Originally Published 2015-12-10 10:17:43 Published on Dec 10, 2015
The 9th India-Japan bilateral is taking place in New Delhi this week-end. PM Abe is reaching Delhi on December 11. Two of the main issues that need to be resolved to take the partnership to new heights are the civil nuclear agreement and the supply of Japan's indigenously made US2 amphibious aircraft to India. Will Abe and Modi be able to achieve this?
Will the Delhi India-Japan Summit bring about a breakthrough?

"Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is reaching New Delhi on Friday (December 11) to participate in the 9th bilateral summit. This is his second summit engagement with Prime Minister Narenda Modi. Last year's meeting between them, held in Tokyo, heralded a new era in the bilateral partnership. Describing the bilateral ties as constituting a ""special strategic and global partnership"", their joint statement laid out a new road map for the course of their engagements in the coming years.

In the last one year, several steps have been taken to further strengthen the partnership as spelt out in the joint statement. The visit of Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in February this year, as part of the annual strategic dialogue, created a very favourable setting. His talks with Sushma Swaraj covered a wide spectrum of topics, including regional cooperation, maritime security, nuclear disarmament and terrorism.

During his visit to Tokyo last year, Modi had signed a memorandum on defence cooperation and it was also clearly spelt out in their joint statement that they would take follow-up action to boost it soon. As a follow-up measure, India's Defence Minister Manohar Parricker went to Japan to conduct the regular bilateral defence dialogue. Both Parricker and his Japanese counterpart Nakatani stated that they would make the area of defence equipment and technology a ""key pillar of bilateral defence relations"". Parricker stated that India depended very much on Japan in certain critical spheres like obtaining Japanese submarine technologies in addition to purchasing the US2 amphibian aircraft. On his part, Nakatani also assured that Japan would like to participate in ""the make in India "" policy in the defence area.

One could mention two instances where both countries cooperated quickly to bring about tangible results. The first one was the upgradation of the US-Japan-India trilateral meeting to the ministerial level. The three countries have been meeting since 2011 at the level of the joint secretaries. In the Modi-Abe joint statement, the two leaders expressed a strong desire to upgrade it to the level of ministers. In September this year, US Secretary John Kerry, India's Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met for the first time to institutionalise their ministerial level meeting. This sent a strong message on the increasingly converging relations among the three countries.

The second one relates to the inclusion of Japan as a regular member of the Malabar naval exercises. Initially started as a bilateral exercise between the US and India in 1992, it drew considerable attention from many like-minded countries. In 2007, the exercise was joined by countries like Australia, Japan and Singapore. But following strong reservations expressed by China, India discontinued the multilateral exercises and stuck to the bilateral nature of the Malabar exercise. But later in early 2014, Japan joined the Malabar exercise that was conducted in the Pacific Ocean. As India, the US and Japan started developing several common maritime interests and concerns, Japan was showing its eagerness to participate regularly in the exercise. The Modi-Abe 2014 statement endorsed that Tokyo would join the exercise regularly soon. In accordance with this, Japan participated in the Malabar exercise conducted in the Bay of Bengal in October this year.

It is a fact that every annual summit meeting arouses great expectations in both countries in terms of showing some tangible outcomes. In this context, people in India and Japan expect their leaders to not only issue long joint statements but also demonstrate their political will to take bold decisions on certain pending issues. The still unresolved issue concerning the civil nuclear cooperation agreement is a case in point. Many rounds of negotiations have taken place without producing a tangible result. Even now, there is no clear indication of a solution round the corner even though last ditch negotiations are going on feverishly. There is no denying that it is a sensitive issue in Japanese domestic politics and one can understand Abe's delicate predicament.

Many critics, however, argue that the issue concerning the reinterpretation of the Japanese Constitution was no less sensitive and yet Abe took a bold stand to push the legislation through. Of course, he took a political risk, and ultimately succeeded in his objective. They argue that Abe should adopt a similar position to get the agreement signed with India. Now with the Japanese government gradually reactivating its nuclear reactors, there is much leeway for Abe to sign an agreement with India. Further, both India and Japan are seriously concerned about the spread of carbon emissions, and would like the nuclear energy to be tapped increasingly to protect the atmosphere. The absence of an agreement between India and Japan also technically withholds the participation of US companies from setting up their nuclear installations in India.

The second issue that needs to be resolved concerns the supply of Japan's indigenously made US2 amphibious aircraft to India. Defence production is one area which offers a great potential for closer bilateral partnership. Despite several rounds of talks and a specific task force examining the modalities of cooperation, both sides could not come to an amicable agreement. People expect this deal to be a trend setter in the sphere of defence cooperation. With Abe having adopted a major change in Japan's export policy on defence technology, there is tremendous scope for both countries to accelerate cooperation in defence production.

In the midst of the above uncertainties, there is, however, a silver lining in their talks connected with the modernisation of Indian Railways. Following India's Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu's visit to Japan in September, significant developments have taken place. Japan has now agreed to invest $140 billion over the next five years to modernise Indian Railway stations across the country. In addition, there is a strong likelihood of both Modi and Abe signing an agreement on the construction of a high speed rail system between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The Japan International Cooperation Agency ( JICA ) studied the feasibility of the project and approved it. Japan with its unblemished reputation in the high speed rail technology sees great potential in India which plans to connect its four principal metropolitan cities with high speed rail system. Having failed to get the contract for building a high speed rail system in Indonesia, Japan faces stiff competition from China which is assessing the feasibility of a project linking New Delhi and Chennai.

It is also important for both Abe and Modi to assess the effectiveness of the comprehensive economic partnership agreement that came into effect in 2011. Despite many favourable terms contained in the agreement, bilateral trade has declined in volume in the last one year or so. Similarly, Japanese investment has also not made any great strides. It is high time for both leaders to address comprehensively the issues that still hamper trade and investment."

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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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