of their efforts to work together in third countries, India's external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Friday.
The India-Japan Act East Forum, which focuses on specific projects to modernise India's northeastern region, also has a larger significance for connectivity with Bangladesh and Myanmar, Jaishankar said during a virtual event to mark the release of a report on the theme "India-Japan: Time to seize the opportunities".
The recent signing of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which covers the reciprocal provision of supplies and services by the defence forces of India and Japan, will enhance stability and security across Asia, he said.
The minister's remarks assume significance against the backdrop of efforts by several countries, including India, Australia and Japan, to forge new partnerships with countries across the Indo-Pacific in the face of China's growing aggressive and assertive activities.
India and Japan, Jaishankar noted, had moved from discussions to practically working together in third countries. "We've done a little bit of that in Sri Lanka and I think we're today trying to see whether we can cooperate and coordinate more closely in Bangladesh and Myanmar," he said.
While noting that India and Japan were already working closely within the framework of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and the Quadrilateral dialogue, he suggested that they could also cooperate in Russia's Far East and the Pacific Island countries.
Jaishankar described ACSA, which was signed last week, as "a very practical manifestation of our ability and intent of working together". He added, "I'm very confident that it would both be a big plus for the evolution of the Indo-Pacific vision of both countries [and add] to the stability and security of Asia."
Both countries are trying to shape the Indo-Pacific narrative to reflect the rebalancing of the world and Asia and bilateral defence and security cooperation has "progressed remarkably fast", he remarked, adding that Japan is the only country with which India has both an annual summit and a 2+2 dialogue between the defence and foreign ministers.
The Covid-19 pandemic has expanded national security to include health security along with economic and supply chain security, as well as the concept of strategic autonomy in terms of supply chains, and this could be a new area of cooperation with Japan, he suggested.
While replying to a question at the event organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Jaishankar said, without naming China, that it is important for all players to work together to ensure Asia's rise.
"If we are to give to Asia a more prominent place in world politics, then it's important for all the nations of Asia, especially the large and important nations,...to get along together because if they spend their energies not in a positive manner but kind of contesting each other, they're not going to advance the interests of Asia," he said.
Toshihide Ando, the deputy chief of the Japanese mission, told the event that Japan is a steadfast partner for both the "Make in India" and "Make for the world" initiatives. He added, "India will become stronger by playing a pivotal role in global supply chains through enhanced trade and investment."
Japanese businesses are keen to play a bigger role in India's new quest to be the hub of global supply chains, and the number of Japanese firms operating in India increased to 1,454 last year, he noted.
However, Ando also listed challenges faced by Japanese businesses in India, including complicated legal and tax systems, late payments, difficult labour issues, inadequate infrastructure, and problems linked to enforcement of contracts.
"In an increasingly uncertain world, Japan and India can bring about an assurance of peace, stability and prosperity by working with other like-minded countries," Ando said