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Why is this relationship so special?

By Swaran Singh  |   Published: 13th September 2017 04:00 AM  |  

Last Updated: 13th September 2017 03:43 A

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe arrives in Ahmedabad today for the 12th India-Japan annual summit. The most important issue on his mind will be North Korea’s incessant missile tests and its hydrogen bomb test earlier this month. This has to be read in the backdrop of Pyongyang’s closest ally Beijing’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea. China has not only been building artificial islands in the sea but also deployed forces. It has defied all laws and norms including the Hague court of arbitration’s ruling that had last year adjudged China’s claims to be invalid.

With regard to India, this will be Modi’s fourth summit with Abe. But it is the first time a Japanese leader who is visiting India will not be travelling to New Delhi. Also, unlike Chinese president Xi Jinping, the only other leader hosted in Gujarat before coming to New Delhi, Abe will spend all three days there—a state which has received over $1 billion of Japanese investments which are expected to rise up to $3 billion in next three years. The Modi-Abe duo will be meeting for the tenth time and they display warm chemistry which would trigger speculations in media commentaries.

Not to ignore the perennial presence of the big dragon in their colloquy, the two will announce $40 billion to take forward their Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). The AAGC is seen as their counter to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or Maritime Silk Road which has witnessed China’s increasing naval presence in the Indian Ocean rim.

The idea of AAGC was sealed during their 11th summit in Tokyo last November and its joint vision document was released at the annual general meeting of the African Development Bank in May at Gandhinagar. India remains keen on working with Japan in promoting connectivity, infrastructure, capacity-building across the ‘Indo-Pacific community’ which has been a pet project of Abe.

More recently, owing to China’s expanding maritime presence from the Sea of Japan to the Indian Ocean rim, Japan has become equally keen in building a maritime partnership with New Delhi. Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces have operated from Djibouti since 2009 and even built a permanent base in 2011. But in 2015, China also signed up for a similar base with Djibouti for availing logistics support for its anti-piracy operations off the Somalian coast. And last year, China also built a permanent naval base there. It became operational last month.

All these have brought Japan closer to India. The annual Japan-India joint military exercises have taken place since 2012, and in the India-Japan-US Malabar naval exercises, the nations brought their largest naval ships together leading to harsh reactions from Beijing. Even in the latest Doklam standoff Japan not just supported India but also criticised China for its expansionist policies.

As regards their bilateral initiatives, Indian diplomacy has made major strides in building a closer cooperation in civil nuclear energy and defence. Japan has become increasingly receptive in this regard especially since the two finally signed their long-pending Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy last December. This was agreed upon when Modi visited Japan last November and has come into force in July. Negotiating this was especially difficult given Japan’s historic experience of being the only victim of nuclear attack and all efforts had come to  naught following the nuclear accident at Fukushima in 2011.

Their mutual synergy was surely energised by Modi’s hyperactive foreign policy since 2014. An MoU was signed during Abe’s 2015 India visit and it  proved to be a turning point in their Special Strategic and Global Partnership.

This has also facilitated Indo-US nuclear cooperation. Westinghouse, a US-based company which manufactures nuclear reactors, was supposed to set up six nuclear reactors in Andhra Pradesh. The company is now owned by Toshiba. Japan’s reluctance had caused hurdles in US deliveries. Now, as agreed during Modi’s visit this June, Westinghouse, in spite of its bankruptcy problems, agreed to supply technologies to Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) which will be building these six nuclear reactors.

The two have also taken defence cooperation forward. The Indian Navy has finally bought 12 Japanese ShinMaywa US-2i amphibious aircraft in a $1.3 billion deal. After gruelling negotiations for these expensive planes since 2010, the deal for these search-and-rescue maritime surveillance planes was facilitated first by Japan in 2014 lifting its 47-year ban on weapons exports. The deal was finalised last week by some final discounts agreed upon when  Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera visited India. India will be building 18 more of these as part of the ‘Make in India’ programme which would also entail some amount of technology-transfer exercise.

As regards their cooperation in infrastructure building, the two prime ministers will witness the signing of some 10 MoUs and launch a couple of projects. This includes laying the foundation stone for the Rs 1.1 lakh-crore 500-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, expected to be completed by 2022, and the Rs 3000-crore Suzuki car manufacturing plant at Hansalpur, about 70 km from Ahmedabad. Japan has not only offered a $12 billion soft loan for building their first bullet train and another $12 billion incentive package for Japanese companies working on this project, it also wants to build many more bullet trains in India and the two are already negotiating another project between Varanasi and New Delhi. At this speed, the India-Japan relationship can surely become the defining partnership of the 21st century.

Swaran Singh
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi


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