Originally Published 2014-01-08 04:38:10 Published on Jan 08, 2014
Despite all the developments, there is still a feeling that the potential of the bilateral partnership has not been fully tapped. For instance, the total annual volume of the bilateral trade is still about $18 billion.
The Japanese imperial visit to India
"Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko made a historic visit to India from 30 November until 5 December 2013 and received an exceptionally warm and rousing welcome from the host country. The visit was reported widely by the Indian media which described the royal visit as a 'defining moment' or a watershed event in the history of India-Japan bilateral relations. As the Japanese Government stated, India had long been eager to invite the imperial dignitaries and the joint statement signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in May 2013 made a specific reference to it. Subsequently both governments worked very hard to make the visit materialise.

1. First visit as Crown Prince and Crown Princess in 1960

Both Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were quite familiar to India having visited it in December 1960 soon after their marriage. For two reasons, that was a memorable visit for the young imperial couple.

First, they travelled fairly extensively across the country and visited Calcutta, Patna, Gaya, Agra and Bombay. They had opportunities to visit especially important Buddhist sanctuaries which even today attract hundreds of Japanese pilgrims. In addition, they also visitd Rabindranath Tagore's home in Calcutta.

Second, they were greeted at Delhi airport with twenty guns salute by President Rajendra Prasad, Vice-President Radhakrishnan and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Far senior in age and experience, the three Indian leaders had themselves paid separate visits to Japan in the preceding years and met with Emperor Hiriohito and the Crown Prince Akihito. One should remember that those were critical years for Japan when it was making serious efforts to regain its identity in Asia after its traumatic experiences in the Second World War. President Prasad described the visit of the Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko as "the most auspicious event in the history of Indo-Japanese relations."1. Describing Japan's "rapid economic recovery as a source of inspiration for Asian countries", Prime Minister Nehru lauded Japan's rapidly changing society in which "traditional patterns are gracefully adapting themselves to modern requirements."2. Though the Crown Prince and the Princess visited India a couple of times later, they were only brief transit visits on their way to Pakistan and Nepal.

In September 1998, Empress Michiko was expected to come to New Delhi to deliver the keynote address at the 26th Congress of the Board of Books for Young People ( IBBY ). But unable to make the visit due to the nuclear tests conducted in May the same year, she sent instead her keynote speech which was read out in her absence. In that speech, she made very touching references to her earlier visit to India in 1960. She wrote, "I have many fond memories of the Land of India where the present Congress is held. In 1960 I visited India, accompanying His Majesty who was still Crown Prince then. At the time, I was twenty five and the young mother of a nine months baby. In India, which some thirteen years earlier, after long years of hope, had at last achieved independence, it was the time of President Prasad, Vice-President Radhakrishnan and Prime Minister Nehru. The days I listened with deep feelings to the conversation of these distinguished people, their thoughts on freedom, democracy and peace-; the warm welcome in which people enveloped us: the days of travel in Calcutta, New Delhi, Agra, Bombay, Bodh Gaya and Patna; all these I recall with keen nostalgia.."3 Empress Michiko has since then shown deeper interest in the IBBY movement and met many of its members in New Delhi during her present visit.

The same sentiments were expressed by Emperor Akihito at the banquet hosted by Indian President Pranab Mukherji on 2 December, 2013. The Emperor recalled the warm welcome he and the Empress had received throughout their 1960 journey including the Delhi citizens' reception at the historic Red Fort organised by Prime Minister Nehru. He also referred to the influence of Nehru's book the Glimpses of World History on Empress Michiko as a student.4

2. The present visit

?P. Events in New Delhi

There was great expectation in both countries that the present imperial visit would give a new impetus to the already expanding bilateral ties. The fact that the imperial couple have drastically cut down their overseas trips in recent years due to health considerations has underscored the importance they attached to India. It is well-known that under the present Constitution of Japan, the Emperor is a symbol of the state and of the unity of the people. His functions therefore relate to matters of state and not to those of government. He is not directly connected with the formulation of Japan's foreign policy. It is the Japanese government which plans his foreign visits and very often it does with a focus on fostering relations with any country which it considers very important. By selecting India for the imperial visit, the Government of Japan clearly underscored its interest in consolidating its partnership with India.

The imperial dignitaries had several engagements in New Delhi including a meeting with Indian and Japanese communities at the Lodhi Gardens, Indian President's official Banquet at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, a meeting with a select gathering of people at the India International Centre, and a visit to Jawaharlal Nehru University. In his speech at the Banquet, President Pranab Mukherji described the royal visit as "historic milestone in the bilateral relations, referred to the "civilizational connect" between the two countries and recalled the contributions of Swami Vevekananda, Jamshedji Tata, Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose and Radha Binod Pal in strengthening the bonds of friendship between the two countries. He was confident that the imperial visit would give an impetus to the efforts of the two countries "to engage, take new initiatives, and elevate the partnership to greater heights." In his response, Emperor Akihito also reciprocated similar warm greetings and hoped that his visit would "help to further deepen the mutual understanding and further strengthen our bond of friendship."5 Both countries share common concerns on regional security and regional cooperation. Both the Emperor and Empress also visited India International Centre (IIC) which is one of the major hubs of cultural and academic activities in New Delhi. It was a nostalgic visit to them since it was Emperor Akihito who laid the foundation stone of the IIC in November 1960. Their visit to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was equally significant as it provided them with opportunities to mingle freely with a number of students learning the Japanese language and doing research

