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Indo-Japan ties: Warming for a partnership

India has hosted Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the guest of honor at its prestigious Republic Day Parade, an honor bestowed on the leaders of those countries with which India attaches special importance. As the leaders of the two countries enhanced cooperation in strategic and economic spheres of bilateral relations, the idea became indispensable that an Indo-Japan partnership has the potentiality to radically alter the imbalance of power in the Asia-Pacific region. While it is a win-win situation for both India and Japan, it sends a clear signal to China that such a partnership can strategically limit China’s capabilities in the region.


India and Japan are fast becoming close friends and speeding towards a strategic partnership which may not have been seen in recent times.

In the past two months alone, India has received the top leaders of Japan. In December last year, the emperor and empress of Japan visited India on a six day visit following which, the Defence Minister of Japan, Itsunori Onodera, also visited India.

While India is a civilizational power having strong culture and growth potentiality, Japan is a former imperial power with robust industrial and economic base. The recent visit of Abe who was being accompanied with the head of Japan’s newly setup National Security Council catapulted the message that India and Japan are going the extra mile to deepen their ties in the face of growing geopolitical uncertainties in the region.

The two countries are cooperating in the fields of energy, infrastructure development, and economic development and most importantly, maritime security, being well aware that stronger ties will act as a balancing factor for their security agendas in the region amidst growing aggression by China’s stupendous territorial claims in the region.

China is locked in territorial disputes with both Japan and India, among other countries. While in the East China Sea, Japan and China are locked in a territorial dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands which are potentially rich in oil and natural gases, India’s interests in the independence of the Sea Lanes of Communications remain threatened by China’s growing assertion in the South China Sea that is an important route for India’s energy supply.

China also disputes India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh with frequent violations of the Line of Actual Control.

Thus, Japan and India, the second and third largest economies of Asia respectively, have acknowledged with their recent overtures towards each other.

Now, they can send a strategic message to China, the regions largest economy that their partnership is potentially against China’s interests. They have consolidated their mutual quest to counter the economic and strategic might of China.

At a bilateral level too, their relations are much rewarding to both sides. Japan and India signed deals on cooperation in the fields of energy and telecom while PM Abe announced a loan of US$2 billion for infrastructure projects in India, including the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, Chennai-Bangalore industrial corridor and Delhi Metro expansion project. Japan also offered eased visa rules for Indians to escalate people-to-people contact.

Japan is now India’s fourth largest foreign investor, with an accumulated FDI of US $ 14.5 billion as of March 2013.

The value of their trade has also tripled, which stood at US $ 18.5 billion in 2012, the year when both countries elevated their ties to a ‘strategic and global partnership’. The driving force of their economic relationship comes from the fact that almost 1,000 Japanese companies have presence in India.

However, even though Japan and India fell short of concluding a deal on nuclear energy which India eagerly wishes to sign, there were two important negotiations which are significant.

First, on the defence side, the two countries decided to make joint naval exercises a permanent feature. India also invited Japan to join the Indo-US Malabar series, which is a clear message to China’s growing territorial expansion.

Seven years ago, the presence of Japan and Australia in the Malabar series fuelled protests from China leading to the dropping of the duo from subsequent exercises.

The Prime Ministers also reviewed the progress made in selling hi-tech US-2 amphibious aircraft to India. This is the first time Japan is offering to sell a plane which has military uses as well.

The two sides also decided to hold politico-security consultations on a regular basis between the National Security Advisor’s and defence ministers of both countries. Secondly, India has invited Japan to invest in and build overland infrastructure like roads, agriculture, forestry and water supply in areas which are generally out of bounds for Chinese investments -the politically sensitive Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as part of its territory.

These two developments would naturally ire Beijing. Although the state run media in China has refrained from reacting much against this, it is no secret that the strategic circles in Beijing will view this with acute anxiety.

Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh has stated that ties with Japan are transformational and an essential part of India’s Look east Policy.

Indeed, as India is actively engaging with its East-Asian neighbors, it is developing a concrete strategic base in the region.

Last week, India also welcomed South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye in a move to strengthen bilateral economic relations and consolidate its Look East Policy.

India is in a win-win situation with enhanced relations with its East-Asian neighbors. India should adopt a strong policy of economic engagement with these countries so as to be taken as a serious player in the region, willing to adopt a muscular approach to achieve its national interests.

An Indo-Japan partnership also works in favor of US’ ‘pivot to Asia’ policy as the trio could become a considerable force against China’s aggressive expansion and charm offensive in the region.