Modi’s Japan trip has global dimension

Trip aims at boosting trade between Asia's second and third largest economies

The expected intensification of New Delhi’s bilateral relationship with Tokyo, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-day trip to Japan, has a special significance. It is linked on both sides to the anticipated broadening of the strategic parameters, and has evident global dimensions.

The groundwork for these aspects was done under UPA-2. It was in furtherance and reciprocal recognition of a new spirit in the relationship that the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited India in November last year and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the chief guest for Republic Day in January this year.

Prime Minister Modi has built a personal chemistry with the Japanese leader, and the Japanese business community, from the time he was Gujarat chief minister. On taking office as PM, it was his intention to make Tokyo his first destination for a bilateral visit. The plan had to be re-calibrated in view of switch in focus to diplomacy with immediate neighbours, Bhutan and Nepal. The Japanese side was understandably disappointed. But it understood that the larger geo-strategic considerations infusing India-Japan relations in the present period remained intact.

While positive India-Japan relations are hardly new, in the Cold War era there were political impediments to their burgeoning, with Japan being firmly part of the US-led strategic reality of those times. Even so, Japan led the table for overseas development assistance to India. Since then there has been a conscious funnelling of the relationship in the direction of investments in infrastructure, science and technology, and trade.

Perhaps the new element that is likely to emerge in the course of the PM’s visit is forging of ties in the civil nuclear field and defence, especially the area of maritime security. As for the former, Japan had some hesitation in moving ahead even after India was able to finesse an agreement in that crucial field with the United States in 2008. It is the only country in the world to have endured a nuclear attack and had disarmament-related concerns since India had pointedly refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But the dialogue has moved forward since.

In the defence field, the Shinzo Abe government has re-interpreted Japan’s post-Second World War Constitution to allow for defence exports. This can permit Tokyo to aid ship-building and port-building in India. Maritime assets is a field in which India needs fresh investments and technology if it is to re-furbish the tri-services command in Port Blair and seek to convert the Anadaman and Nicobar Islands to a strategic hub that overlooks India’s wider presence in the Indian Ocean.

Engaging China positively, and deflecting it from unilateral actions in the seas of Asia, is important for Japan and India.

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