Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko’s six-day visit to India comes 53 years after their first in 1960 as the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, symbolising how Japan treats bilateral ties with India. Despite the Emperor’s insistence that the visit was not political and that it should not be interpreted as an effort to counter China, the fact is that such visits by the emperor are extremely rare and have in the past been used by Tokyo to signal or augment a shift in Japan’s foreign policy. The emperor’s visit to China in 1992 and the resultant bonhomie — it included a sharp hike in aid to China — lasted until the recent conflict between the two countries over Senkaku islands. Besides common areas in their strategic concerns, India needs Japanese technology and investment on a much bigger scale than now. In turn, India offers increasing opportunities for the growth and globalisation of Japanese companies for the overall prosperity and growth of the nation. Trade between the two countries has been flourishing of late and there is a general receptivity to improving ties.
The emperor’s visit comes at a time when India and Japan are building up a strategic partnership based on a strong economic foundation. There is also an unabashedly pro-India regime in Tokyo led by prime minister Shinzo Abe. It is happy augury that talks on a civil nuclear energy co-operation pact— in limbo for nearly three years — have been revived after Abe’s return to power.
Both India and China have been at the receiving end of Chinese arrogance and hegemonistic designs — India in regard to Arunachal Pradesh which China claims as its own while Beijing recently declared the creation of a new “air defence identification zone” over the disputed Senkaku islands that are under Japan. Emperor Akihito’s visit must lead to greater Indo-Japanese co-operation and open new vistas. India needs to do everything possible to encourage a new era in bilateral relations.