Modi-Abe Bonhomie

‘Japindia’ vs ‘Chindia’

By Dr D. K. Giri
(Prof, International Politics, JMI)

The India-Japan bilateral summit between Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe was viewed in the media as an occasion for introduction of the Bullet train in India. Well, that is really a simplistic understanding of the evolving strategic partnership between the two countries. Let us recall that a decade ago, the western countries including those of EU, and the US were talking of “Chindia’s” competitive threat to their economies, as the economies of China and India were growing fast. Similar acronyms are evolving here in Asia, with the Japindia (Japan plus India) emerging rapidly in response to Chinpak (China + Pakistan) on the economic corridor, and OBOR, one belt and one road, etc.
The significance of the relationship sprinting into a ‘special, strategic and global’ partnership between New Delhi and Tokyo should not be lost on observers and experts of India’s foreign policy as well as international politics. In fact, the 12th annual summit, the 4th between Modi and Abe was on this very theme of ‘global and strategic’ partnership.
What were the highlights and the outcomes of the Summit? What is well known is the project on high-speed (bullet) train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. Undoubtedly, this will lead to a quantum jump for India in skills and indigenous capacities at the highest level of manufacturing in engineering and locomotives. There are catty criticisms of the project which allude to the poor conditions of existing railway network compared to the high-tech quality bullet trains. Such voices are heard whenever a new technology is initiated or quality brought into the system. Quality in one area will inspire and engender quality upgradation everywhere else.
However, on the partnership, in addition to the bullet train, the summit reiterated the resolve of New Delhi and Tokyo in working on the multi-polarity and stable balances in the Asian region. It is no secret that the US under Trump is embarking on isolationism, looking inward, thereby vacating the space in Asia and elsewhere vis-à-vis security. American policies imply that other countries should contribute to the world security or defend their own. This shift in US foreign policy has prompted China to feed its territorial appetite and fuel its expansionist tendencies.
It has found an obliging partner in Pakistan. China is wary of India’s rise as a rival power centre in Asia, and Pakistan has its unsatiated anti-India stance, mainly over Kashmir. Japan’s concern over China and India’s with Pakistan bring New Delhi and Tokyo together as they realise their combined strategic weight, economic might and military power can contain China.
The joint statement issued after the Summit stated, “the two leaders affirmed their commitment to their value-based partnership in achieving a free, open and prosperous Asia-Pacific region where sovereignty and international laws are respected and differences are resolved through dialogue and where all countries, large and small, enjoy freedoms of the global commons, development and trade.” This may sound as usual diplomatic statement, but reading between the lines, it becomes obvious that “peaceful dialogue” is a counter to China’s belligerent and bullish approach to border issues, and Pakistan’s unmaintainable claim on Kashmir by using cross-border terrorism.
There were also serious exchange and uniformity of views on North-Korea’s nuclearisation which is a major worry for Japan; cross border terrorism, a continuing concern for India, ASEAN’s centrality to the region, where both India and Japan have a stake vis-à-vis China, North China Sea where China is making unlawful territorial claims while surreptitiously usurping under water space.
Both leaders resolved to align India’s Act East policy and Japan’s Indo-Pacific engagement. There was an outline drawn for building an Asia-Africa growth corridor, which again will counter China’s ambitious OBOR project. Japan pledged to support India’s national development programmes. Japan, unquestionably, is the pre-eminent economic partner of India.
In the Summit, the atmosphere was friendly and highly congenial. The warmth of interaction, mutual trust and confidence observed around Abe’s visit were remarkable. The intimacy between the two countries has been evolving since a decade, dating back to the 2007 address of Prime Minister Abe to the Indian Parliament titled “Confluence of Two States”.
Aligning their Asia strategies is leading to a close alliance between the two nations. In the UN General Assembly taking place this week, India, Japan and the US are likely to take a common position on North Korea. In fact, there was a trilateral meeting between the Foreign Ministers of the three countries on the fringe of UNGA. Both Washington and Tokyo are seeking help from India in making UN sanctions against North Korea effective. New Delhi has promised to explore the proliferation linkages in building up North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme. The hand of suspicion points to China and Pakistan.
Both the US and Japan are extremely wary of the tinpot of North Korea which is bent upon testing nuclear bombs and hurling them across Japan. The situation is dangerously critical as Donald Trump has threatened to wipe out North Korea unless the latter restrained from throwing bombs at Japan and threatening the US with its bombs. India is expected to give them a hand in averting this impending catastrophe.
By most calculations the strategic partnership between India and Japan will grow deeper irrespective of the nature of leadership in either country. Undeniably, the political leadership is an important variable in bilateral relations. New Delhi and Tokyo would try to consolidate the partnership in mutual interest as well as their respective national interests. India will like to cultivate Japan for investment in sustainable infrastructure. Second, New Delhi will pursue Tokyo to access civil nuclear technology from it to meet the energy appetite for India’s growing economy. Third, India would like to secure high-end defense technology from Japan. Fourth, Japan is the most formidable ally in containing China. Fifth, India needs Japan, like it needs Israel to get the US on its side.
On the part of Japan, India is the important partner for variety of reasons. One, China, Japan’s archrival is a major actor in international politics. Tokyo will need New Delhi’s support to contain China. Second, Japan needs to step in and defend its interest in the region in view of the decreasing engagement of US in the region. Third, Japan would engage in India following the growing US interest in India. Fourth, Japan needs India’s help in securing trade and energy networks in critical maritime space. Fifth and the obvious, Japan would like to tap India’s market potential.
The only hurdle that can hamper the growth of partnership is the “famed” Indian bureaucracy. India’s defence officialdom is cumbersome. It fails to prioritise strategic decision making over processes and procedures. A prize deal on defence equipments namely the US-2 amphibian aircraft from Japan is still under negotiation. Now, we have a new Defence Minister, a political green horn but seen to be administratively competent. It will be interesting to watch Japindia evolve into a solid axis in Asian politics, and bilaterally in trade, economy and defence. The onus is more on New Delhi in view of its complacent and less flexible foreign policy bureaucracy. —INFA