2. Visit to Chennai

The Imperial itinerary included a visit to the southern city of Chennai which they could not visit earlier in 1960. This visit gave them an opportunity to deepen their understanding of India's diversity. In recent years, Tamilnadu has emerged as a major partner in trade and investment. A large number of Japanese companies have been located in and around Chennai. It is stated that more than four hundred Japanese companies have invested in the region. The Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry has given figures stating that about 40% of Japanese investment in India has gone into Tamilnadu. There were only 77 Japanese projects in Tamilnadu four years ago and the number jumped to 344 in 2012. Some of the big names like Nissan in Auto sector, Komatsu in earth moving equipment, Toshiba in turbines and generators, Mitsubishi in elevators are figuring prominently among the Japanese companies. In November this year, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA ) signed an agreement with the Government of India for extending a loan of 13 billion yen ( about Rs 829 crore ) for investment promotion in Tamilnadu. As Chennai city is getting increasingly overcrowded, it has an urgent need to provide an efficient mass transportation system for its citizens. Japan has extended its financial assistance to build a modern, efficient metro system as in the case of New Delhi. In addition, Japan is developing a mega integrated township with a view to encouraging the flow of large investment. Both India and Japan are also planning an industrial corridor between Chennai and Bengaluru on the lines of Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor.

3. Imperial visit in the context of overall bilateral relations

The imperial couple's visit came at a time when the bilateral partnership is stable and multifaceted. For a long time. Indo-Japanese relations were narrowly focussed only on economic matters like trade, investment and economic assistance. But today the partnership has diversified to encompass a wide spectrum of subjects like counter terrorism, maritime security, energy cooperation, UN reforms, regional integration and climate change. Both countries share common concerns on regional security and regional cooperation.

Apart from participating in such regional forums like the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asian Summit (EAS), both India and Japan have also signed a bilateral agreement for security cooperation followed by an action plan. Asserting that their security cooperation is not directed against any third country, they do not want at the same time to see any single country emerge as a dominant regional hegemon and upset the prevailing geo-strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region. They are firmly opposed to any country attempting to change the status quo in the region by force. In recent years, they have moved closer in the sphere of maritime security. They strongly believe that freedom of navigation in the oceans should be respected by all countries. In addition, both have also signed a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) with the objective of accelerating their trade and investment ties.

Both countries have taken prompt steps to carry forward several proposals mentioned in the Singh-Abe joint statement signed in May 2013. First, a joint working group has been constituted to explore the modalities for India's purchase of US -2 amphibious aircraft from Japan. In November, the foreign ministers of both countries met at New Delhi and decided to hold the first session of the joint working group soon. This will be a path-breaking development in the sense that Japan, despite its policy decision not to make arms sales to foreign countries, has agreed to provide aircraft to India. Many analysts believe that this will open up new possibilities for joint defence production too.

Second, both countries have gone a long way to forge a strong understanding in the realm of maritime security. They depend on the security of sea-lanes for their external trade across the seas. Both depend on the smooth and stable supply of energy resources for sustaining their economies. In the initial years, the coast guards of the two countries cooperated and conducted joint maritime exercises essentially to address the problems posed by ocean piracy. Now they have upgraded their cooperation and their two navies - Japan's Maritime Self-defence Forces and the Indian Navy are conducting naval exercises and maritime dialogue. Both share common maritime and strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region where China's naval profile is rapidly increasing and posing serious challenges.

Third, Japan's official development assistance ( ODA ) has been a core component of the partnership and India has been the largest recipient of Japanese aid for the last several years. It may be recalled that India was the first country to receive Japan's aid as early as in 1958 following Prime Minister Nehru's visit to Japan. Since the Tokyo's aid has flowed rather liberally into several sectors of Indian economy and social sectors making a valuable contribution.

There has been a deepening of Japan's involvement in India's infrastructure development including metro rail projects in New Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Mumbai. Japan is also involved in the execution of two major flagship projects - the Delhi- Mumbai Freight corridor and Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. These two projects run through six major Indian states and when completed could turn those regions into flourishing global industrial and manufacturing hubs.

Despite all these developments, there is still a feeling that the potential of the bilateral partnership has not been fully tapped. For instance, the total annual volume of the bilateral trade is still about $18 billion even though both countries have signed a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA). Similarly, there is enormous scope for dramatically increasing Japanese investment in India which is right now far below its potential.

The Indo-Japanese partnership has come a long way and is now robust and multi-faceted. The interests of the two countries will continue to converge on a wide spectrum of subjects. The imperial visit has instilled a new sense of trust and confidence in both countries. This will be further reinforced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit which is scheduled take part as the main guest of the Republic Day in later January, 2014.

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

1 The Hindu, 30 November, 1960

2 Ibid

3 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo. Keynote speech by Her Majesty Empress Michiko

of Japan for 26th Congress of International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) in New Delhi- Reminiscences of Childhood Readings http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/japan/ibby/congress26.html

4See Address by His Majesty the Emperor at the welcome Banquet on the occasion of

their Majesties' visit to India dated2, December, 2013.

5 Speech by the President of India, Pranab Mukherji at the Banquet in honour of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan dated 2 December, 2013

Courtesy: Contemporary India Forum: Quarterly Review, no 20, Winter, 2014

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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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