A New Era of Special Global and Strategic Partnership


The recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan symbolises both continuity and a new dynamism in Indo-Japanese relations as it builds on the January visit of Premier Shinzo Abe as India’s chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, and the unique December 2013 visit of the Japanese Emperor and Empress, write Skand Ranjan Tayal and Shaheli Das

The choice of Japan as Modi’s first destination for a bilateral visit outside the Indian neighbourhood signifies Japan’s importance in India’s foreign policy, and her central place in India’s Look East Policy. In 2007 and 2012, as the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi visited Japan and met Premier Abe. Their relations are suffused with mutual admiration and they follow each other on Twitter. Special gestures by Premier Abe like hosting a tea party, known as ‘Chanoyu’- a tradition prevalent since the 16th century - and his journey to Kyoto to be with PM Modi are notable.

There are some common factors that bind the two leaders. Both are right wing nationalists elected on the pledge to revive their countries’ sagging economies, and both countries are embroiled in territorial disputes with China. An outcome of the discussions was a proposal to raise the Joint Secretary level Trilateral Dialogue between India, US and Japan to a Foreign Minister level.

The Kyoto-Varanasi agreement initiates cooperation in the field of city modernisation and heritage conservation. Kyoto has effectively balanced heritage with technology and Modi wants to replicate this model in his parliamentary constituency Varanasi.

Modi made a strong pitch to woo Japanese investment. He offered assurances of single window clearances and speedy decision making from a cell in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in South Block. Modi also met Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka to learn about the advances in stem cell research. Displaying attention to detail, he inquired about the possibility for treating large sections of the Indian tribal population afflicted by sickle cell anaemia.

Tokyo Declaration

In the Tokyo Declaration, both prime ministers decided to invigorate multi-sectoral ministerial dialogues including the next round of Foreign Ministers Strategic Dialogue and Defence Ministers dialogue. Considerable importance was attributed to Japan’s participation in the India-US Malabar series of exercises and the regularisation of bilateral maritime exercises.

Both countries are keen to deepen defence relations. The two sides need to accelerate the procurement of the US-2 amphibian aircraft by India and the production of mixed rare earth minerals, key elements in the Japanese industry.

There was also confirmation of the commitment to freedom of navigation, maritime security, peaceful settlement of disputes and civil aviation in accordance with international law.

Japan has agreed to provide technical and financial support to India’s bullet train project. Japan would also endeavour to make an investment of $33 billion in the next five years – a sizeable amount of which would go into projects of cleaning the Ganga River and the development of smart cities. Some other points of cooperation include public-private initiatives to set up Electronics Industrial Parks in India, encourage participation in student exchange programmes and the promotion of Japanese language education in India. India must accelerate implementation of the on-going flagship Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project to maintain its credibility as a reliable partner.

Japan decided to remove six of India’s defence and space related entities from Japan’s Foreign End User List. Both leaders welcomed the progress in the negotiations on Agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. However, it would be difficult for India to give additional guarantees on any possible future nuclear test.

Geo-strategic Dimension

This visit has visibly boosted strategic relations between the two countries. A strong India and a strong Japan are not only mutually beneficial, but also strengthen stability in Asia and the world. Modi’s visit is of immense importance from the geo-strategic dimension. He observed that Japan and India need to uphold the concept of global development (vikasvaad) instead of expansionism (vistarvaad). Although Modi did not name China explicitly, his reference to ‘encroachment’ and ‘entry into seas’ are being widely interpreted as allusion to China’s incursions in Ladakh and the dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Island.

Clearly, the elevation of the Strategic and Global Partnership with Japan to a Special Strategic and Global Partnership signifies the increasing warmth in relations between the two Asian giants. Modi has certainly charmed the Japanese, but his challenge would be to overcome the obstacles of the Indian system that are not designed for quick and decisive action. Modi’s election mantras have been ‘Growth and Good Governance’. To meet the assurances given to the Japanese, the Modi government will need to deliver expeditiously on both.

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