New Delhi: India and Japan on Monday agreed on the need to strengthen defence and security cooperation for a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region with the two countries seeking greater interaction between their defence forces.

A joint statement issued by the Indian and Japanese side said that Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera “recognised that the peace and stability of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean are crucial for ensuring the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region."

The two ministers “had a frank exchange of views on the current security situation in the Indo-Pacific region, including developments in the Korean Peninsula," the statement said.

Onodera’s two-day visit to India comes in the same week as another by the Chinese defence minister and state councillor Wei Fenghe who will be in New Delhi on Tuesday at the start of a four day trip that aims to focus on stepping up strategic communication between India and China.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal described this as “smart diplomacy" which ensures that India while stabilising ties with China was signalling that this would not be at the expense of relations with Japan.

The India Japan statement said that the two countries said they had “shared interests in expanding cooperation in the maritime security domain and welcomed the fact that Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) and the Indian Navy are working towards the signing of the Implementing Arrangement for Deeper Cooperation between the JMSDF and the Indian Navy."

“The Ministers also reaffirmed their intention to pursue cooperation in engaging with countries of the Indo-Pacific, including through their capacity building," the India-Japan statement said.

The Chinese defence minister’s visit to India comes four months after prime minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in an informal summit to stabilise ties after the 73-day military standoff on Bhutan’s Dokolam plateau last year. India and China share a 3,500-km border, much of which is not delineated. The two countries have had 20 rounds of talks on the subject but that hasn’t yielded any result. The standoff in Dokolam was seen as the effect of differences in perception between India, Bhutan and China, as to where the border lies.

In June, India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale had told reporters that India and China would be holding a series of dialogues, including the 21st round of talks on the unsettled boundary between their special representatives, besides separate talks involving their defence and home ministers.

According to an Indian official, Wei’s visit could help firm up certain steps to build trust between the two armies as they work towards implementing the decisions taken by Modi and Xi in Wuhan. One of the agreements was to enhance trust between the two countries and ensure coordination and communication between their militaries.

Wei is seen as a key member in China’s state council, the executive organ of Beijing’s government. In New Delhi, the Chinese minister is scheduled to meet Modi and hold talks with his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday.

The two countries could discuss a mechanism, under which troops from both sides will inform each other before carrying out any patrolling on the disputed areas along their common borders, the PTI report added. The two defence ministers will also attempt to resolve differences over setting up a hotline between the armies of the two countries, the report said. According to the Indian army, the hotline should link its Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) and his counterpart in Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). But Beijing wants the hotline to be established between the deputy commander of its Chengdu-based Western Theatre Command and the Indian DGMO, the report said.

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