India and Japan on Tuesday said they strongly oppose all attempts to “unilaterally change the status quo by coercion” and activities that escalate tension, against the backdrop of concerns about China’s assertive actions across the region.
The matter figured in a phone conversation between defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi, according to a readout from Japan’s defence ministry. Without naming China, the readout said the ministers intend to “continue exchanging views in light of the current events occurring in the region”.
The statement was perceived as a strong endorsement for India’s demand for restoration of status quo on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh sector, where tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a faceoff since May. Japan has its own concerns about the activities of Chinese vessels in waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
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The two defence ministers “concurred in sending a clear message that they strongly oppose any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by coercion or any activities that escalate tension”, the readout said. Singh and Kishi also “shared the view on highlighting the importance of a free and open maritime order based on the rule of law”, it said.
They also agreed to “vigorously promote defence cooperation and exchanges to uphold and reinforce the free and open Indo-Pacific”
Singh said in a tweet that he and Kishi had expressed satisfaction at ongoing bilateral defence cooperation. “India is committed to further elevate engagements with Japan under the Special Strategic & Global partnership framework,” he added, without giving details.
In July, Japanese ambassador Satoshi Suzuki had said that his country opposes any “unilateral attempt to change the status quo” along the LAC after a conversation with foreign secretary Harsh Shringla.
In recent weeks, there has been closer coordination between the four members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad – India, Australia, Japan and the US – in the wake of China’s aggressive actions across the Indo-Pacific. Australia’s navy participated in the trilateral Malabar naval exercise after a gap of several years.
During their phone conversation, Singh and Kishi exchanged views on regional situations, including in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and reaffirmed their continued close cooperation, the readout said.
The two ministers also discussed recent achievements such as the signing of Japan-India Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) or logistics support agreement in September and the successful completion of the Malabar naval exercise in November.
They welcomed the fact that bilateral and multilateral defence cooperation and exchanges were promoted despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Singh and Kishi further discussed cooperation against risks imposed by infectious diseases that could affect peace and security and the promotion of India-Japan efforts such as sharing lessons learned in humanitarian aid and disaster response operations during the pandemic, finding new opportunities for cooperation in third countries to make them more resilient to the pandemic, and exchanging views on reinforcing the rules-based international order, including working together to counter disinformation in the context of the pandemic.