Originally Published 2014-02-03 06:44:08 Published on Feb 03, 2014
There is a strong feeling that the signing of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between Japan and India has not led to the full utilisation of the potential that exists for larger trade and investment. Further efforts should therefore be undertaken to realise those ends.
Did Abe-Singh joint statement live up to expectations?
" Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to India during 25-27 January 2014 drew a great deal of attention as the bilateral relations have assumed increasing strategic and economic significance. Further, it was also known that Abe would have his sayonara summit meeting wih Manmohan Singh since the latter had already announced his decision to step down after the parliamentary elections in May this year. It was the fourth and final round of talks that they had and both must have had the satisfaction of truly adding a great deal of strategic and economic substance to the partnership. This partnership was for a long time narrowly focussed only on economic matters like trade, investment and official development assistance; but today it has become truly diversified to include a wide range of subjects including defence cooperation, maritime security, counter terrorism, energy cooperation, cyber security, UN reforms, climate change and regional cooperation. Every joint statement following the summit meeting demonstrates the willingness of the two countries to further widen their partnership by including new subjects of importance.

Before any attempt is made to examine the Abe-Singh joint statement of January 25, it would be useful to note that the past year in the bilateral ties has been extremely productive in terms of numerous events between the two countries starting from Manmohan Singh's visit to Tokyo in May, 2013 and his joint statement with Abe which laid out a broad vision for the two countries. Earlier, the two countries had a strategic dialogue at the level of foreign ministers in Tokyo. In November-December, Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko made a historic visit which gave a tremendous impetus to the partnership. A month after their visit, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera came to India to conduct defence dialogue with his counterpart A.K. Anthony. Both discussed the prospects of promoting defence cooperation while simultaneously taking measures to encourage naval cooperation between the two navies.

The present meeting between the two leaders came in the wake of Japan's formulation of a new National Security Strategy (NSS) and the new National Defence Policy Guidelines 2014. Both these are very important seeking to lay out Japan's future postures in the security field. The establishment of the National Security Council has further added a new thrust to Japan's future security goals in the region. That the new Japanese National Security Advisor Shotaru Yachi was with Prime Minister Abe in New Delhi further highlighted the importance of the summit from the security angle. Yachi met his Indian counterpart Shivsankar Menon and launched the first security discussion at that level. The two prime ministers in their joint statement expressed their satisfaction with the launch of regular consultations between the two top security advisors. In addition, they also expressed their "determination" to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation. Noting the successful visit of Japanese Defence Minister Onodera to New Delhi in the first week of January 2014, they also expected that the 4th Defence Policy Dialogue would be held before the end of 2014.The joint statement noted the two leaders expressing their satisfaction at the smooth progress of such dialogue mechanisms like the bilateral 2+2 Dialogue and the US-Japan-India trilateral talks.

Both countries have witnessed significant progress in navy-to-navy cooperation in recent years. Though the two coast guards have been conducting regular annual exercises for a fairly long time, the two navies started their regular exercises only after 2012. The second such exercise was held in December 2013 off the coast of Chennai. In the joint statement, both leaders "reaffirmed the importance of such exercises and renewed their resolution to continue to conduct them on a regular basis with increased frequency." Singh has invited the Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) to participate in the next Malabar maritime exercise to be held in the Pacific Ocean in 2014.This is a significant development as Japan did not take part in any Malabar exercises after 2007.

Like in the May 2013 joint statement, both leaders reiterated their commitment to the freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In addition, as a response to the unilateral Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) drawn by China in last November that evoked considerable criticism of many countries including the US, both Singh and Abe for the first time underscored the importance of freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with international law and the standards of and accepted practices of the International Civil Aviation and Organization (ICAO).

At their May 2013 summit, both leaders discussed for the first time the prospects of Japan supplying its US-2 (Utility Seaplane) amphibious aircraft to India and decided to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) to work out the modalities of cooperation. Soon after, the JWG met in New Delhi in December 2013. Given Tokyo's sensitivity to arms sales to foreign countries, its readiness to act quite fast surprised many in both countries. Though Japan modified its position on the question of export of military technologies in 2011, the subject is still a sensitive one within the country. The next meeting of the JWG, according to the joint statement, will be held in Tokyo in March this year and hopefully, both countries will decide on the modalities of their cooperation.

There was considerable expectation that Abe would come to India with an 'omiyage' (gift) in the form of an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. But it did not materialise as the two countries were still in search of an acceptable formula to break the ice. The Abe-Singh joint statement merely reported "substantial progress" made in the negotiations on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Though this was also corroborated by media reports, very little is known about the details of the "substantial progress". The next round of talks will be held in Tokyo and one has to wait and see whether the "substantial progress" will lead to an agreement.

Lastly, the joint statement speaks about the importance of Japan's continued assistance to several infra-structure projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai Freight and Industrial corridors, Delhi Metro, the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor and so on. India continues to be the biggest recipient of Japanese economic assistance. According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency ( JICA ), Japan's overall ODA loans to India amount to 3,871 billion yen or 2,29,100 crore rupees by 2013. The bulk of it has gone into sectors such as infra-structure, irrigation, power, water and sanitation and environment. On bilateral trade, there is a strong feeling that the signing of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between the two has not led to the full utilisation of the potential that exists for larger trade and investment. Further efforts should therefore be undertaken to realise those ends.

(Prof K.V. Kesavan is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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K. V. Kesavan

K. V. Kesavan

K.V. Kesavan (1938 2021) was Visiting Distinguished Fellow at ORF. He was one of the leading Indian scholars in the field of Japanese studies. Professor ...

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