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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 38, September 13, 2014

Why Japan Matters for India

Saturday 13 September 2014

by Ramakrushna Pradhan

Undoubtedly, India and Japan are friends from antiquity; share a superb and timeless bonding free of any kind of dispute—ideological, cultural and territorial. And the naturalness of the partnership opened up only recently with Modi’s assumption of the Prime Minister’s office in India. Although they are unique kind of nations in Asia having reciprocal sentimental standing, generous gestures and popular goodwill towards each other which can rarely be found among other Asian countries, they are even exceptional when the Japanese Prime Minister stays away from the capital city Tokyo leaving aside all official functions and rushes to Kyoto to extend a warm welcome to his Indian counterpart. This was indeed a singularly rare gesture in international politics at least in recent times. Apart from what has been said above, the Indo-Japanese relationship seems to be the defining partnership of the 21st century due to their natural urge to align with each other unlike other Asian members. Nevertheless, this natural partnership is not of recent origin.

Historically speaking, exchanges between India and Japan had begun around 6th century AD, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. Since then Indo-Japanese relations have grown closer and closer only to be converted into a deep strategic partnership in the 21st century. Direct exchanges in the modern era between these two Asian superpowers were said to have begun only in the Meiji era (1868-1912) when Japan embarked as the first Asian country on the process of modernisation. And the continuity of relations have been maintained through the ages in the religious, philosophical and academic prisms and more so in the nationalistic prism of Japan extending a helping hand to India during its freedom struggle. Subsequently diplomatic relations were established among the two Asian neighbours in 1952. In 1956, Japan and India had signed an agreement of cultural exchanges. All these set the tone for cordial relations based on culture, tradition, trade, economic, technical and intellectual cooperation to be shaped as the inexorable strengthening of bonds between India and Japan.

Strategically, both the countries are vital partners and have shared geopolitical and security interests. Given the adjoining security concerns, the two countries are ramping up defence cooperation as highlighted by the Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Ono-dera recently during his visit to India. Japan with world-class Navy is also a vital strategic partner for India adding leverage to its Look East Policy initiative.

Economically, both the countries offer immense opportunities for enhanced engagement for the highest mutual benefit. For India, Japan being the largest source of its foreign direct investment and aid is an indispensable economic partner. It is also the leading source of capital and commercial technology for India. Given India’s current account deficit at this moment, it must seek to attract more funds from the rich and rising Japan to bridge its current account gap. Japan’s all-weather friendship with India and recurrent economic aid to this country helps it significantly to improve its poor infrastructure and put its weakened economic engine on track.

The above-stated mutual commitment and dedication to friendship have helped both India and Japan to take their relations to a qualita-tively new level at the dawn of the 21st century. Realising the current international situation and simmering tensions in Asia, both the countries have agreed to strengthen their interdependence at the multi-sectoral level both in the regional and global stages. For this purpose, India and Japan in August 2000, during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, agreed to establish a ‘Global Partnership in the 21st Century’ with India in the presence of Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The global partnership between the two countries today is underpinned by a shared global vision of peace, stability and prosperity, based on sustainable development, common democratic values and commitment to human rights, pluralism, open society and the rule of law.

India and Japan standing together reflects a broad convergence of their shared cultural affinity, long-term political, economic and strategic interests, aspirations, objectives and concerns. Hence, keeping the global challenges and Asian responsibilities in view, a strong, prosperous and dynamic Indo-Japanese partnership is in the interests of both the Asian powers. The presence of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations in 2014 underlined the importance New Delhi is giving to Tokyo. And this has been well reciprocated by Japan during the first official bilateral visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Japan by extending a warm and most cordial welcome to Narendra Modi. Such reciprocal reverence from both sides is anticipated to reinforce the strategic alliance and global partnership between India and Japan and take it to a new level.

However, the success story of India-Japan partnership would remain incomplete unless a nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan is inked paving the way for ensuring India’s vital energy security. Modi‘s first full-fledged foreign trip outside the subcontinent for bilateral talks included the expansion of trade and economic ties, foreign direct investment, cooperation in the infrastructure sector; development of rail, road and port facilities as well as civil nuclear cooperation and had in its fold some new agendas like Japanese help in building smart cities in India, technology exchange and setting up of bullet train industries here, Japanese help in availability of sustainable electricity supply without interruption etc. Undoubtedly, Japan’s cooperation with India to improve infra-structure by providing loans and technology, including the metro rail system, has transformed India’s urban landscape. It was hoped that during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, both the countries would be on the same page on several issues, including the nuclear agreement, that will lead to India’s energy security and make new inroads in the strategic ties between the two countries. Authough the nuclear agreement was not concluded at this juncture, it is expected that forging a security cooperation for peace and security of the region would further strengthen the relationship between the two friendly Asian nation-states and help the bilateral friendship scale new heights by providing a security mechanism to deal with conflicts and prevent terrorism in Asia.

The author is a Lecturer in Political Science, PG Department of Social Science, Fakir Mohan University, Balasore (Odisha) and a Ph.D from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.