Japan pledged to work with India to achieve better health for people: Satoshi Suzuki
Japan views India as the “most natural strategic partner” in promoting a free and inclusive Indo-Pacific, and this year’s Malabar naval exercise was an example of the efforts of the four members of the Quad to ensure the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, Japan has said Ambassador Satoshi Suzuki.
In a comprehensive interview, Suzuki spoke of cooperation with India in areas ranging from security to trade and investment. He also said there is no scope in a free and open rules-based Indo-Pacific for attempts to unilaterally change the status quo through coercion.
With the world focused on Covid-19 vaccine delivery and economic recovery, what role can Japan and India play jointly in these efforts as important members of the G20? What is your opinion on the proposal by India and several other countries for exemption from intellectual property rights for wider access to vaccines? Is Japan seeking closer cooperation with India in vaccine delivery and distribution, including in third countries?
The year 2020 turned out to be unprecedented with our days so affected by Covid-19. Protecting lives and recovering the economy have become a top priority for governments around the world. That is why Japan is supporting the Indian government’s efforts through 50 billion yen (around Rs7,500 crore) of budget support and 1 billion yen (around Rs150 crore) in the form of grants as well. as well as through international organizations such as UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR and the International Federation.
As correctly pointed out, our two countries are also important partners in the G20 framework. At the G20 Summit in Riyadh, the Prime Minister [Yoshihide] Suga underscored the need to take a holistic approach to ensure equitable access to vaccines, as well as therapeutics and diagnosis in light of Covid-19. In this regard, Japan supports the concept of a patent pool, to which India has also expressed its support, which promotes voluntary licensing of intellectual property to allow emerging countries to have access to vaccines and drugs. Japan is committed to promoting multilateral cooperation, including its support for COVAX facilities, which aim to accelerate the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines and ensure fair and equitable access to them by our partners, including the India.
In the fight against Covid-19, it is important to ensure that all people have access to necessary health services of sufficient quality at an affordable cost. This is exactly what Universal Health Coverage (UHC) stands for. India and Japan are cooperating to achieve this goal of achieving universal health coverage in India, through a mechanism such as the Joint Health Care Task Force. Japan remains committed to working with India to achieve better health for people in India and beyond.
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The Indo-Pacific is an area where Japan got an early start in cooperation with India. What will be Japan’s priorities for this region in 2021 and will there be continuity in Japan’s Indo-Pacific policies under Prime Minister Suga?
India has been Japan’s most natural strategic partner in its efforts to promote the vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Prime Minister Suga expressed that his administration will continue to attach importance to this vision in his first telephone conversation with the prime minister. [Narendra] Modi on September 25 and at the East Asia Summit meeting in November. We look forward to working with India in 2021 to further advance our joint efforts in areas such as connectivity and maritime security.
Has there been progress in Japan, Australia and India’s efforts to build supply chain resilience? Will more Indo-Pacific countries be included in these efforts?
The trade and trade ministers of Japan, India and Australia held a virtual meeting in September and decided to work to launch a new initiative for resilient supply chains in the Indo-Pacific region. Their relevant ministries are in contact with each other. As he pointed out, it is important to involve and seek the understanding of other countries for this initiative.
How did the inclusion of Australia in this year’s Malabar exercise change the importance of these exercises? Will Australia continue to be part of this exercise?
I was happy to see Australia join the Malabar exercise alongside India, Japan and the United States this year. These four countries, or the Quad, share a common vision of ensuring a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific in which the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity are guaranteed and all countries enjoy freedom of navigation and overflight. This year’s Malabar exercise was a great example of our joint efforts to this end. By operating together at sea, the four maritime forces strengthened the partnerships between them, which is the basis for cooperative actions to maintain a rules-based maritime order. I hope that the four maritime forces will continue to operate together in the future.
Japan was one of the first countries to speak of the need to maintain the status quo along the Royal Line of Control amid India’s confrontation with China. Japan also faces the challenge of China’s aggressive actions within its territorial waters. Your opinions on these topics.
