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[All Politics is Global] Kishida in India Recalls Abe's Powerful Speech 'Confluence of the Two Seas'

"India is the place where FOIP came into being … How Japan and India should jointly lead the region and the world in the Era of the Indo-Pacific" — PM Kishida

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In March 2023, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida put forth his vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) in New Delhi, India. And he could not help but feel a sense of destiny.

Kishida reminded listeners that his esteemed friend, the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, proposed the FOIP concept. He stated, "Here in this country, former Prime Minister Abe delivered a speech that linked the Pacific and the Indian Oceans for the first time. India is the place where FOIP came into being … And about how Japan and India should jointly lead the region and the world in the 'Era of the Indo-Pacific.'"

Furthermore, Kishida highlighted the necessity to develop FOIP, arguing that the international community is at a historical turning point. He noted that the balance of power is shifting dramatically, and the remarkable rise of India is one such example. Furthermore, this implies sharing responsibility for global governance.

Following his 2007 "Confluence of the Two Seas" speech delivered at the Indian Parliament, former slain PM Shinzo Abe declared his vision termed the Free and Open Indo-Pacific. In this sense, FOIP (based on the Confluence of the Two Seas notion) was a visionary concept.

India
Prime Minister Kishida shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before their summit meeting in New Delhi on March 20. (© Kyodo)

Abe's Declares the Confluence of the Two Seas Notion

The ambit of Japan's FOIP strategy was further launched and pushed during the Abe administration's second tenure in December 2012. It was initially forged during his first term as prime minister, when he addressed the Indian Parliament in August 2007. During that visit, Abe established an interesting historical connection in reference to the Indo-Pacific. He stood in the Central Hall of India's Parliament to put forth his views on the future of Indo-Japan relations. Crucially, he presented himself on "behalf of the citizens of another democracy that is equally representing Asia."

It was in this historic speech that Abe questioned, and identified, where Japan and India stood historically and geographically. He answered this by famously citing the title of a seminal 1655 book, Majma'-ul-Bahrain [The Mingling of the Two Oceans]. The book's author is the Mughal Prince, Dara Shikoh. He was the eldest son and heir-apparent of the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. But he could never become the King as he was barbarically executed by his younger brother, Aurangzeb.

Prime Minister Modi with the late Prime Minister Abe at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo in 2016. (© The Ministry of External Affairs of India)

From a Geographic to a Geostrategic Concept

In his 2007 speech, Abe stated, "We are now at a point at which the Confluence of the Two Seas is coming into being." Indeed, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans are bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and prosperity. 

The 17th-century book is said to have been the inspiration, foundation, and title of Abe's vision to nurture an open and transparent Indo-Pacific maritime zone as part of a "broader Asia." Abe further stated that Japan and India have the ability, and the responsibility, to ensure that it further broadened, nurtured, and enriched these seas to become seas of clearest transparency.

FOIP was originally a geographic concept comprising the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean that shaped linkages between the United States and East Asia. But the FOIP maritime zone has evolved into a geostrategic concept. When stretched beyond the Indian Ocean, it paved the way for what became commonly known as the new framework of the "Indo-Pacific."

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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on September 13, 2017. (© The Ministry of External Affairs of India)

'Majma'-ul-Bahrain': The Mingling of the Two Oceans

The Majma'-ul-Bahrain is a prose work written in 1655 that deals with the cross-cultural doctrine. It remains of considerable importance, owing to its deep-rooted historical connection. In the long history of cross-cultural exchange and discourse between Islam and Hinduism, the comparative treatise Majma began to be regarded as a significant dialogue.

The thrust area of the Majma indicates the path, which can grossly be divided into two categories — the world around, and the world beyond. Majma surpassed boundaries and became a pioneering example of transcultural literature in the early modern age. Dara Shikoh also acknowledged divine unity as a boundless ocean in this seminal text. In fact, the title Majma'-ul-Baḥrain is perhaps the symbolical representation of this boundlessness that transcended multiple limitations.

In this reference, perhaps, the Indian and Pacific Oceans have begun to primarily represent maritime constructs. These constructs seemingly go beyond security into the realm of economy, politics, and environment. The return of maritime significance in the 21st century also brings back the centrality of oceanic spaces, which have become the new theatre of power politics.


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Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated. Follow her column, "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on Twitter @MonikaChansoria.