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Strategic bond
Strengthening India-Japan relations

The visit of the Japanese emperor Akihito to India in November end was a reaffirmation of evolving strategic partnership with India which has great relevance in the fast changing geo political environment in the Asia Pacific region.

In a significant move India has decided to follow up the emperor’s visit to India with a Republic Day invite to the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which will reinforce the current momentum in high level exchange of visits between the two countries.

The evolving relationship has been described as win-win partnership for both the Asian giants. Both face common strategic challenges from China. Hence the developing strategic partnership between India and Japan is being closely observed by the Chinese strategic watchers.

If India shows its political will, the India- Japan partnership can be a source of envy for China. It will prove to be a great balancer of strategic paradigm in the Asia Pacific region. The need for a closer strategic bond between India and Japan is propelling the Japanese leadership to change their national narratives on the defence policy, which has till now remained as self defensive in nature.

Defence partnership

As a symbol to the beginning of a new era in defence and strategic partnership, Japan has already given green signal to sell its ShinMaywa or US-2 amphibious aircraft to Indian Navy, which has matchless Surface Take off and Landing (STOL) capabilities, unrivalled sea keeping ability and outstanding endurance.

According to officials the aircraft will meet Indian maritime requirements, fulfill regional aspirations and match global expectations for Safe Seas and Secure Coasts.

A fortnight before the visit of the Emperor the Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida discussed the modalities for selling the aircraft to India with Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and directed the Joint Working Group constituted for this purpose to expedite the process of transfer of this aircraft to Indian Navy.  

This aircraft will help India protect its maritime assets and remote islands in high seas more efficiently and safeguard India’s maritime strategic interests.

This will be the first defence transfer of strategic nature, which will convey a strong message to China, considered rival to both India and Japan.

And at the diplomatic and political level, India has also not failed in sending a strong signal to China, when the Indian Prime Minister landed in Tokyo, only ten days after the Chinese Prime Minister Le Keqiang made his first overseas journey to India. 

But the Chinese PM’s visit to New Delhi proved to be only ‘feel good’ and rhetorical in nature, with no solid steps to boost confidence in Indian leadership and strategic planners of their good intentions.  Since there is no fundamental change in Chinese attitude towards the early resolution of the boundary and territorial dispute with India, India will have to continue to look for a friend in the Pacific region, who can stand with her on international forums.

A solid strategic partnership can only flourish on the sound economic relationships with stakes in each other’s economic interests.

Japan has been working in this direction with a long term vision. The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor is a shining example of how Japan is trying to prepare ground for its business community to invest and make India as their manufacturing base.

The industrial corridor will attract over US$ 100 billion investment over next decade for which almost ten new townships are being developed along the corridor.

Spurred by the possible economic advantages along this industrial corridor, the Japanese government has already encouraged Indian government to finalize other industrial corridors like Delhi-Kolkata, Mumbai-Bangalore etc.

Financial assistance

Thus with Japanese financial and technical assistance whole of India is going to be economically energized and will result in the new age of economic revival of the country. This will be akin to Japanese assistance to China in early eighties and nineties, when the Japanese industry taking advantages of favorable government policies, made whole of China as its manufacturing base and helped China emerge as economic giant.

Now the ongoing tension between Japan and China over Senkaku islands has resulted in a change of mindset in Japanese business and political class towards China and they are in lookout for an alternative investment destination and economic partnership. It is for India to offer similar investment and business climate to the Japanese companies so that they develop permanent interests in India.

Deep linkages in economic sector will create favorable ground for the Japanese strategic community to establish long term relationship of partnership with India. The economic relationship cannot flourish unless India has sufficient energy supplies. India has been seeking cooperation with Japan in the nuclear energy sector and this is now considered as a test case for India-Japan relationships.

While visiting Tokyo only ten days after Chinese PM’s visit to India, the Indian Prime Minister made a very significant remark to the Japanese audience, “India’s relations with Japan are important not only for our economic development, but also because we see Japan as a natural and indispensable partner in our quest for stability and peace in the vast region in Asia that is washed by the Pacific and Indian Oceans.”

When we look at the ongoing Chinese aggressiveness in the South and East China Sea to which the Japanese are the prime target, Manmohan Singh’s another remark reveals the mindset of the Indian strategic establishment, “We have shared interests in maritime security and we face similar challenges to our energy security. There are strong synergies between our economies, which need an open, rule-based international trading system to prosper. Together, we seek a new architecture for the United Nations Security Council. In recent years, our political and security cooperation has gained in salience. Japan is the only partner with whom we have a 2-plus-2 Dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministries. We have also begun bilateral exercises with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces.”

The domestic sensitivities in Japan on nuclear issues are preventing the Japanese government from concluding the civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. However, the green signal given to resume the dialogue on this issue is a positive signal that Japanese government is serious in finalizing this deal with India, which in long run will also benefit the Japanese economy.

The Joint Statement issued after the last visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Tokyo has given a clear indication of the Japanese government’s desire to conclude this agreement as soon as possible.

The joint statement issued after the May 2013 visit, expresses the Japanese government support for India’s membership to the four export control regimes, the NSG, Wassenar Arrangement, Australia Group and the MTCR.

Inspite of India not putting its seal on the NPT, the Japanese government’s approval for India’s membership to these export control regimes has been made possible by return to power of the Liberal Democratic Party headed by Shinzo Abe in December 2012, who has steadfastly promoted deeper strategic partnership between India and Japan.

With China in mind, the two countries have been promoting each other’s interests in maritime area and by deciding to organize the joint maritime exercise in near future and to sell its amphibious plane, Japan has sent a strong signal to China that India will emerge as its more reliable and strong partner not only in the economic field but also in the strategic arena.