In a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific where the rule of law prevails, there is no room for any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo through coercion. Whether in Ladakh, the East China Sea or the South China Sea, Japan stands firm to uphold the principles that underpin a rules-based international order. I think this is also the best example in which we have seen a growing strategic convergence in the thinking of both countries.
Japan had announced an initiative to help its companies exit China and diversify markets. Is this likely to benefit companies moving to India or expanding their operations here?
More precisely, the Japanese government is trying to help Japanese industries diversify their supply chains to make them more resilient. In this regard, in November two pilot projects and feasibility studies were approved in India for the “Overseas Supply Chain Strengthening Program”, which are the first and only two projects outside ASEAN. The trilateral initiative between Japan, India and Australia mentioned above is also part of such efforts.
India has been on the radar of Japanese companies long before Covid-19. I am pleased to see that the number of Japanese companies operating in India has steadily increased, reaching 1,454 in 2019. I hope that in your efforts to strengthen the resilience of supply chains, more companies will come to India.
However, I also want to emphasize at the same time that this would not happen naturally. A further improvement of the business environment is important here, while praising India’s recent rise in the ‘ease of doing business’ ranking (63rd in 2019). To make India more attractive to investors, the predictability and stability of the business environment are essential, including the continuous free flow of goods, such as intermediate goods, which are indispensable to meet the objectives of Make in India.
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What is the status of Japan’s major projects and initiatives in India, including the bullet train project and initiatives in the northeastern states, as well as joint projects in third countries? Are there new proposals to boost regional connectivity?
Japan is pleased to partner with India for a number of important projects. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (MAHSR) is a flagship project that will transform India’s rail culture not only with its incredible speed and convenience, but also through technology and skills transfer. Tenders for major packages, including its largest civilian package, have been successful, instilling much-needed economic stimulus after Covid-19.
Japan’s efforts for the development of northeast India attest to the deep trust that India places in Japan. The region is of strategic importance and is full of potential. Japan is providing a variety of supports, from road connectivity, forest and biodiversity conservation, water and sanitation, hydroelectric power generation, to local schools. I am co-chair, with the secretary of Foreign Relations [Harsh] Shringla, the Act East Forum to advance these efforts and explore new possibilities.
Our collaboration with India in third countries expresses the importance that India and Japan attach to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. To take an example from Bangladesh, on a stretch where India is improving roads, Japan is building bridges. This is a perfect example of our add-on features to enhance connectivity. Another example is in the Maldives, where India built the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, to which Japan donated medical equipment. I believe that we can further explore these collaborations in third countries to realize our shared vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
Japan took the lead in drafting a statement on India’s possible entry into RCEP at a later stage. Will Japan continue its efforts to convince India to join RCEP?
Japan understands the current position of the Indian government. That being said, we strongly believe that it is beneficial to India and RCEP if India can join this broad regional economic partnership agreement. RCEP will ensure that India is integrated into the most vibrant region and part of its value chains.
That is why Japan took the lead in drafting the Declaration of Ministers on India’s participation in RCEP. This statement is unprecedented in many ways. First, India can join RCEP if India so wishes at any time. Other countries cannot join until 18 months after its entry into force. Second, he expressed the willingness of the RCEP member states to start negotiations with India at any time if India so wishes. Third, India can participate in RCEP meetings as an observer if it so wishes. Unlike other trade agreements where meetings are only open to their participants, India can benefit from these RCEP meetings even before becoming a member.
Japan is committed to continuing to work with India as a trusted partner. One such endeavor is our cooperation to raise India’s industrial competitiveness. Japan is ready to share our experience and knowledge to further strengthen the Indian manufacturing sector.
Is there an update on the India-Japan Summit? Are we likely to see a visit from the Japanese prime minister in 2021?
In the first telephone conversation between Prime Minister Suga and Prime Minister Modi in September, it was confirmed that the annual Summit meetings would resume once the situation related to Covid-19 improved. I hope the situation improves to allow us to hold the meeting between the two MPs as soon as possible and at a mutually convenient time.