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#4634, 1 September 2014

East Asia Compass

Modi's Visit to Japan: Gauging Inter-State Relations in Asia
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University

It is remarkable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to visit Japan for his first foreign visit outside the Indian subcontinent. The visit is based on the consistently growing partnership with Japan and as well as the annual summit meet between the top leaders of India and Japan. It must be also remembered that Shinzo Abe shows extra regard for Modi, and both Modi and Abe reportedly follow each other Twitter. 

The visit is an important event in the inter-State relations of Asia. It may be an over-simplification to say that both the democracies are willing to work together against the rise of a China-centric Asia. It would instead be more proper for the Indian PM to keep in mind the complexities of the issues involved.

Shinzo Abe might be happy to receive Modi as a strong and aggressive leader from India and may like to convince the India PM about his future vision for Japan and regional politics. However, it would be pertinent to note that Japan’s assertive behaviour has not gone down well with other regional countries such as South Korea and China. By approaching North Korea to have negotiations on the issue of Japanese abductees, Abe has defied international pressure to isolate North Korea. India must be informed about these complexities before embarking on any common vision for Asia with Japan. Modi has taken a constructive approach towards South Asian politics and is apparently working to set a futuristic agenda for all the neighbouring countries such as in the fight against poverty,on energy, 
infrastructure and other developmental issues. He has probably been trying to minimise the space for disputes in the bilateral relations of these countries, and once a positive vibe and momentum is created, the face of South Asian politics might be very different than what it is today. Unfortunately, Abe has been doing quite the opposite in the East Asia. It must be conveyed by Modi to Japan that India would like to follow its own approach and would be happy if Japan joins India (rather than India following the Japanese approach).

India shares its concerns with Japan regarding the growing assertiveness of China in the region. Modi must reassure Abe about India's commitment to Japan and the bilateral partnership. At the same time, however, the Modi must also inform Japan that to contain or counter China through military power is not appropriate. Through diplomatic and other economic means, Japan and India could create disincentives for China in the context its assertive behaviour. If Modi is able to create this balance during his visit to Japan, other regional countries such as South Korea and China would not be alarmed and it would be easier for India to deal with them in the future. A very strong statement and aggressive intent would not go down well.

The PM must be aware of the need to coordinate India's regional policy rather than having bilateral relations in isolation, which may contradict one another and create structural limitations for India's bilateral gains. While India should be able to take its bilateral relations with Japan to a new level, it must be future peace-oriented and coordinated with India's bilateral relations with other countries in the region and beyond. The growing stature of India in the region and world has made it impossible for India to keep a low profile and work on bilateralism alone. There is keen interest across the world in Modi's visit to Japan as it may become one of the indicators of Asia's inter-State relations in the future, and Modi has to keep in mind these factors.

Modi would like to have defence cooperation with Japan as both countries share some common threats. But again rather than making it country-specific, defence cooperation must be issue-specific, broad-based and open. It would be a positive if Modi is able to get Japanese consent for the civil nuclear deal, and both countries could further diversify and deepen their security ties.

The Indian PM's visit and the extensive talks on economic cooperation would bring a lot of benefit to India. Japan is one of the most important sources of foreign direct investment in India, and Japan has provided remarkable help to India's infrastructural projects. Creating an atmosphere of trust and cooperation must further accelerate the process. Modi in all probability is also going to talk with the Japanese leader about the bullet train project. He has been accompanied by a huge contingent of Indian business leaders, twhich indicates that he would like to place significant emphasis on economic cooperation between the two countries.

Modi has been so far successful in bringing in 'out of the box' thinking in his approach towards foreign policy, especially in South Asia. His approach appears to bring in new positive agendas for mutual cooperation rather than being caught up in old confrontations. A similar approach during his visit to Japan would be a wonderful outcome for India and also for Asian politics.

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