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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 37, September 4, 2010

Crossing the Rubicon: Indo-Japan Nuclear Cooperation

Wednesday 8 September 2010, by Prakash Pillai


The Indo-Japan relationship scaled a new height after Japan successfully opted to negotiate with India regarding civil nuclear cooperation between the two states. The ice-breaking decision was taken on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Toronto, where for the first time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his new Japanese counter-part, Naoto Kan, discussed the global security situation, including the civil nuclear cooperation. On the following day (June 28, 2010) India and Japan commenced the first round of negotiations discussing the core issues between India and Japan in Tokyo where the Indian side was represented by Joint Secretary Gautam Bambawale from the Ministry of External Affairs, while Deputy-Director General of Foreign Affairs Mitsuru Kitano led the Japanese side. Thus formally commenced negotiations between India and Japan to help secure a nuclear deal. Three fruitful sets of discussions on the strategic issue entered the crucial fourth round recently on August 21, 2010 in New Delhi where Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and discussed a whole gamut of issues, including the nuclear deal. Besides, the Okada-led team met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regarding the ongoing nuclear talks; thereafter the team met Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh before returning to Tokyo.

The visit of Okada, prior to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo on October to finalise the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), exemplifies the Japanese commitment towards India in strengthening the bilateral relationship. It is expected that the partnership will increase India-Japan commerce tenfold. Meanwhile, the 2+2 dialogue, established between India and Japan, helps both the countries to cooperate in the field of maritime security and counter- terrorism. Both in the economic and political realms, India-Japan relations are materialising fast. However, the question remains: will Japan cross the nuclear Rubicon by signing the nuclear deal with the non-NPT member, nuclear India? The question is important because Japan, as a victim of the use of nuclear weapons, unilaterally renounced nuclear war and signed the NPT in 1970 which was ratified by the Diet in 1976.

Since the end of World War II Japanese are sensitive towards nuclear related issues. The three non-nuclear principle (Hikaku San Gensoku) strongly advocate Japan "not to possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons, nor to permit their introduction into Japanese territory". When India conducted its 1974 and 1998 nuclear tests, Japan imposed economic sanctions and criticised India’s nuclear policy in various disarmament fora. In a recent development the anti-nuclear lobby/group along with the frontline Japanese media launched an anti-nuclear campaign against the ongoing nuclear talks between India and Japan. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Mayors protested publicly and called upon the Japanese Government to terminate the discussions on the nuclear deal with the non-NPT member, nuclear India. Further, the duo met Japanese Premier Naoto Kan in his office to persuade him not to encourage non-NPT members like India for civil nuclear cooperation. The Premier also showed concern over the issue and assured that he would pursue "nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and step up our effort to get India to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty".


THE major challenges to the nuclear deal emerge from two quarters-first, the anti-nuclear lobby backed by prominent members like Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue. Secondly, from the fragile political leadership; former Prime Minster Hatoyama Yukio’s inability to handle the issue over the Futenma air base in Okinawa led him to resign from office. Thus Kan is constantly counselled to exercise caution in formulating the nuclear deal with India. Unlike the Indo-US nuclear deal, India and Japan fixed no time limit in formulating the deal; therefore Premier Kan has the option to postpone the deal indefinitely in order to pacify rousing Japanese sentiments over the issue.

Nevertheless, the nuclear deal remains priority number one in Indo-Japan relations. India is a growing double-digit economy, and has the potential to impart a geo-political impetus. This is a major factor that compelled Japan to embark on negotiations for the civil nuclear deal. Meanwhile, leading Japanese companies Toshiba, Mitsubishi and Hitachi constitute the core lobbying group encouraging the Japanese Government to work out a possible nuclear deal with India. The chairman of the core lobbying group accompanied Masayuki Naoshima, the Minister of Trade and Industry, in his visit to India to participate in the fourth ministerial-level India-Japan energy dialogue. Moreover, Japanese companies are major shareholders in General Electric (GE) and Westinghouse, besides both GE and the French company Avera use reactor vessels manufactured by the Japan Steel Work Ltd. Japanese technology is primary for the US and French firms to start the construction of the nuclear reactors for India. Therefore, it becomes difficult for India to implement nuclear deals with the US and France without reaching a consensus with Japan.

India maintains a good track record on non-proliferation. This will positively help it to reach an agreement with Japan on the nuclear deal similar to that of 123 agreements between India and America. The nuclear deal has entered a crucial phase in Indo-Japan relations. The sixty-year Indo-Japan diplomatic relationship demands a major diplomatic initiative in solving the nuclear tangle. The US and France will certainly mount pressure on Japan to conclude the deal as early as possible. However, crossing the nuclear Rubicon is not an easy task for the Japanese politicians. In the process both the credibility of the Indians’ commitment towards nuclear disarmament and the political synergy of Japan are likely to be subjected to severe test.

The author is a Research Scholar, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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