Monday, September 15, 2014

India and Japan: Asia’s Best Friends

Aftab Seth

India’s relations with Japan reach back over 15 centuries. The Tokyo Declaration issued on September 1st 2014, on the occasion of the meeting of the two Prime Ministers, echoed this connection in the following words:

”Conscious that from time immemorial whenever Japanese and Indians have come together, they have struck a deep chord in each other…..” [para 37, Tokyo Declaration of 1st September 2014]. This sentence epitomizes the trouble- free, cordial and vibrant relationship between the two countries that has grown steadily over the centuries. As former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said on the occasion of the PM’s visit, “I was the first Prime Minister to visit India in a decade“; in August 2000 he and PM Vajpayee established the Global Partnership between India and Japan. Mori ,now the Chairman of the Japan India Association, which celebrates its 111th anniversary this year, was referring to a ten year long hiatus between the visit of PM Kaifu in 1990 and his own historic journey to India in 2000 August. I was then Ambassador in Vietnam and was called by the government to attend the Mori -Vajpayee talks, since my posting to Tokyo as Ambassador had already been announced. Mori’s visit was historic; it was also courageous, because many in his establishment were still sore about our nuclear tests of May 1998 and were opposed to his going to India.

Building on that visit of Mori, PM Vajpayee paid a return visit to Japan in December 2001. PM Junichiro Koizumi came to India in 2005 April and during his visit, inter alia, the flagship project of the Delhi Mumbai corridor was launched. In December 2006 in Tokyo, PM Man Mohan Singh and PM Shinzo Abe, during the latter’s first administration, expanded the Partnership to make it a “Global and ‘Strategic’. Since that visit in 2006, our Prime Ministers have been meeting every year, alternately in India and Japan .This practice of annual visits Japan does not follow with any other country; not even the USA, with which Tokyo has been linked by a security treaty for six decades. The uniqueness of this summit level exchange between India and Japan is further reinforced by annual exchanges of Foreign, Defence, Commerce and Energy Ministers. Modi and Abe decided to expand the dialogue to a 2+2 format, bringing the Defence and Foreign Ministers and the Defence and Foreign Secretaries together annually.

In the last ten months, the bilateral relationship has seen some historic landmarks. Most importantly Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited India from November 30th till the 5th of December 2013. They had returned to India after an interval of 53 years; in 1960 they had come as Crown Prince and Princess! The visits of Their Majesties abroad are carefully chosen by the Imperial Household and Foreign Office to underscore the importance that Japan attaches to the country to which the Imperial couple travel. The message to India was thus clear; Japan believes this is a most important bilateral relationship. Republic Day 2014 saw PM Abe as our Chief Guest. He was the first Japanese PM to be so honoured. His attendance at the parade where India’s military hardware was on display, was well noted by all observers of both countries and their foreign policies. The presence of the Japanese Prime Minister on such an occasion was symbolic of the fact that our relationship has grown immensely in the last 14 years. In the defence and security field in particular, PM Abe has shown that he is willing to make bold departures from past policies. In April 2014, Abe amended the ban then in place on the export of weapons. It is in this context that PM Modi and Abe in their joint declaration [para 9] spoke of the need to transfer technology and promote the production of defence equipment in India. Special reference was made to the US-2 amphibian aircraft which was also discussed in January 2014. In the light of PM Modi’s effort to promote the production of defence material in India, the willingness of Japan to assist in the process and transfer technology is most significant.

In a similar vein, both Prime Ministers stressed on the need to keep the global maritime and civil aviation commons free of interference ; the reference was clearly to the recent postures adopted by China in its assertive policies towards Vietnam , Philippines and Japan. [para 10]

During Modi’s visit, a Memorandum of Cooperation and Exchanges in the field of Defence was signed. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to holding joint naval exercises and to continue the trilateral naval exercises with the USA, the Malabar series. Interestingly, the trilateral naval exercises were first held in April 2007 in the waters off Okinawa, during Abe’s first administration. In August of that year, Abe paid a visit to India and addressed the Indian parliament speaking of “The Confluence of the Two Seas”; the Indian and Pacific Ocean, which made India and Japan natural partners. In September of 2007, India, Japan and the USA were joined by the navies of Singapore and Australia for joint naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal. It would thus be seen that Abe has had a deep interest for many years in enhancing defence cooperation with India and like- minded countries such as the USA and Australia. Australian PM Abbot’s visit to India soon after Modi’s visit to Japan and the agreement to sell us uranium, fits in well with Abe’s vision of democracies in Asia working together to secure sea lanes and ensure freedom of commerce.

