Japan, India to step up arms drills, technology cooperation

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan and India agreed on Thursday to expand military cooperation by holding more joint exercises and pursuing combined development of defense equipment such as unmanned vehicles amid growing tensions with China and Russia in the region.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said there was “an increasing need” for India and Japan to step up security cooperation. He noted Russia’s war on Ukraine, China’s increasingly assertive actions, including escalating tensions around Taiwan, and North Korean missile and nuclear threats.

Hayashi and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada held talks together with their Indian counterparts, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnat Singh, in Tokyo on Thursday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to substantially increase Japan's military capability, possibly including pre-emptive strikes, which critics say would violate the country's war-renouncing constitution. His government is currently revising the country's national security strategy and defense guidelines, and is seeking to nearly double military spending to about 2% of GDP.

Japan is also seeking to expand military equipment transfers to support its feeble defense industry.

The four ministers said in a statement that Japan and India are pursuing joint development of unmanned ground vehicle technology, and will discuss concrete areas for future cooperation in defense equipment and technology. Japan’s earlier plan to sell sea-landing planes to India has been held up, partly by costs, Japanese defense officials said.

“Enhancing defense equipment and technological cooperation between India and Japan is one of our clear key priority areas," Singh said at a joint news conference.

India and Japan also reaffirmed their commitment to back a “free and open Indo-Pacific vision” that Japan promotes with the United States as a means to counter Chinese assertiveness in the region.

Hamada, who held defense talks with Singh earlier Thursday, said bilateral and multinational exercises and other defense cooperation have expanded in recent years and will be raised to “new highs.”

Thursday's talks were held on the heels of a major Russian multinational military exercise held from Sept. 1 to 7 in its far east in which China and India participated.

Tokyo protested to Moscow about the exercise, which included drills on Russian-held islands which Japan also claims. Japan also raised “grave concern” about naval shooting drills held by Russia and China off Japan’s northern coast over the weekend.

Foreign Ministry officials said Japan warned India against joining drills on the disputed islands and that Indian troops only participated in other areas.

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AP journalists Haruka Nuga and Chisato Tanaka contributed to this report.

Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press