Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2014-01-31 06:32:30 Published on Jan 31, 2014
To take India-Japan ties to the next level, three issues need to be resolved. First, early end to their negotiations on civil nuclear cooperation. Second, a decision on the offer of the US-2 amphibian aircraft. Third, the symbolism of Japanese technology products which can be used for military applications.
How to take India-Japan ties forward
" The new momentum in India-Japan ties are without doubt a consequence of the geopolitical realignment of Asia arising from the rise of China. But to see it simplistically as some alignment against China, or an encirclement of China, would be incorrect. Since the year 2000, Indian and Japanese prime ministers have visited each other's countries regularly with the pace picking up in 2005 when during Prime Minister's Koizumi's visit, the two sides agreed on a strategic orientation of Japan-India Global Partnership. In December 2013, Akihito became the first Japanese monarch to visit India.

There are two components to the relationship — the economic and security. The economic relationship between the two countries has taken off with a sharp rise in Japanese investment into India since 2005. Japanese companies have made a cumulative investment of $ 12.66 billion in this period. From just 301 companies in 2005, the number of Japanese companies operating in India has risen to 1072. India has become the largest recipient of Japanese Overseas Development Assistance in the last decade, receiving as much as $36 billion in concessional loans and grants.

While the Delhi Metro project is the best known project receiving Japanese assistance, they have also contributed significantly to the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) Project and the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor. The DMIC is a major Japanese-Indian collaborative project for comprehensive infrastructure development. It will create India's largest industrial zone, linking the industrial parks and ports of six states between Delhi and Mumbai. The Japanese ODA loan will focus on constructing approximately 1,500 kilometres of railway track along the western corridor between the two cities, connecting major centres in the six states, as well as introducing electric locomotives capable of high-speed, high-capacity transportation. The project is expected to make a far-reaching contribution toward India's economic development.

Relations between the two countries are set to grow further with the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2011. This was a manifestation of the fact that there is domestic political consensus for good relations with India in Japan, because in this period, the country was ruled by the Democratic Party of Japan.

The ties on security are more complex, given Japan's pacifist constitution and India's well-known reluctance to enter into any kind of alliance system. In 2008, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Tokyo, the two sides issued a joint declaration on security cooperation and enhancement of cooperation in the field of maritime security such as anti-piracy efforts. The declaration affirmed that India-Japan relations were "rooted in their similar perceptions of the evolving environment in the region and the world at large." It also recognised "that India and Japan share common interest in the safety of sea lines of communications." Security cooperation involved several elements — information exchange on Asia Pacific and global issues, cooperation in Asean Regional Forum and other multilateral frameworks in Asia, defence dialogue at the Defence Minister level and a strategic dialogue at the External Affairs Minister level. In addition, there would be bilateral and multilateral exercises at the Navy and Coast Guard level.

The Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces (MSDF) joined the Malabar 2009 exercise, co-hosted by the US and India, but subsequently, India decided that these exercises should remain bilateral with the US. As a sop to Japan, New Delhi decided to have bilateral exercises with the MSDF with the first event in June 2012 and the second in December 2013. Indian and Japanese Coast Guards have been exercising together since 1999 and held their most recent exercise in January 2014. India is a participant in the Trilateral Dialogue with the US and Japan which has had four meetings till now. As an outcome of the Abe visit, it has decided to once again invite Japan to participate in Malabar exercise.

Prime Minister Abe had visited India during his first stint as premier in 2007. He also delivered a memorable foreign policy speech to a joint sitting of the Indian Parliament, calling for a dynamic coupling of the Pacific and Indian Oceans as seas of freedom and democracy that would knit together a 'broader Asia' -- a theme he returned to in his first major foreign policy address in Jakarta last January following his re-election.

There are three major reasons for the new developments in Indo-Japan relations: First, India's developing closeness to the United States which was marked by the Indo-US civil nuclear deal and an American recognition that India's size and heft deserved far more attention than had been given. As a result of this, close allies of the US like Japan, too, altered their perspective towards New Delhi despite the fact that India had conducted a nuclear weapons test in 1998, an action that was severely condemned by Japan.

Second, Chinese-Japanese estrangement beginning around 2004-2005. Japanese companies paid little attention to India before this period. But after the anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, they began to hedge their bets by looking at alternate destinations for their investments. As of now, in terms of substance, India-Japan ties pale into insignificance in comparison to those between China and Japan. Nearly 20 per cent of Japan's trade is with China, as compared to 1 per cent with India. Likewise, Japan is 11th among India's trade partners, accounting for 2.3 per cent of its trade, as compared to China which is number 3 with 8.6 per cent. The disparity is even greater when it comes to visitors. In 2012, some 220,000 Japanese visited India, as compared to 3.5 million who visited China. Or, to take another indicator, there are 26 flights a week between India and Japan, as compared to 668 between China and Japan. Yet, there is no doubt that the recent tension between China and Japan, ranging from the ADIZ issue to Abe's visit to the Yasukuni shrine, has created a bitterness between the two countries, layered upon China's sense of historical grievance relating to Japan's conduct in World War II.

