Japan: India’s National Interests

22 Nov, 2013    ·   4188

Angana Guha Roy comments on the bilateral relationship in light of Abe’s impending visit to India

India is planning to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as its guest of honour on Republic Day (26 January 2014). The gesture to invite heads of government for the Republic Day parade in India is known to be reserved for those leaders or countries with which India wants to develop closer ties. Shinzo Abe is the first leader to be invited from a country of Northeast Asia. This projects how seriously India is considering Japan while pursuing its Look East Policy. India's ties with Japan have evolved during the past decade across both economic and strategic spheres. They share a vision of stability, peace and shared prosperity based on sustainable development, and view each other as partners who are capable of responding to global and regional challenges. A strong, prosperous and dynamic India is therefore in the interest of Japan and vice versa. Besides Russia, Japan is the only other country with which India holds annual summits. The year 2012 marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between them.

The question that arise here are: how would Shinzo Abe’s visit benefit India and help take the relationship forward? What are the major national interests India should take up in relation to Japan?

Promoting Economic Interests
Although India and Japan have a Common Economic Partnership Agreement in place,there isroom for better economic ties. Despite being friendly towards each other, Japan is far behind China in terms of economic diplomacy with India as Japanese investors still find India a difficult place to do business. They seek more hospitable conditions in India to boost investment.Time and again, Japanese economists and officials have expressed concern about non-transparent taxation and legal procedures, poor infrastructure, and the complications of living in and dealing with India.

Japanese business groups are therefore trying to help India overcome infrastructural bottlenecks to build a stronger business network. It has proposed to assist India in a number of projects, starting withthe Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), the Chennai Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC) and the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor. As the largest source of India’s official development assistance and foreign direct investment, Japancan certainly become a potent partner for economic diplomacy. Abecan play a major role in this regard.

Strengthening the Strategic Partnership
Since August 2000, strategic cooperation between the two countries has been on the fast track. In the military sphere, both are striving to increase exchanges between the naval forcesso that they “would be combined into a single harmonious system,” as stated by Abe. A very important step in strengthening strategic cooperation was the introduction of the 2+2 mechanism (involving defence foreign affairs ministers). Their shared interests in protecting sea-lanes in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean from non-raditional threats like piracy and drug trafficking make room for cooperation.

Another major issue in the sphere of their strategic relationship is the India Japan civil nuclear cooperation deal that has not seen much progress. India is interestedin Japanese civil nuclear technology and wants Japanese companies to assist inbuilding the 18 nuclear power plantsit has planned by 2020. Although India-Japan civil nuclear energy cooperation has been finding positiveexpression in all official joint statements issued in recent years, the negotiating pace has been extremely disappointing. The recent joint statement issued early this year recorded: “The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed the importance of civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries, while recognising that nuclear safety is a priority for both Governments. In this context, they directed their officials to accelerate the negotiations of an Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy towards an early conclusion.”But several ‘outstanding issues’, as said by Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi, need to be addressed before they can finalise the deal.

Energy, a major concern for India, could be another sphere to cooperate with Japan in, given that Japan is the third largest importer of energy.  Although not much progress has taken place in this regard, both countries have acknowledged the importance of strengthening energy cooperation. In the last India-Japan Energy Dialogue, Prime Minister Singh expressed his interest in cooperating with Japan in the extraction of natural gas from methane hydrate deposits under the sea.

Strengthening Cultural Ties
In terms of soft power, Japan and India have bonded culturally many times. 2007 was announced as the 50th anniversary year of the Indo-Japan Cultural Agreement.Japan is a major partner in India’s ‘Nalanda diplomacy’ which supporting the reconstruction of Nalanda University. Apart from this, it has also offered development aid of approximately USD 18 million to India for developing the campus of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Hyderabad.

Therefore, in the context of the vast interests India has in taking forward its relationship with Japan, Abe’s visit would be very helpful. A robust India-Japan relationship can ensure a win-win payoff for both sides.