Originally Published 2011-12-26 00:00:00 Published on Dec 26, 2011
Whether Japan and India could find an acceptable compromise formula for civilian nuclear agreement that would address their respective concerns will be the main subject of discussion at the India-Japan Annual Summit in New Delhi on December 27-29.
Will Japanese PM find a solution to the nuclear deadlock?
The Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Yoshihiko Noda, is making a significant visit to India from December 27 to 29. The visit is as part of the India-Japan Annual Summit, institutionalised since 2005. Mr. Noda’s visit comes at a time when the bilateral ties have not only stabilised, but also significantly expanded to include a wide spectrum of subjects both economic and strategic in nature. Despite the triple disaster that engulfed Japan in an unprecedented human tragedy last March, the current year has, by and large, witnessed several positive developments keeping the partnership on a steady trajectory.

The forthcoming meeting is going to be the seventh Summit and Noda is the third prime minister from the Democratic Party of Japan ( DPJ ) to participate in the meeting. He will have wide ranging discussions with the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

First and foremost, both the countries have signed the long-pending comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) which came into effect on 1 August following its ratification by the Japanese Diet. The CEPA has aroused high expectations in both the countries that it would provide a fresh boost to bilateral trade and investments.

Second, the participation of India’s contingents in the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the disaster affected Tohoku region has made a favourable impact on the Japanese people and leaders. In addition, the spontaneous response of the Indian people to contribute to the affected lot by monetary and material assistance was greatly appreciated in Japan.

Third, within a month after assuming office as Prime m-Minister, Mr. Noda had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Manmohan Singh on 23 September at the United Nations when both were attending the General Assembly sessions. This brief meeting enabled them to exchange views on several bilateral and global issues. In their talks, both underlined the importance of the annual summit meetings for enhancing the bilateral partnership. They further stressed the importance of the safety of the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean and agreed to carry forward their discussions on the security front. Taking advantage of the first meeting with Mr. Noda, Dr Singh raised the question of India’s interest in signing a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan. Mr Noda responded that Japan would move forward in the matter once it brought under control the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, carried out a full-scale investigation and circulated the full information to other countries like India. One could understand Mr. Noda’s predicament at that time as it was too early for him to make any definite commitment on such a sensitive issue.

Fourth, on the diplomatic front, there has been a steady strengthening of the elaborate institutional mechanisms that have been put in place since 2005. India’s External Affairs Minister Mr. S.M. Krishna’s visit to Tokyo in the last week of October, as part of the regular Security Dialogue, needs to be noted. Evaluating highly the importance of the Dialogue, his Japanese counterpart Mr. Koichiro Gemba recognised that the stability and development of India was in the best interest of Japan well as the Asian region as a whole. In particular, they recognised how their two countries could cooperate more in the sphere of maritime security, including counter piracy operations. In addition, they also stressed the need for cooperation in other areas such as the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, joint development of rare earth minerals and the evolution of the East Asian Summit into an effective forum in regional affairs.

Mr. Krishna’s visit was soon followed by that of India’s Defence Minister Mr. A.K. Anthony who went to Tokyo on November 2 and 3 to participate in the Japan-India Defence Ministerial meeting. Both Mr. Anthony and Mr. Yasuo Ichikawa extensively exchanged views on regional and international security as well as defence cooperation between the two countries. They evaluated the progress of defence cooperation and exchanges the two countries had achieved in several areas. Once again, bilateral cooperation in maritime security figured quite prominently in their talks. They also laid out a roadmap for promoting cooperation and exchanges in the coming years.

It is equally important to note that the first trilateral dialogue between India, Japan and the US was held in Washington on December 19 and it provided an opportunity for the three countries to understand their respective perspectives on regional and global issues.

Fifth, that the Japanese Government has always given the highest priority to India in its ODA policy has further been demonstrated by the fact that Tokyo has exempted India from the drastic aid reductions enforced by it following the March 11 disaster. It means that India will continue to be the biggest recipient of Japanese assistance, a position it has enjoyed since 2003.The latest aid package given to India includes projects connected with power, transportation, energy and afforestation and maintains the prevailing level of Japanese assistance.

The above account clearly provides a very favourable back drop to Prime Minister Noda’s forthcoming visit to India. Both Mr. Noda and Dr Singh are scheduled to discuss a wide range of issues including regional security, energy cooperation, climate change, counter terrorism, maritime security and nuclear non-proliferation. One important bilateral issue that they have to address relates to the prospects of civilian nuclear cooperation. Both countries have been involved in prolonged negotiations and three rounds of talks have already been held. But following the March 11 Fukushima disaster, negotiations inevitably slowed down.

Though Japanese business interests have shown considerable eagerness for a quick agreement, the Japanese Government has been rather slow in its response partly because of the anti-nuclear domestic pressures. Further, the previous administration under Prime Minister Naoto Kan was very unenthusiastic about promoting nuclear energy at home. But Mr. Noda has become more flexible on the issue and has got the parliamentary approval to nuclear energy agreements with Jordan, Russia, Vietnam and South Korea. Even at the time of India’s External Affairs Minister Mr. Krishna’s visit to Tokyo in October, his Japanese counterpart Mr. Gemba is reported to have indicated Japan’s willingness to sign a civilian agreement. But it is also known that as the only country devastated by atom bombs, Japan seems to insist on obtaining some non-proliferation assurances from India. Whether the two countries could find an acceptable compromise formula that would address their respective concerns will be the main subject of discussion at the Summit. Japan knows that a civilian nuclear agreement with India is essential for implementing its nuclear treaty with the US.

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

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