Third, the subjective desires of the two leaders of the two countries — not just Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and his counterpart Shinzo Abe, but the Japanese and Indian leaderships as such. In Mr Abe's case, his desire for close ties with India goes back to the influence of his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, a controversial World War II era politician who had close ties with Jawaharlal Nehru.

Prime Minister Abe's arrival in the political scene in Japan has led to greater energy in Tokyo's domestic and foreign policy. On one hand, he has revitalised the stagnant Japanese economy through a new monetary policy. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to spark off the growth of private investment through which alone Japan can defeat the chronic deflation in its economy. A similar energy has been visible in his foreign policy towards India. However to take the ties to the next level, three issues need to be resolved.

First, the two countries need to bring their bilateral negotiations on civil nuclear cooperation to an early and successful end. The Fukushima tragedy and, perhaps, continuing resistance of the Japanese bureaucracy have prevented agreement from being reached despite four years of discussions. Japan was one of the Nuclear Supplier Group countries that agreed to give India a waiver at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2008. But it has reservations about India because it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The key obstacles remain the issue of the termination clause for the deal. In the Indo-US nuclear deal, the two sides are committed to undertake consultations should either resume nuclear testing. The Japanese, however, insist on unconditional termination.

The right to reprocess is yet another problem area despite the fact that whatever reprocessing takes place will be under IAEA safeguards. India may not be interested in Japanese nuclear reactors or enrichment/reprocessing technology, but a nuclear deal could clear the way for technology, components and sub-assemblies that India wants from Japan.

A second issue relates to the Japanese offer of the US-2 amphibian aircraft to India. The two countries have been discussing the offer for two years and a joint working group is trying to fashion an agreement which will meet Japanese demands that the aircraft be sold minus sensitive dual use equipment like the IFF system or its communications gear. The Indian side wants to buy 15 aircraft worth some $ 115 million each and wants to get two off the shelf and assemble the rest in India. The issue is as to who will assemble the aircraft, given the fact that its aviation manufacture and assembly facilities are all controlled by the Ministry of Defence.

The third is the symbolism of Japanese technology products which can be used for military applications, though not as a weapons system or platform, being exported from Japan. While for the present the Japanese government wants to sell only the civilian version of the aircraft, things could change in the future. The Abe government wants to ease the ban on military exports and the US-2 sale could be the beginning of a process that could see other equipment like patrol vessels, mine sweepers, sensors, electronic warfare equipment, etc, being procured by India from Japan.

At the bottom of all this is, of course, the issue of China. Both India and Japan have serious disputes over their border with China. However, there are important differences in the nature of the disputes. The one between China and Japan is relatively minor, but it is coloured by the terrible history of Japanese militarism in China. In the case of India, though there is a serious border dispute, it is relatively stable with multiple agreements in place to maintain peace and tranquility there. However, India has a continuing grouse with China's "all weather" friendship with Pakistan, which includes assistance in the area of nuclear weapons, missiles and conventional weaponry.

India and Japan have a great deal of overlap in their respective foreign and security policies. Some of this is evident from the India-Japan joint statement that was issued after the Abe visit entitled, "Intensifying the Strategic and Global Partnership". The statement underscored the commitment of the two countries to promote peace and stability in the world. India also acknowledged the important development in Japan which has led to the Abe government evolving a National Security Strategy of Japan and creating a National Security Council. In addition, they are of one view with regard to maritime cooperation and participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises.

The two countries have a common view on "freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes" based on the principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They are also agreed on the importance of the "freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety" in accordance with the principles of international law and the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Most important, they also have a common understanding of the need for reform in the United Nations and the need to expand the permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. The bit about "peaceful resolution of disputes" and the "freedom of overflight" are important Indian signals signifying closer Indo-Japanese relations.

But overlap is not quite the same thing as congruence. There is little doubt that the US and Japan see close strategic ties with India as a means of containing a rising China. They see the ability of maintaining a balance as a means of promoting regional stability.

But, despite the negative impact of China's relations with Pakistan, New Delhi does not believe that it should develop military alliances to check Beijing. It believes in multi-polar ties which seek to strengthen relations across the board with the principal players in the global sphere. As a nuclear weapons state and a significant military power, New Delhi is confident that it can manage its security affairs without entering into an alliance with any other power. However, Japan has a historical alliance with the United States in relation to its security and, in this, it has a very different perspective from India.

Eventually, the strategic choices that a country make is not something they alone can control; it often depends on the actions of other more powerful forces. In this case, for both Japan and India, a great deal will depend on what China does in the coming years.

Meanwhile, India can be happy that it has gained the attention of Japan and its powerful and able high-technology companies. Japan may have begun to look at India to hedge its Chinese bets in the 2000s, but since then, the relations between Tokyo and Beijing have only gone from bad to worse. In that sense, we could well argue that China's loss, could well be India's gain.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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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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