Steering Indo-Japan ties

Published: 27th May 2013 07:52 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th May 2013 07:52 AM   |  A+A-

Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit to Japan, starting on Monday, will provide India and Japan an opportunity to exchange views on the rapidly changing global situation and impart further momentum to bilateral relations.

Singh and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe are the architects of India-Japan “global and strategic partnership” launched in 2006 during the former’s visit to Tokyo. Since then, the relationship has acquired an institutionalised character with regular summits and official contacts at various levels. In 2009, the two nations signed a landmark agreement on security co-operation which has promoted a regular security dialogue among the key defence and security officials of both sides. India and Japan also signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in February 2011 which is expected to give a boost to bilateral trade and investment.

However, the relationship has not been entirely free of problems. Owing to Japan’s apprehensions on nuclear non-proliferation issues and the fact that India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT), the two countries have not been able to conclude a civil nuclear co-operation agreement. Three rounds of discussions were held among officials in the past but these were suspended after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. Japan has been insisting on a clause that if India tests a nuclear weapon, the nuclear co-operation will stop. India cannot obviously agree to such a stipulation. Japanese companies are leaders in nuclear energy technology. They are looking for markets abroad. Recently, they signed agreements on nuclear energy co-operation with Turkey and the UAE. India is an energy-deficient country and has an ambitious nuclear power programme. Nuclear energy co-operation is, thus, a win-win situation for India and Japan.

There are some indications that Japan may be once again looking favourably at the prospect of promoting India-Japan nuclear co-operation. The Japanese side will have to overcome its inhibitions regarding proliferation concerns and acknowledge that India’s record in nuclear non-proliferation has been impeccable and recognised by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group; it has signed an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and has concluded nuclear energy co-operation agreements with the US, UK, France, Canada, Kazakhstan and Namibia. Australia has also decided to sign one with India. This should reassure Japan. Hopefully, during prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit, the two sides will bridge the differences and resume negotiations.

A second area of concern has been the slow growth of economic and commercial ties despite the CEPA. Bilateral trade at the current annual level of $ 18.42 billion is much below the potential of the two large economies. With Indian exports at $ 6 billion, the trade balance is heavily in favour of Japan. This cannot be sustainable in the long run. Cumulative Japanese investments in India during 2000-2013 have been $14.4 billion, constituting about 8% of FDI in India. The much-talked-about Delhi Mumbai Rail Corridor with Japanese help is yet to take off. This state of affairs needs to be reversed. India requires $ 1 trillion worth of investments in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) in the infrastructure sector alone. The Japanese businessmen continue to look at the Indian environment with apprehensions while Korean firms have been flourishing. Japanese firms should take advantage of opportunities India is offering.

Security co-operation, a new area of co-operation, has been expanding. Bilateral naval exercises were held in Sagami bay near Tokyo for the first time in 2012. The New Defence Policy Guidelines issued by Japan accord special importance to security co-operation with India. Under considerable pressure from China in the East China Sea over the Senkaku islands disputes, and deeply concerned about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme, Japan is now rethinking its defence strategy. While it has an alliance relationship with the US, it is looking towards Australia and India as new partners.

India and Japan have a convergence of interests in security field, particularly in the areas of maritime security, combating terrorism, containing sea-piracy and securing freedom of navigation on the high seas. India-Japan security co-operation should be projected as a force of stabilisation in the vast Indo-Pacific area and not directly against the interests of a third country. During Singh’s visit, the convergence of security interests can be spelt out more clearly.

A recent development of great import has been the official dialogue between India, Japan and the US. The third round of the dialogue was held in Delhi in October 2012. The discussions were held on regional and international issues of interest to the three countries including the East Asia Summit and the Asia Pacific Region. This is an important forum for exchange of views on the changing security environment in Asia Pacific. As the US footprint in West Asia lessens, it is beginning to “rebalance” to Asia Pacific through additional troop deployment, strengthening of traditional alliances and forging of new partnerships. Japan is a key element of the US policy of rebalancing. The US has described India as a “lynchpin” in its rebalancing plan.

An unstated factor in the India, US, Japan triangular relationship is China. China sees US rebalancing relations with suspicion. The US views China’s anti-access, anti-denial strategies and its all too visible assertiveness in South China Sea and East China Sea with concern. The continuing tensions between China and Japan over Senkaku islands affect regional stability. The China factor can compel India and Japan to move ahead on security co-operation with caution.

The long-terms strategic interests of India and Japan coincide. Japan has provided India billions of dollars in aid and assistance in the past. The Delhi Metro is a visible symbol of bilateral co-operation. Many projects are in the pipeline. Indian market can stimulate the Japanese economy. Japan can meet India’s growing needs for capital and technologies. Security co-operation between the two on traditional and non-traditional issues can be strengthened. Co-operation between the navies and the coast guards of the two countries can deepen, too. The complementarities can be harnessed to make India-Japan relations deeper during Singh’s visit.

The author is Director General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses;



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