New Dehli – Given the mutual love and respect between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe, the upswing in Indo-Japanese relations over the last 15 years has gathered greater momentum. Japan was the first major country that Modi visited after becoming Prime Minister in May 2014. And last week (December 11-13), Modi hosted Abe in New Delhi. During Abe’s visit as many seven high-profile pacts in key areas — economic, nuclear and defence cooperation – were signed. Now India can get nuclear technology from third countries like the United states whose nuclear companies have partial or full Japanese ownership; earlier it was not possible as Japan’s nonproliferation laws debarred any atomic business with countries not signing the NPT. The visit also facilitated interactions in the field of defence, including joint designing and development of the weapon systems.
However, the most talked about agreement during Abe’s visit was the $12 billion Japanese loan at 0.1 per cent interest, to be repaid over 50 years, towards building India’s first bullet train network of 500 km, linking Mumbai, the country’s financial capital and Ahmedabad, Modi’s home town. The significant aspect of this deal was Japan outwitting China, which was also a serious contender for developing this high speed railway system. It was all the more sweetening to Abe, given the fact only three months back Japan had lost to China in securing a similar bid to build high speed train network in Indonesia.
Whether it was only the commercial merits that weighed in favour of Japan bagging the railway deal in India or there were geopolitical imperatives is a question that will not find an easy answer. Because, of late, any talk on India-Japan relations is incomplete without mentioning the China-factor. A dominant school thought on geopolitics is of the view that in the Asia-Pacific(Indo-Pacific) region, which is going to determine the contour of the global politics in 21st century, four countries have to play vital roles – the United States, China, Japan and India. Of these, the United States is a “declining hegemon”; Japan is a “declining ally” (in the midst of an economic downturn); China is the ascendant power as “challenger”; and India is a somewhat “swing state” that can be propped up as an effective balancer against what many perceive to be the “menacing” rise of China.
China is viewed with suspicion, so the argument runs, because of its recent activities. It is not only building up a formidable military power but also aggressively pursuing its territorial claims all over, particularly in South China and East China Seas, creating thus tensions with Japan, Southeast Asian countries and the United States (the latter over the freedom of navigation in South China Sea). India too is disturbed because of China’s vigorous courting of Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. In this sense, Japan and India joining hands to contain China becomes logical.
All told, India and Japan are natural allies in the Asia-Pacific region, sharing common democratic values, complementary economic interests and possibilities of cooperation in the so-called non-traditional areas of security, including science and technology. India is the largest democracy in Asia and Japan the most prosperous. Both are functioning and vibrant democracies, with a social matrix which emphasizes harmony and consensus, rather than confrontation. Both economies are market- oriented and largely complementary. They share a common desire for peace and stability and believe that the UN should be strengthened and its decision-making apparatus made more representative – both are aspirants for “permanent seats” in the UN Security Council and working in tandem( along with Germany, Brazil and South Africa) towards that goal. Both support a cooperative and comprehensive approach to combating international terrorism and sea-piracy.
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