‘Japan is India’s all-weather friend, China needn’t worry’

BaruPrime Minister Narendra Modi’s August 30-September 3 visit to Japan is laden with great expectations and hopes of substantive outcomes, which can transform the geopolitical dynamics of Asia. This is the first time an Indian prime minister will be spending five days in an Asian country, which signify special place Japan has in India’s geo-strategic calculus.

In this interview with Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network, Sanjaya Baru, a well-known commentator on foreign affairs and Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, speaks about the unique character of India-Japan relations, Japan’s starring role in the development of India and his expectations from the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan. Baru, the author of The Accidental Prime Minister and Director of Geo-economics and Strategy at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, predicts a robust future of India-Japan relations and underlines that Japan is and will be India’s all-weather friend in days to come.

(Excerpts from the interview)

Abe ModiQ) Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a transformational trip to Japan.  How do you look at the momentum in India-Japan relationship under the Modi government? What are your broad expectations from the prime ministerial trip?

A) The India-Japan relationship has been fundamentally altered by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In fact, the first shift came during his earlier tenure when he was the prime minister of Japan in 2006 and 2007, and when he came and addressed the Indian Parliament in August 2007, he made a very important speech in parliament which announced the framework for a strategic partnership called “the confluence of the two seas.” When Mr. Abe stepped down as the prime minister, his successors did not pay same attention to India, and therefore there was a slide in the relationship.

On his return to power last year he has once again put India ahead of all other countries in his agenda and I think we really owe it to Prime Minister Abe that he has decided to focus on India. We are fortunate, on the other hand, that Prime Minister Modi has also has taken a keen interest in India-Japan relationship. He has travelled to Japan, there is enormous Japanese investment in Gujarat and that has cemented a relationship. I think we now finally have a win-win relationship between India and Japan after many years of trying. It was not that we had not tried in the past but Japan was focused on other countries, particularly China, and we were also not as focused on Japan as we have been in the last 3-4 years.

Q) Japan is a leader in technology and in infrastructure sector. If you look at the new Prime Minister’s vision of transforming India into a developed country, do you see Japan playing a bigger and a more proactive role in bolstering India’s infrastructure? Do you see greater Japanese investments coming into India?

A) I certainly hope Japan will play a bigger role because Japan can be India’s all weather-friend. I keep telling my Chinese friends when they say that they like good relations with India, but Pakistan is their all-weather friend, I say that we have the same approach. We want good relations with China but Japan should be our all-weather friend which means that there is no contradiction in terms of overall strategic prospective and outlook. Japan and India are great Asian nations. We have had a cultural relationship, a civilizational relationship. Swami Vivekananda has been to Japan. Rabindranath Tagore went to Japan so the foundation for a very strong economic relationship exists. Unfortunately, in the past it is Japan that has ignored India and that is what we are hoping that Prime Minister Abe will change. He has already done that, but should do in a bigger way. India expects more investment from Japan. India expects technology from Japan. In turn, Japan expects a bigger share of the Indian market which is only legitimate plus Japan also wants to draw on Indian soft power, on Indian skills which we should very liberally offer.

Abe RepublicQ) India hosted Prime Minister Abe as the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations this year. And we are having Prime Minister Modi’s visit within months. There are high expectations. Looking ahead, what are the broad outcomes that one can expect and what are the new areas you see emerging in India-Japan relationship?

A) First and foremost, I hope that Japan becomes a major factor in India’s industrialisation. India needs acceleration of its manufacturing sector, and therefore we need access to the Japanese technology and India can become a base for more and more Japanese companies that are looking at accessing markets in Africa, markets in West Asia, in Middle East, in Eastern Europe and central Asia.

In fact, the whole world can be accessed for  Japanese companies from India. Second, India needs Japanese technology, not just Japanese investment.  And, I think, finally there is a tremendous scope of greater maritime cooperation because both Japan and India depend on the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca Straits and the South China sea for the supply of oil and goods. All our exports go through these borders and all our imports come through these borders. Therefore, maritime strategic cooperation between India and Japan to ensure that the sea lines of communications are open. There is safe and free passage for all commercial vehicles. I think these are areas in which India and japan certainly can work.

A Fine Balance: India, China and Japan

Q) Analysts are prone to a certain larger agenda in India’s burgeoning relationship as part of a strategy to counter China. Do you think this assessment is justified?

A) It is not at all justified. As I said earlier, China tells us that they want good relations with India but Pakistan is their all-weather friend. I think we should say exactly the same thing to China. We want good relations with China. China is our biggest neighbour. It is an important neighbour. It is a rising power. It is Asia’s number 1 economy now so I don’t think there is any case of India ignoring China but Japan has been, will be and should be our all-weather friend which means there is compatibility on the economic front, on the strategic front and on global issues.

Boundary Walls of Rising Asia

NavalQ) Talking of Mr. Abe’s larger strategic vision of the doctrine two seas and there have been talk about India and Japan cooperating closely in forging an inclusive East Asia architecture, how do you look at Japan- India cooperation in the context of India’s Look East policy?

A) Japan and India are in many ways the boundary walls of Asia, of a rising Asia because Asia goes all the way to the Mediterranean but the Asia to our west is crisis-prone. The Asia to our east is rising Asia and Japan on that extreme and India on this extreme, we are the boundary walls of a rising Asia. Therefore, we have an obligation to ensure stability in Asia. Stability in Asia is needed by China, by Japan, by Korea, by the ASEAN economies, by the Pacific island economies, by Australia, by New Zealand, India and the Indian Ocean economies and this entire region will be a region of high growth in the next 100 years. In fact, this century is seen as the Asia- Pacific century or the Indo-Pacific century. Indo-Pacific is the term that prime minister Abe has used and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used when he went to Tokyo. So we have an obligation to ensure peace and stability in this entire region.

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