An India-Japan- Korea Emergency Communications Network for Current and Future Pandemics

30 May, 2020    ·   5694

Siddharth Anil Nair assesses the feasibility and value of an ECN between the three countries

An Emergency Communications Network (ECN) is a dedicated system to support unhindered communication and coordination between actors in an emergency. ECNs come into play during any form of environmental, military, or health emergency. These networks operate between departments within a country; or, in some cases, multilaterally between countries.

This article will look at the benefits of establishing an ECN between India, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (RoK) for not only the current pandemic but also for forthcoming disasters. India shares a variety of synergies with Japan and Korea in the fields of humanitarian aid/disaster relief (HA/DR), healthcare/pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology. Tokyo and Seoul have showcased excellent domestic mitigation strategies in response to the pandemic. As such, a trilateral ECN will act as an early warning system and provide best practices if and when a situation calls for coordinated regional pandemic mitigation efforts.

Why RoK?

RoK has become a shining example of what a state should, and could do in the event of a global health crisis. Its immediate border closures, up-to-date communications, and coordinated mitigation strategies with neighbouring countries highlight some of the benefits that could be extended to a state-level ECN with India and Japan.

Seoul’s tracing, monitoring, and testing efforts have also showcased its prowess in biotechnology, medical manufacturing, and overall governance. This testing and manufacturing expertise is of particular interest to New Delhi given its own gaps in capacity. The inability to scale-up production of indigenous kits has required India to place an order of 500,000 RT-PCR kits from Seoul, to be delivered within May-June. Another Korean firm with existing factories in India has been given the go-ahead to manufacture antibody testing kits as well. These are examples of the existing bilateral linkages within the India-South Korea Special Strategic Partnership.

Why Japan?

While Japan has faced substantial criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, with mask shortages, inefficient lockdowns, and poor financial support to households, its first-wave mitigation effort has been reported as a net positive; with effective tracing, testing, and treatment. Japan’s biotech industry is also prepared to produce accurate testing kits and vaccines. Takara Bio already claims to be on track to produce a vaccine this year.

Finally, and most importantly, are Japan’s relationships with RoK and India. Tokyo is already working with Seoul in bilateral and multilateral groupings to address the pandemic. New Delhi and Tokyo have a history of joint experience in HA/DR, infrastructure development, economic aid, and military missions, and the “Special Strategic and Global Partnership’s” value addition in a “post-COVID world” was referenced by Prime Minister Modi as recently as April 2020, after his phone call with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. There is therefore a theoretical template already in existence for the implementation of a trilateral ECN.

India, Japan, RoK: Existing Synergies

India’s Act East Policy (AEP), based on the three pillars of political-security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation, highlights the need to develop coherent long-term strategies to protect these interests, and subsequent linkages. As such, the concept of an ECN falls right within the normative ambit of economic and human security. The RoK’s New Southern Policy and Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Policy share many principles of regional security with the AEP. An ECN will be a complimentary structure to existing HA/DR efforts, i.e. regional communication, infrastructure development, and technical cooperation, dedicated to protection from future pandemics.

Recent strategic agreements and joint-declarations between the three countries have made note of the cooperative space in robotic, bio-tech, healthcare, and pharmaceutical research, which could be optimally operationalised through a joint India-RoK-Japan ECN. Such an ECN can provide those involved with a reliable early warning system, updated healthcare and medical expertise, joint laboratories for testing kits, and vaccine development. It will also act as an impetus for further infrastructure development, and help establish regional pandemic supply-chain networks (PSCN) for medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) in the event of future global health disasters.

Challenges to Implementation

The benefits notwithstanding, there are two immediate impediments to implementing a trilateral ECN between India, RoK, and Japan. One is domestic structural inadequacies across the three countries in setting up a whole new network to monitor and coordinate during a pandemic. This can be offset by developing or strengthening subsystems in existing HA/DR networks. Two, China’s presence in existing platforms such as the ASEAN Plus Three Summit and the Chinese state’s ability to deliver expertise and equipment (as it has in recent months) may have an impact on potential partnerships with India, who is struggling to develop these capacities for its own domestic requirements. However, India’s exports of drugs such as Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), and its expansion of PPE manufacturing can ensure greater contribution to the partnership in the future.

Cooperation is the need of the hour—for states to come together to develop joint responses to such health crises. Effective mitigation is a direct result of effective regional mechanisms, which could be found in an India-Japan-RoK ECN.

Siddharth Anil Nair is a Research Intern with the South East Asia Research Programme (SEARP) at IPCS.