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Japan joins India in a new Indo-Pacific partnership
Updated:Sep 27, 2017
 
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By Savitri Viswanathan
 
The two day visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Ahmedabad on September 13 and 14, 2017 attracted attention primarily for the inauguration of the MHSAR (Mumbai Ahmedabad High Speed Rail) Project, which would enable transfer of high level technology to India, encourage "Make in India" ventures, and promote skill levels of Indian technicians. Although the very low rate of interest of 0.1% and the 50 year period for return of the loan was highlighted, little attention was paid in India to the provision that it was "tied aid," since most of the equipment and rolling stock would be imported only from Japan. This would give Japanese industry a big boost and help develop the Japanese economy as well. Japan also had the satisfaction of seeing that what it lost to China in Indonesia (the high speed rail), it won in India.
 
The emphasis in Japan-India relations has continued to be in the economic sphere since the end of the Second World War. This is in accord with Japan’s policy of seikei bunri (separation of politics and economics) after the humiliating defeat in1945.
 
In the pre-war era, Japan’s policy of following hado (the path of hegemony) rather than oodo (righteous path) and the goal of being Ajiya no meishu (leader of Asia) led to disastrous results. Japan’s postwar path has been to wipe out the humiliation of defeat through zreconstruction and emergence as an economic superpower. Tokyo has also sought to remove the stigma of being an “aggressor” through Article 9 of the Constitution which proclaims Japan’s intention of never resorting to war. 
 
The Security Treaty with the USA and the US nuclear umbrella ensured Japan’s national security. The Korean War and the Vietnam War, waged by the USA without Japanese involvement, enabled the country’s swift economic growth, even while making the country a haven of peace.India, despite slow economic development, problems with Pakistan, border disputes with China and so on was attractive both as a destination for investments and as a market. India showed plenty of goodwill towards Japan during its early, difficult post-war years. India could be the one country in Asia which would help in removing the lingering misgivings in Southeast Asia about the recurrence of Japan’s ambition to exploit them for its own ends.
 
Later, Japan’s apprehension that China would isolate and marginalize it in the region, made Tokyo lobby hard for India’s inclusion in the councils of Southeast Asia. In 1991, when Japan came forward to help ease India out of the economic crisis, India’s policy changed to “Look East” and New Delhi moved closer to Tokyo. The nuclear tests conducted by India in 1998 led Japan-India ties to cool and Tokyo joined the USA in imposing economic sanctions on India.
 
The thaw only started with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s visit to India in 2000 and his declaration of the Japan-India Global Partnership.
 
In strategic terms, the beginning was made with annual joint exercises between the coastguards and military leadership exchanges. The first bilateral defence cooperation agreement was signed in 2006.
 
In 2007, Prime Minister Abe talked about the “Confluence of the two seas,” linking the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean in his speech in the Indian Parliament. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh started using the term Indo-Pacific as a way of defining India’s relations with Japan and the ASEAN. The rise of China as a military power and a naval power as well as India’s convergence with the USA has brought Japan and India closer in a strategic partnership.
 
China’s recent unilateral claim of sovereignty over the East China Sea and the South China Sea and Beijing’s vigorous push for a maritime silk road in its ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative to increase connectivity poses a threat to a “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy”.
 
The recent nuclear and long range missiles tests by North Korea have further rattled Japan. India’s recent condemnation of North Korea will provide Japan some solace.
 
A major initiative taken by India and Japan to counter China is the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), to build connectivity between the continents. India has committed USD10 billion and Japan USD 30 billion for the AAGC project.
 
The commitment made by Japan to improve infrastructure in the northeastern region of India by building roads and bridges not only to improve internal connectivity but also build a gateway between India and Southeast Asia could also be considered a counter to China’s OBOR initiative.
 
Faster and more efficient India-Japan cooperation would be possible if continuous and serious efforts are taken to remove language constraints, emulate Japan’s zero-defect concept and spread awareness about India in Japan. India’s Commerce Ministry, in its Foreign Trade Policy, has accepted this while analysing reasons for the trade deficit with Japan.
 
(The author is a former Professor of Japanese Studies, Delhi University, She can be contacted at sama1934@gmail.com)
 
 
 
 
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