Putting an end to all speculation, Japan has agreed to help India develop the strategically important Chabahar port of Iran.

On Friday, Tokyo accepted Tehran’s proposal to improve connectivity (jointly with India) in the Persian Gulf region, with senior Regional Co-ordinator of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Southwest Division Masayuki Taga saying: “In principle, we are interested in improving connectivity.”

India, which signed a tripartite agreement with Iran and Afghanistan earlier this year to develop the Iranian port into a transit hub bypassing Pakistan, has welcomed Japan’s decision, saying that the Indo-Japan co-operation on Chabahar port would be a game-changer for Asia.

A senior official of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs insisted that the collaborative venture between India, Japan, Iran and Afghanistan would be beneficial for the South Asian country, as the successful implementation of the project would boost its economic ambitions in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Indian official also said that the Chabahar port would help New Delhi transport goods to Iran, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries without using the sea trade lanes used by Pakistan.

Like India, Japan (too) joins the project mainly to protect its energy interests in West Asia. Both India and Japan are well aware of the fact that they can easily increase their geopolitical influence in this strategically vital region by strengthening ties with Iran. Taga told the press that the Chabahar port project’s economic viability and strategic value prompted Japan to join hands with Iran, India and Afghanistan.

The Indo-Japan co-operation in Iran could be a game-changer in the power dynamics of Asia mainly because of three reasons. Firstly, successful implementation of the port project will make it easier for the two friendly nations to boost trade ties with West Asia. Secondly, they can counter China’s increasing influence in West Asia and northern Africa by strengthening political and trade ties with countries in this region. Thirdly, Japan’s participation in the Chabahar port project could give India the perfect launch pad for its Indian Ocean ambitions.

Amid tension over South China Sea, India recently spelt out its Indian Ocean policy by supporting freedom of navigation and overflight on the basis of the UN’s law of the sea. Speaking at the first Indian Ocean Conference in Singapore earlier this week, Indian Foreign Secretary Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said: “We are working on ambitious plans for port and port-led development that would make our 7,500km coastline more relevant to the future of the Indian Ocean and India. We are similarly looking at more aggressively developing some of our 1,200 islands.” He urged all the littoral countries to work towards a composite Indian Ocean and to co-operate with each other in order to ensure a steady growth of blue economy.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]