Event ReportsPublished on Nov 19, 2015
Reiterating that China should not be contained, Mr. Yukio Okamoto, adviser to former prime ministers, has underlined the need to foster cooperation between Japan and India, including in their efforts to be represented in the United Nation Security Council, with or without the veto powers.
Robust India-Japan ties vital in Asian security architecture: Japanese scholar

Highlighting that the cause of instability, and the deterioration in regional security in Asia were due to Chinese and Russian nationalism, fundamentalism and the inactivity of the US and other countries who are supposed to preserve the status quo against these forces, Yukio Okamoto, Special Advisor to former Japanese Prime Ministers Ryutaro Hashimoto and Junichiro Koizumi has stressed the need for a security architecture in the region through strong and robust bilateral relations between Japan and India.

Delivering the keynote address at the conference titled ‘India-Japan Partnership in the Asian Century’ organised by ORF and the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi on 26 October 2015, Okamoto said he believed that a democratic and robust India is needed in the heart of Asia as an anchor in these uncertain times. He said in such a scenario the need for a security architecture in the region through bilateral relations between Japan and India is encouraged. He pointed out that in a poll, 63 percent of Japanese people had shown a positive perception of India, while only 29 percent had a positive perception of China.

The conference was chaired by Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs. The panel included N K Singh, former Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), and Indrani Bagchi, Diplomatic Editor of the Times of India. Sunjoy Joshi, Director, ORF gave the opening remarks.

Joshi highlighted the growing importance of Indo-Japanese ties in this 21st century, described as the Asian century. He stressed that the changing geopolitical dynamics in Asia propelled the need for both Japan and India to foster common ground. In light of growing economic and strategic cooperation between Japan and India, he reiterated that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s upcoming visit to India in December 2015 is much awaited.

In his remarks, Shashi Tharoor said India and Japan have had ties covering more than a thousand years. He said India being the largest democracy of Asia and Japan the most prosperous, it was in both their interests to continue to build this relationship. In recent years the views of the two countries have been converging further, and in 2014 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Abe upgraded this relationship to that of a Special Strategic Partnership, which at its core would promote peace, democracy, prosperity and the rule of law.

Tharoor stated that as the only country to endure the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan must not be underestimated. In his opinion, China’s assertive rise has created a perception of inadequacy regarding the Japanese national security policy, which in turn brought on an increase of defence spending and enhanced participation in overseas missions. Tharoor highlighted the difference between the perceptions of the rise of a militaristic Japan, and that of a Japan which is taking necessary action in order to cope with the emergence of a destabilising power in Asia. Concluding his address, he stressed the need to avoid imbalances in the region as well as arm races.

In his keynote speech, Okamoto stated that India’s steady growth rate was an impressive feature. In the last ten years, India has witnessed large structural changes in industry, exports, energy, and the depletion of natural resources and degradation of the environment. In his opinion, on the whole, the Indian economy is advancing in a positive manner.

Moving beyond the economy, Okamoto expressed a strong sense of repentance for the invasions Japan made between 1931 and 1944. He stressed that reconciliation can be made with the victims. However, the Japanese apologies have to be met with forgiveness by Korea and China. He further added that the narrative of pacifism is embedded in the Japanese DNA and that there is no aggressive intention in the reinterpretation of the Japanese constitution. He stated that a more flexible text has been made only to keep pace with international security by taking part in peacekeeping operations, protecting economic interests and participating in military exercises as demonstrated by the Japanese actions against piracy.

While reiterating that China should not be contained, Okamoto underlined the need to foster cooperation between Japan and India, including in their efforts to be represented in the United Nation Security Council, with or without veto powers. He concluded by stating that these two great democracies in Asia, through a relationship based on mutual respect, will make Asia more resilient.

Acknowledging the controversial nature of the re-interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan, N K Singh in his speech argued that Japan was left with very few options, being short of the guarantee that the US would provide a security umbrella in the context of growing Chinese assertiveness. He said that India has opened its defence sector, actively seeking Japanese collaboration in this field, and stressed that India welcomes a stronger Japan with stronger defence capabilities.

Singh stated that at the heart of the India-Japan relationship lies the question of what more can be done in economic terms. In Japan, Abenomics, with the mandate given to the Bank of Japan for quantitative easing in order to set inflation at 2 percent to grow the GDP by 2 percent in the next five years, meets dramatic complications. The consumption tax, already raised from 5 percent to 8 percent, is set to be raised further to 10 percent, and it is difficult to evaluate the consequences. The country runs an 8-9 percent fiscal deficit. The debt-to-GDP ratio in Japan remains approximately 250 percent, which would be considered by many other countries as impossible to sustain. Singh expressed concern that if the present fiscal trend continues, the rate is set to rise even further in the next ten years. In this context both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have lowered the prospects for growth in Japan to less than 1 percent. The target of 2 percent inflation is also considered unlikelyto be met in the near future.

Another overarching factor, highlighted by Singh, is the shrinking Japanese population. In 2014 the population shrank in absolute terms by 168,000 people. If the present trend continues, after 2020 it might rise to 1 million per year. By 2030 the population of Japan would have shrunk substantially and witnessed a dramatic increase of the share of population by the elderly group. He suggested that robots, used efficiently, can beat the shortage of labour, but not substitute the loss of demand. He highlighted that India, conversely, with a population of 1.2 billion people, is far from achieving stabilisation and enjoys an average age as low as twenty-four.

Singh explained that the critical bottlenecks that Japanese businesses have found in India have been addressed in the recent years, with the aim of making India easier to invest in. Japan, on the other end, is aiming to restructure its own economy, for instance in agriculture, where the Trans-Pacific Partnership would contribute to liberalising and modernising its market. He concluded his address by arguing that India and Japan, both in economy and defence, can help balance each other's offsets through reforms and synergies; reinforcing their positions in the region through this century.

Indrani Bagchi spoke about the evolution of the narrative of Asian geopolitics which in present times revolves mainly around China, connectivity and non-traditional security issues. She explained that Chinese economic growth, and more importantly its aggressive stance in the region, has caused an equal reaction by neighbouring countries which have formed smaller coalitions such the India-US-Japan dialogue.

She stated that India is beginning to mature, and take on a more responsible role in the region. Testament to this is the fact that in January a new Indo-Pacific Ocean strategy had been articulated by the government; a maritime focus that is also expressed through anti-piracy operations in East Africa. Prime Minister Modi has also travelled to Mauritius, the Seychelles and Sri Lanka in March as part of this new framework. Bagchi highlighted the fact that Indian and Japanese priorities on security also coincide in the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean.

Additionally, Modi’s visit to Abu Dhabi has been described by Bagchi as a parallel effort to build cooperation between India and the Gulf Countries, extending its outlook west beyond Iran and Israel. On the east, she labelled Japan as one of the main investors and called for joint investments to make India the heart of connectivity. Bagchi concluded that cooperation between India and Japan is inevitable, wherein India will face challenges, west and opportunities, east.

Closing remarks were made by C Raja Mohan. He underlined that an Indo-Japan partnership is difficult as the nature of the two countries is very different. However, he added that changes in geopolitics and increasing economic interdependence continue to draw the two countries together. He concluded that Japan has a rightful place in any construction in Asia and that for a stable future both China and Japan must play an important, active role in the world order.

Report prepared by Niccolo Bedushi, Research Intern, ORF Delhi.

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