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Abe-Modi Summit: India, Japan Cross the Nuclear Rubicon

Published: 13th December 2015 12:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th December 2015 12:22 AM   |  A+A-

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe exchange documents after signing an agreement at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. |PTI

NEW DELHI: After five years, India and Japan have concluded negotiations on a civil nuclear agreement, overcoming Tokyo’s concern over Indian non-adherence to international non-proliferation treaties.

As per a senior Japanese official, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe complimented Prime Minister Narendra Modi on accomplishing the completion of deal during their discussions – “no other leader could have done this”.

The civil nuclear deal is part of bouquet of 16 agreements, which include India’s first bullet train with a package of $12 billion, and two defence deals on transfer of technology and protection of classified information. They were unveiled in New Delhi after summit-level talks between Modi and his “personal friend”, Abe on Saturday afternoon.

For India and Japan, a psychological Rubicon has been crossed with the finalization of the “substantive” portion of the civil nuclear agreement, which will now allow third country firms with Japanese partnership to enter Indian nuclear market.

“The Memorandum we signed on civil nuclear energy cooperation is more than just an agreement for commerce and clean energy.  It is shining symbol of a new level of mutual confidence and strategic partnership in the cause of a peaceful and secure world,” said Modi in his press statement after the talks in Hyderabad House.

In fact, PM Modi’s characterization of the civil nuclear deal as having a larger strategic import gave a not-so-subtle hint about why Tokyo overcame its historical sensitivity over issues of nuclear proliferation.

With China breathing down the neck and trying to change the balance in Asia, empowering India with a nuclear deal, means that not only will it create space for Japanese firms and give fillip to western nuclear companies waiting in the wings – all of which will provide a leg-up to New Delhi, economically and strategically.

“I know the significance of this decision for Japan. And, I assure you that India deeply respects that decision and will honour our shared commitments,” said Modi.

It was a recognition that Japan, as the only country to be victims of nuclear bombs, had a much-more difficult road to cross in inking a nuclear deal with a country, which has not signed NPT and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

There is, however, some more distance to travel after the inking of the MoU basically marked the “concluding of the negotiations”. The joint statement released by both sides that the “Agreement will be signed after the technical details are finalised, including those related to the necessary internal procedures”.

The Japanese delegation characterized today’s development as reaching an “agreement in principle”. “On our side, this agreement will also undergo scrutiny of the Japanese parliament, as under constitution,” said Japanese foreign ministry’s foreign press secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura.

Both sides, however, did not give any timeline for concluding the final draft.

India had begun negotiations with Japan for a civilian nuclear deal in 2010, but it went into dormancy for some years due to Fukushima nuclear disaster.  After it began again, the main sticking point had been about Indian assurance about not conducting another nuclear test.

Since India was not willing to give a new assurance to Japan, the compromise seems to be go back to Delhi’s “commitment and actions” in 2008 which led Nuclear Suppliers Group to give a waiver to the South Asian giant.

“We have put the NPT issue behind us with Japan’s help in 2008 when the nuclear suppliers group decided to make an exception for India and Japan supported making that exception,” said foreign secretary S Jaishankar.

On the issue of testing, India had a “long-standing position on the matter”, said Jaishankar, noting that international community’s exception for India in NSG was also predicated on voluntary moratorium.

“India's word (on tests) is credible, India's word is serious..If they (Japan) were not convinced, would they have done the (nuclear) deal?” he asked.

Kawamura also said that the nuclear deal “was in line with India’s commitments and actions, expressed in 2008 and which continues till this day.”

“There is no inconsistency…even though you (India) did not sign NPT,” he said.

Besides the voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing, Indian commitment included the separation of civilian and military nuclear facilities and imposition of strict export control rules.

Kawamura added that Abe had also underlined the “importance of universality of NPT, early effectuation of CTBT and early commencement of negotiations for FMCT to Japan”. “He (Abe) said that he would like to continue a dialogue with India on those points,” said Kawamura.

Asked what would happen if India conducted a nuclear test in the future, Kawamura retorted with a smile, “what do you think will happen”.

"If India does a test and recedes from its commitment, it will be quite natural for Japan to review its cooperation with India,” he clarified, but adding, “"But again…we do not expect or see such a movement," he said.

The strategic prism through India and Japan were growing closer was clear through the title of the joint statement – “Joint Statement on India and Japan Vision 2025: Special Strategic and Global Partnership Working Together for Peace and Prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region and the World”.

Even though Kawamura said that the relationship was not “targeting any other country”, the signals were clear.

The joint statement said that the two leaders “noting the developments in the South China Sea called upon all States to avoid unilateral actions that could lead to tensions in the region”. Recent “developments”, of course, have been heightened tension over China’s rapid island-building in the disputed South China sea.

In fact, Modi was forthright in supporting Japan’s recent changes in constitution to allow for sending troops abroad. China had warned Japan against expanding its military role in foreign lands, stating it would not help in upholding peace, development and cooperation.

As per Kawamura, Indian PM himself brought up the maritime issues, particularly in the south China Sea, before welcoming the signing of two defence agreements.

In a special gesture, Modi said that “visa on arrival” will be extended to all Japanese arrivals from March 1, 2016. “This is different from the electronic visa facility that is being extended globally,” he said.

The other agreements that were signed between the two sides covered a broad spectrum— railways, tax matters, science, health and education.

There were also two MoUs signed for fostering bonds between Indian states and Japanese provinces – Andhra Pradesh and Toyama Prefecture, and Kerala and Lake Nakaumi, Lake Shinji & Mt. Daisen area Mayors Association.

Also Read: Japan to Provide 80 Percent Funds for Indian Bullet Train



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