Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2013-06-03 00:00:00 Published on Jun 03, 2013
New Delhi must take full advantage of the geopolitical opportunity that the Japanese connection offers us. As democracies, both India and Japan are open societies and committed to a liberal world order. Through visits and agreements, the two sides have now laid the infrastructure for their strategic partnership.
Building a bridge to Tokyo
It is difficult not to miss the strategic content of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan. India has had excellent relations with the country in modern times, but, the strategic direction in their ties is relatively new.

In the 1980s, along with the other American allies, Tokyo virtually saw New Delhi as being part of the Soviet alliance. But things have changed, due as much to changed perspectives in Tokyo and Washington, as in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged as much when he told an assortment of Japan-India friendship groups earlier this week that it was in the past decade that "our two countries have established a new relationship based on shared values and shared interests."

There is little doubt that the relationship is being driven more by the vision of leaders like Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe than any other factor. And here, it would be the most naïve who do not understand that the relationship has developed, and is now flourishing, because of Chinese assertiveness.


By talking of developments in the "Indo-Pacific" region, the prime minister is firmly locating India’s emerging foreign and security policies eastward, a process begun at a time when he was the Finance Minister of the country in the 1990s. And by coming closer to Japan, he is also placing India within the concert of democracies.

But in the process, India finds itself confronting China in this region as well. In asserting, as he did in his remarks in Tokyo to the "freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce" in the East Asian seas and his call for the resolution of maritime issues "peacefully", the Prime Minister was aligning himself with the regional states who are seeking to check an expansive China.

Indian policy here is anchored to Japan, with whom it has intensified political and security cooperation. It has an exclusive 2 plus 2 dialogue which involves foreign and defence ministries.

New Delhi has begun bilateral exercises with the JMSDF. The very fact that the Japanese are willing to consider providing India the SS-3 (or US-2) amphibian aircraft as well as discussing civil nuclear cooperation is a signal of the extent to which they are willing to accommodate India.

In his remarks at various places, Prime Minister Singh did not shy away from making it clear that India’s ties with Japan rested not just on economic relations, but on strategic foundations based on a common approach to security, "because we see Japan as a natural and indispensable partner in our quest for stability and peace in the vast region of Asia?."

In line with this, "our defence and security dialogue, military exercises and defence technology cooperation should grow."

This is indeed strong stuff considering Japan’s past, and the implications that Indo-Japanese collaboration would have with China.

The Japanese connection is fortuitous. Till the end of the Cold War, and especially in the 1980s, Japan saw India through American lenses as a country that was little short of being a stooge of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

In the 1990s, too, Japan tended to ignore India and that was the reason that the Japanese industry missed the bus with regard to participation in India’s liberalisation. At the time Japan thought that its massive Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) and private investments of Japanese companies would transform the Japanese-Chinese relationship, which has been poisoned because of the Japanese occupation of parts of China in the 1930s and the atrocities inflicted by the Japanese forces.

However, as China rose, the old resentments resurfaced and peaked in 2005 in anti-Japanese protests across China which, for once, had a touch of the spontaneous, rather than the usual Communist Party organised event.


Since then, the relationship between the two Asian countries has grown by leaps and bounds. Japanese investment and technology are obviously beneficial for India, and in turn, India offers a safe destination for both.

Simultaneously, as a country that can rival China in economic and physical size, India is the only country in the region, which can countervail the enormous pull of Chinese power. In providing some $35 billion worth of ODA to India in the last decade, Japan has made its intention to participate in India’s development more than clear, considering that the world economy has been in a recession for the last five years.

The very real Japanese interest in India is being manifested by the country’s commitment to promote the industrial renaissance of the country through investment in infrastructure projects such as the western freight corridor, the Delhi-Mumbai and Bangalore-Chennai industrial corridors.

If you look carefully at China, you will see that it was Japanese ODA and investments of the 1980s that played a significant role in enabling China to become the industrial powerhouse that it has become.


Japan is a storehouse of industrial experience and know-how, and linking up to it will provide India the opportunity to get into the global supply chains. In the last five years, the growing imprint of the Japanese industrial giants like Honda and Toyota is becoming clearer. But what we need is not the giants alone, but the numerous middle-sized and small companies that provide the country with its fabled industrial edge.

Beyond trade and commerce, the two sides are displaying an identity of views on issues like the freedom of navigation of the seas, an issue that bedevils East Asia because of Chinese maritime claims.

But Japan also understands the value of the Indian connection because of the role New Delhi can play in securing its vital oil sea lanes flowing from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca. Their common world view is manifested by their common approach in seeking a role in an expanded UN Security Council.

New Delhi must take full advantage of the geopolitical opportunity that the Japanese connection offers us. As democracies, both India and Japan are open societies and committed to a liberal world order. Through visits and agreements, the two sides have now laid the infrastructure for their strategic partnership. Now it is up them to build upon it.

(The writer is a Contributing Editor of Mail Today and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy : Daily Mail, UK, May 30, 2013

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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