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India And Japan The Strategic Convergence

Updated: January 16, 2010 12:33 pm

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart Yukio Hatoyama launched the other day an action plan to take their security dialogue, including counter-terrorism, to the “next stage” and gave a push to a key economic pact. But a breakthrough in the critical civil nuclear area eluded them, with the visiting Japanese premier expecting India to sign the CTBT and Singh indicating that India’s decision on CTBT would follow its ratification by the United States and China.

In nutshell then, how did the first trip of new Japanese premier to India go? The habitual naysayers will regard the visit as below average, highlighting   Hatoyama’s cool response to India’s hope of securing civil nuclear technology from Japan. But such a view does not stand a close scrutiny. Overall, the trip was a success story.

For a country, which alone has faced nuclear attacks, it is understandable why Japan is so sensitive on matters such as NPT and CTBT. But that does not distract from the fact that over the last few years India and Japan have agreed on more issues, disagreeing only on a few.

In fact, the most important aspect of Hatoyama’s three-day visit (December 27-29) to India was that it took place. Unlike the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled Japan most of the time and which had developed a clear policy of strengthening ties with India in 21st century, Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which stunned the world with its remarkable victory in the country’s parliamentary elections last August, has had focussed too much on China. In its election manifesto, India was not mentioned at all.

The DPJ and its secretary-general Ichiro Ozawa have been extremely sensitive to the Chinese concerns and aspirations in Asia and the rest of the world. The way Ozawa flew 645 people, including 143 DPJ members of parliament, to Beijing in five aeroplanes early this month and the manner he forced the Japanese emperor Akihito to grant an exceptional audience to Xi Jinping, China’s vice president reveal the changed foreign policy priorities of Japan under the new regime.

Indian policy makers were naturally worried whether the Hatoyama regime will share the vision of the LDP, which had strongly advocated for a gretaer role for India in the Asia-Pacific region and the proposed East-Asian Community(EAC) something China has never appreciated. Similarly, it was being watched whether Hatoyama wiould continue the recent parctice of the annual summit meetings between India and Japan. Since Manmohan Singh had gone to Tokyo last year, it was the turn of the Japanese prime minister to be in Delhi before the year ended.

Hearteningly, on both the counts Hatoyama has dispelled the Indian worries. He kept his appointment with India. And his foreign minister Katsuya Okada has envisaged opening EAC membership to Japan, China, South Korea, ASEAN, Australia, New Zealand, and India — the same members as the East Asia Summit that had taken place in 2005.

What all this indicates is that factors promoting India and Japan as global partners are becoming increasingly more relevant with each passing day, thereby ensuring that the momentum is not lost with the change of the regimes, whether in Delhi or Tokyo. Some hard facts will make this point clear.

A recent Japanese survey revealed India as the most favoured destination for long term Japanese investment. India is regarded by 70 percent of Japanese manufacturers as the most attractive country to do business followed by China (67 percent), Russia (37 percent) and Vietnam (28 percent). In 2008 Indo-Japan bilateral trade stood at over US$ 13 billion and was in favour of Japan with US$2.6 billion. This figure is expected to cross $20 billion mark by the end of 2010.

Japan has been India’s largest bilateral donor for more than a decade. For the last 4 fiscal years India has also been the largest recipient of Japanese ODA, overtaking China. Japanese ODA has been and is being utilized mainly for infrastructure projects viz. power plants, transportation, environmental projects and projects related to basic human needs. In fact, the Singh – Hatoyama summit specifically focused on the infrastructural developments, particularly the proposed Dedicated rail Freight Corridor (DFC) between Delhi and Mumbai.

It may be note that in February this year, the Japanese foreign ministry had conducted an opinion survey in India on the image of Japan. The survey results were quite interesting. 76% of respondents perceived the current state of Japan-India relations either as being very friendly or friendly, showing that a positive image of Japan has been established in India. Asked about which countries are important partners for India, 48%, 30%, and 14% of respondents choose the United States, Russia, and Japan, respectively. 92% of survey participants responded positively when asked whether Japan is a reliable friend of India.

Respondents perceived Japan as a technologically advanced, economically powerful and peace-loving country, in descending order

of the number of responses, demonstrating that there are strong public images of Japan as a country with the most advanced science and technology and a peaceful, developed nation. 79% of respondents perceived Japan’s economic assistance to India as beneficial, and 94% of respondents welcomed the presence of Japanese companies in India.

But then economic relations constitute only one component if India and Japan have to remain “global partners”. Along with economic cooperation, the other pillar of future India-Japan relations has to be “strategic convergences”. And here are some compelling facts.

India is the largest democracy in Asia and Japan the most prosperous. Both are functioning and vibrant democracies, with a social matrix which emphasises harmony and consensus, rather than confrontation. Both economies are market oriented and largely complementary. Both share a common desire for peace and stability. Both believe that the United Nations should be strengthened and its decision-making apparatus made more representative. Both support a cooperative and comprehensive approach to combating international terrorism and sea-piracy

Therefore, it was fitness of things that Singh and Hatoyama   signed an ambitious joint declaration entitled ‘New Stage of India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership’, which has an action plan on security cooperation as its centrepiece. .

The action plan to advance security cooperation, based on a declaration signed in October last year, included a newly-established “2-plus-2” dialogue framework at the sub-cabinet/senior official level involving the external affairs and defence ministries.

The all-encompassing action plan includes sustaining various strategic and defence mechanisms, including an annual strategic dialogue at the foreign-minister level, regular consultations between national security advisers, and regular meetings between defence ministers.

All told, India and Japan are natural allies in the Asia-Pacific region, sharing common potential threat perceptions, particularly from China (which, concurrent with her economic advancement, has embarked on a significant upgradation and modernisation of her conventional forces and nuclear arsenals) and its strategic nexus with North Korea (which is problematic for Japan) and Pakistan (problematic for India). By themselves neither North Korea nor Pakistan had the technological capability or financial resources to afford nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. These missiles in the case of North Korea cover the Japanese heartland and Okinawa and in the case of Pakistan cover the Indian heartland.

It is legitimate to question as to why China provided these deadly arsenals to failing states likes North Korea and Pakistan. The answer is obvious. China’s intentions have been to develop strategic pressure points by proxy in South Asia against India and in North East Asia against Japan.

This is all the more reason, therefore, why India and Japan must have strategic congruence.

 By Prakash Nanda

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