India-Japan relations : Bold steps for a common strategy

India-Japan relations : Bold steps for a  common strategy

India-Japan relations have acquired a strategic purpose and struck the right chord following Manmohan Singh's just-concluded visit to Japan for the...

India-Japan relations have acquired a strategic purpose and struck the right chord following Manmohan Singh's just-concluded visit to Japan for the Prime Ministers' summit. The purpose is to stand up against China's aggressive posture in the region.

Importantly, not only did it cement complementariness in ties across a broad spectrum of issues, but also signalled New Delhi's resolve to take bolder steps towards lending substance to the strategic and global partnership between India and Japan.

Undeniably, from border incursions in eastern Ladakh to maritime disputes in East China and the South China Seas, Chinese behaviour has unsettled countries in the region. A Expectedly, the changing tone of India-Japan ties has caused unease among the Chinese strategic circle, which senses a hedging strategy in the new developments, coupled with interest shown by the Americans like say a US-India-Japan trilateral dialogue. Add to this the increasing cooperation envisioned in India-Japan defence ties, one has a recipe for an instant Chinese reaction.

Pertinently, as the Japanese hosted PM Singh, the Communist Party of China's official newspaper People's Daily carried an editorial which strongly counselled that New Delhi's wisdom lay in dealing with its disputes with Beijing calmly undisturbed by "internal and international provocateurs." It also lashed out at Japanese politicians, terming them "petty burglars" on China-related issues.

Indeed, New Delhi's burgeoning and diverse ties with Tokyo is a vital component of India's Look East policy, that commensurate with its efforts to connect with East Asian and South-East Asian countries through a string of regional organisations, covering political and economic fronts. Both countries have a common interest in furthering their economic ties, bilateral engagements and striving for more joint endeavours around the world.

Towards that end, there has been a steady growth of political exchanges, dialogue and policy coordination at all levels, including the Foreign Ministers' Strategic Dialogue and the Ministerial Level Economic Dialogue. And, Japan is the only country with which India has a 2-plus-2 dialogue between the foreign and defence ministries.

Moreover, taking cognisance of the persisting issues of transparent and secure navigation of the seas, New Delhi and Tokyo have also tightened their cooperation in the maritime sector, instituting the bilateral Maritime Affairs Dialogue, the first meeting of which was held on 29 January in Delhi. This followed the first bilateral exercise between the Indian Navy (IN) and Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) off the Japan coast held in June last year and joint exercises between the two Coast Guards off Chennai's coast in January 2012 and Tokyo Bay in November last.

Also, both sides decided to establish a Joint Working Group (JWG) to explore modalities for taking forward Japan's offer of US-2 amphibious aircraft. According to sources, this follows the Indian Navy's Request for Information (RFI) for nine amphibious SAR (Search and Rescue) aircraft.

Further, the joint statement resulting from Manmohan Singh's visit states that Japan would continue its Official Development Assistance at a substantial level. Both sides welcomed the Exchange of Notes signing of 71 billion yen loan for the "Mumbai Metro Line-III project", along with the 353.106 billion yen loan for eight projects in 2012 fiscal year. Japan also pledged 17.7 billion yen for the Campus Development Project of Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (Phase 2) and 13 billion yen for the "Tamil Nadu Investment Promotion Programme".

Japan offered support for introducing high speed railway system in India, and a decision was taken to co-finance a joint feasibility study of High Speed Railway system on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.

Though both sides reiterated the importance of fast-pacing negotiations towards an early conclusion of the India-Japan civilian nuclear agreement, some divergence of views were noted when it came to signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) that New Delhi considers discriminatory in nature. While Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the importance of bringing into force the CTBT at an early date, Manmohan Singh reiterated India's commitment to its unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing.

Undoubtedly, when it comes to India-Japan relations, China is the elephant in the room, thus strategic worries abound regarding its 'not so peaceful rise'. True, managing Beijing's rise does not amount to preparing for another hot war, which is hardly imaginable in today's globalized world wherein economic ties often go hand-in-hand with rivalries at the strategic level.

Given concerns of a rising China, which increasingly sees Asia as its exclusive zone of sphere, Japan should realize the importance of India as a power balancer in Asia. With New Delhi-Tokyo ties continuing to hit the right notes, it would open new vistas of mutual inter-dependence.


Monish Tourangbam

(The writer is Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

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