The Japanese press paid attention to the defence and security aspect of the Modi visit, as also to the fact that talks on civil nuclear cooperation will continue. As a symbol of Japan’s determination to do away with all obstacles in the way of nuclear cooperation, Japan removed six of India’s space and defence related industries, from Japan’s ‘End User’ list. The list had been in force from May 1998 when India carried out the nuclear tests. In doing so, Japan has given evidence that it trusts India under PM Modi to refrain from using defence technologies transferred from Japan for delivery systems for Weapons of Mass Destruction. [Modi in his extempore remarks to the Indian community in Tokyo on September 2nd made a special reference to this mark of confidence in India] The decision to remove the ban on these six Indian entities comes on top of Japan’s promise to continue working with India to make it a full member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. As a corollary to this reaffirmation of Japan’s’ commitment to deal in high technology exchanges, was the agreement to work together in the field of Rare Earths. Indian Rare Earths Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Department of Atomic Energy, will work with Toyota Tsusho Corporation for the production of rare earth products. The Press headlined this as “Japan turns to India as supplier of –important rare earth metals.” [Japan Times 29/8/14] The Japanese press highlighted this in the background of heavy arm twisting by China, the biggest producer of such products, some two years ago, when they banned the export of rare earth products to Japan. The reason for the ban was entirely political and had to do with the territorial disputes between China and Japan. Japanese high tech industry was thrown into considerable confusion by the Chinese action. It was realised then that over dependence on China for such products was not in Japan’s interest. Para 20 of the joint declaration, therefore, views this agreement on rare earths as a “significant step in the Japan India Strategic and Global Partnership.”

Similarly, over dependence on China for trade and investment has, in recent times, come in for increasing criticism in business and government circles in Japan. Modi and Abe agreed to double Japanese investment in India over the next 5 years to 3.5 trillion yen, about $ 35 billion. The money from ODA and private sources would help build our infrastructure, Smart cities, cleaning of rivers and for cold chains in agriculture. [During PM Vajpayees’s visit in 2001, PM Koizumi had made similar pledges to clean the Ganga.] The level of Japanese financing for our development has, therefore, been raised to a great extent as a result of Modi’s visit.

In strategic terms, Modi’s visit gave concrete shape to an idea mooted in January 2014, when Abe came to India. This relates to the North East of India where there are certain sensitivities relating to China’s claims on Arunachal Pradesh. The agreement has spelled out the steps by which Japan will assist in the development of these areas. The Japan Bank of International Cooperation [JBIC] and the Export Import Bank of India will collaborate in enhancing connectivity in our North East and between India and neighbouring countries. In view of the Free Trade agreement between ASEAN and India, the seamless flow of goods from our north east to Burma and beyond, linking up eventually with Hanoi in Vietnam, will give a boost to our trade with this important region which already stands at around $ 100 billion . The measure of trust reposed by India in Japan is clearly seen by this collaboration in an area of strategic importance to our country. JBIC will look at roads, water supply and forestry projects in Manipur and elsewhere in the region. Overall this can be seen as a major enhancement in the level of our strategic relationship.

The two Prime Ministers reached agreements in several other areas, including continued mutual help through the G-4 to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for both countries; to intensify the Energy dialogue in Clean Coal Technologies and LNG; to intensify Human Resource cooperation; to further enhance work on the Delhi Mumbai Infrastructure Corridor, in clusters such as Neemrana and to further develop the Bangalore–Madras corridor where Japanese companies have shown much interest .

There was an agreement that the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science will work with our universities to increase the level of student exchanges especially in the field of science.

There was a clear personal chemistry between PM Abe and PM Modi. Their private walk, all on their own, through the gardens of the temples of Kyoto showed the nature of the personal bond that has been established. PM Modi has agreed with Abe that the historic city of Kyoto, the capital of Japan till 1868, will be linked with Varanasi, our ancient city. Both cities have some of the most beautiful temples in the world and their linkage would further underscore the historical connections between us. The first sermon of the Buddha at Sarnath had a resonance in Japan almost 1000 years after it was delivered; but that in no way lessened the impact of that message of brotherhood, compassion and peace which went out from India to Asia and the world.

Some press editorials in Japan spoke of “Japan and India’s China challenge” while others made a reference to PM Modi’s speech where he spoke of European imperialism in the 18th Century and the modern examples of such behaviour. Such press comments concluded that the PM had referred to China in his remarks about the 18th century.

But apart from such occasional comments, overall there was a clear understanding that both Japan and India have to deal with their territorial and maritime problems with China in their own respective ways. They would, of course, continue to share intelligence with each other and they would continue to work together to build up each other’s economies and defence preparedness. Above all, these two great democracies share values relating to the rule of law, freedom of the individual ,freedom of the media and a desire to contribute to the peace and stability of Asia and the world at large. These shared values make Japan and India natural partners. This is the clear message that emerged at the end of PM Modi’s discussions with PM Abe which concluded in early September. The visit from all points of view has been a successful one for both India and Japan: one learned commentator, in fact headlined his piece; “Asia’s best friends shape an axis.” While some may question the ’axis’, no one can deny that we are indeed Asia’s best friends.

(The author is a veteran Diplomat and Academic. He is Visiting Professor at the Kenichi Ohmae Institute of Management in Tokyo)

Published Date: 15th September 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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