Monday, September 1, 2014

Modi's Japan obsession: Impact on Sino-India theatre

In the recent past and not without good reason, Japan has remained only a sub-text in Indian foreign policy paradigm as New Delhi’s policy makers have been overwhelmed by the possible future charm of BRICS where in China is a major player. 

Therefore, the strength or quality of Indo-Japan relationship is more understood from the context of Indo-China relationship. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to Japan thus raised serious curiosity.
But the need to harness an enhanced cooperation with Japan especially in blue water front is only significant in the paradigm of the Indian Ocean factor.

The importance of Indian Ocean remains a dominant factor as it is around 60 per cent of global maritime cargo, including oil supplies from the Middle East passes through Indian Ocean waters.

The significance of Japan in the context of India’s foreign policy framing has again gained currency as the new regime in New Delhi under Prime Minister Modi is understood to be in the process undertaking necessary tweaking vis-à-vis India’s relationship with major global players. 

Having dealt with Japan in his capacity as the chief minister of Gujarat, Prime Minister Modi has a special bond with Japan and especially with the present regime there.

Having said so, let us examine the vertex of Sino-India and Indo-Japan relationship. China is India’s neighbour in dispute on borders, India has unsuccessfully fought 1962 battle against it and China is a key member of BRICS. Japan is neither of these. 

So was the hype about Modi’s Japan sojourn more than justified?
The Modi detractors in India are already celebrating that the Indian Prime Minister could not extract a civil Nuclear deal. Lest we forget, Japanese are very touchy about nuclear issues as victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki holocaust they see the technology as a chief harbinger of destruction and scaled up human tragedies.

Civil nuclear talks were already hit badly by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 but Japan agreed to resume negotiations last year (importantly India under Manmohan Singh regime) as it said it wanted to contribute to “nuclear safety worldwide”.

Although much is being written about Sushma Swaraj missing the Japan trip, it was Modi’s External Affairs Minister Sushma only who had rightly flagged off the nuclear issue with her Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida during their one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of Asean Regional Forum (ARF) meet in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw.

Sushma also had made it clear that New Delhi does not further delay in signing the nuclear agreement deal and made her preference clear that during Prime Minister Modi’s visit there is a progress on that line. 
MEA sources also maintained that as Prime Minister Modi shares a good rapport with Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe; both the leaders would walk the talk – at least give the nuclear talks a direction. 

The big ticket announcement on Nuke-talks was hardly big.

Nevertheless, the trip cannot be dismissed as a set back as "The two prime ministers reaffirmed the importance of defence relations between Japan and India in their strategic partnership and decided to upgrade and strengthen them," the leaders said in their joint statement after their summit-level parleys.
The two prime ministers "recognised the enormous future potential for transfer and collaborative projects in defence equipment and technology between the two countries", the statement further said while Modi also welcomed Japan's “relaxation of restrictions on transfer of defence equipment and technology”.
The two sides also said they would speed up talks on nuclear energy co-operation and claimed "significant progress" although they failed to reach a last-minute agreement on safeguards sought by Japan.
But the optimism on the same is not lost out as both the leaders “directed their officials to further accelerate the negotiations with a view to concluding the Agreement at an early date, and strengthen the two countries' partnership in non-proliferation and nuclear safety".
During Modi’s stay, Japan promised $35 billion in investment and financing for Indian infrastructure for the next five years while Modi promised to introduce a special mechanism like a "Japan Fast Track Channel for Japanese investors in India" to woo investment into the country.
Japan’s FDI into India in the first four months of 2014 was 69 billion rupees ($1.1 billion). It is also worth mentioning that generally to Japanese manufacturers, India figures as the second favourite investment destination after Indonesia. Among big time money spinners from Japan, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, or JBIC, is a major investor in India’s $90-billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Notably substantial portion of that corridor runs through the home state of Narendra Modi.

Perhaps realizing it well before hand that civil nuclear deal would not fructify, Modi displaying real polity instead focused on his new found political constituency in Varanasi and extracted an agreement under which his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi will be developed as a "smart city" in partnership with the Japanese city, Kyoto.
Ahead of the visit, Mr Modi had said he expected the visit "will write a new chapter in the annals of the relations between Asia's two oldest democracies and take our strategic and global partnership to the next higher level".

This visit was aptly described as an attempt to balance ties with key world powers and to strengthen India's position in the international community.
It was also seen as if both nations would hope to “curb China’s rising activity” in the East and South China Seas and the Indian Ocean.
In fact, Modi walked an extra mile when without naming Beijing he made a veiled attack on ‘expansionist” designs of the 18th century. The reference to “encroachment” and “entry into the seas” is being interpreted as a reference to China’s spats with Japan over the Senkaku Islands.
In another please Tokyo agenda, the two Prime Ministers expressed concern over North Korea's continued development of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. They urged North Korea to take concrete actions towards ‘denuclearization’, a long time demand of Japan, and other goals to fully comply with its international obligations.
They welcomed that the next rounds of Foreign Ministers Strategic Dialogue and Defence Ministers dialogue would be held by the year end. They attached importance to the dialogue between their National Security Advisors, launched earlier this year soon after the creation of the National Security Secretariat in Japan and also underlined the importance of the 2 plus 2 dialogue, involving foreign and defence secretaries, for their growing strategic partnership, and decided to seek ways to intensify this dialogue.
The communists bogey in China is already alarmed at Abe-Modi greater synchronization.
A communist party-run newspaper in China has already said that strategies and the development of China-India strategic relations will inevitably exert far-reaching influence upon Japan's strategic resources, channels and markets. 
Consequently, dividing China and India has become a key issue for Abe, it further said. Tokyo and New Delhi must consider the coexistence of China, Japan and the US in the region when promoting their security cooperation. As two Asian powers, how the growing intimacy between Japan and India coordinates with US "rebalancing to Asia" strategy and cooperates with BRICS member states” span out remains to be seen. One cannot agree more. 
True, this hyped visit of Narendra Modi therefore solicits plenty of attention.

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