Analysis: 2 States & 2 Friends
Intro: As ‘Lotus blooms’ ushering a ‘MODIfied India’, India & Japan draw closer, with an eye on China
India and Japan, two biggest democratic powers in continental Asia share very close and cordial relations. Thanks to India’s Look East Policy (LEP), the warmth of the relationship now transforms into ‘strategic’ contours of bilateral diplomacy. So far so good, but the pertinent issue is what this perennial mutually benefitting relationship holds for the future, especially after India overwhelmingly elected Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its Prime Minister, and after Japan electing Shinzo Abe, an ardent nationalist who represents the ‘Japanese Dreams’ as its prime minister in the unforgettable landslide poll of 2012. What beckons ahead between the two Asian democracies in a ‘MODIfied India’ and ‘ABEd Japan’ is the moot point?
Even before the mass euphoria of having elected India’s most popular leader Modi as its new PM fell silent, sitting in his Gandhinagar ‘war-room’ on the victorious ‘D-day’ of May 16, Modi was informed that somebody wanted to talk to him. That ‘somebody’ was soon found to be none other but the PM Abe from Tokyo, Japan. As Modi ended the fifteen minute long ‘congratulatory talk’ with Abe, it was decided that Japan will be the first foreign destination in Modi’s itinerary after ‘officially’ becoming India’s PM on May 26.
Both Modi and Abe share a very good personal rapport both being dynamic, tech-savvy and relatively young leaders represent the ‘nationalistic hopes and aspirations’ of their nations. It is worth mentioning here that, Modi is the ‘only’ Indian leader and ‘only’ chief minister out of 29 states of India, PM Abe has been ‘following’ keenly on Twitter. Abe is a known ‘lover’ of India whom he praised profusely in his memoir ‘A Beautiful Country’ and the ‘only’ Japanese PM calling India the ‘linchpin’ of the future Indo-Japan global strategic architecture in the Indo-Pacific region. On the other hand, Modi shares a strong personal connect with Japan, whom his beloved ‘Guru’ and ‘Ideal Man’ the ‘Cyclonic Hindu Monk’ Swami Vivekananda had visited en route while on his maiden voyage to attend World Parliament of Religions hosted by Chicago in 1893. Swamiji was awed by the sheer intensity of love of the Japanese people for their nation and foretold that it will be becoming a global giant no power would ever dare to enslave.
India-Japan relationship is based on mutual respect and co-operation. Japan is India’s fourth largest investor investing about $14 billion under Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and in various other projects. The bilateral trade in 2012 stood at $18 billion which is set to rise under Modi-Abe personal bonhomie led initiatives to boost it further to a new height. When Modi was still Gujarat’s CM, Japanese companies participating in his ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ invested about $2 to $3 billion in various manufacturing and infrastructure projects. After becoming India’s PM, Modi can showcase the success of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) as the ‘model’ for scripting other future success stories.
In the pipeline of Indo-Japanese co-operation in future is the task of completing the ambitious Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and futuristic Delhi-Ahmadabad-Mumbai Bullet Train (DAM-BT) projects. In defence sector, still a virgin area, Greenfield investments can be done by enabling joint-collaboration between the Indian and Japanese defence manufacturing companies. Both being active naval partners, emphasis should be given on building both defence and merchant ships, an area on which Communist China is calling the shots today.
Maritime co-operation is a must between the two seafaring nations relying heavily on imported energy for its ‘safe passage’ via securing the crucial sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) across the Indian Ocean region towards volatile South China Sea in the vicinity of Indo-Pacific region.
Both the countries have signed Comprehensive Economic and Cooperation Agreement (CEPA) in 2006 and signed strategic defence dialogue partnership in 2009. After the release of the ‘new’ defence doctrine espousing ‘pro-active pacifism’ brought out by Japanese PM Abe in late 2013, a realistic assessment of Indo-Japanese defence and strategic co-operation is set to be renewed by India’s new PM Modi.
In the face of their arch-rival Communist China’s growing militarism coupled with aggressively seeking sole ownership of India’s Arunachal Pradesh (Southern Tibet by China) and Japan’s Senkaku islands (Diaoyu islands by China) by ‘inventing’ “historical claims” almost on daily basis, India’s ongoing defensive military infrastructure buildup in Arunachal Pradesh and periodical US-India-Japan joint naval exercises in its ‘solely claimed oceanic backyard’ in East and South China Sea have already rattled a belligerent Beijing being no match to the emerging ‘Troika’.
Both Modi and Abe share some strange commonalities between them too. Both India and Japan has been experiencing an era of ‘successive coalition governments’ which has become the ‘natural’ way of government formation since no single party could get majority on its own, till Abe in Japan and Modi in India appeared in the scene. In 2012, Abe was elected as PM after a landslide victory. In 2014, Modi got elected as PM in an overwhelming surge of ‘saffron tsunami’. Both got majority for their parties and put an end to the ‘coalition era’ gripped with instability and indecisiveness. Both are well known for their strong nationalistic leanings and their respective economic models viz. Modinomics and Abenomics. Modi’s visa was cancelled by US in 2005 citing 2002 post Godhra Gujarat riots and Abe’s visit to Beijing has been virtually banned by Communist China after he paid homage to the WW II Japanese soldiers who died fighting on Chinese soil and whose ashes are being preserved in a “controversial” Buddhist Temple in Japan. Both are also the leaders born after WW II and independence of their nations in 1940s. Both are book lovers and writers too with keen interests in latest trends in fashion and food
If PM Modi will visit Japan, it will be his third visit to meet Abe. Previously he met the Japanese PM in 2007 when Abe was on India visit and again in July, 2012 when as Gujarat CM Modi visited Japan where he was accorded ‘state guest’ (reserved only for head of states) hospitality, indicating as if Abe could foresee his rise to saddle in 2014.
There is a ‘new upbeat optimism’ for growing India-Japan strategic partnership under PM Modi and Abe. A prominent thinker of India’s strategic community has already termed Modi as ‘India’s Abe’ and vice versa. But Abe wary and known India baiter, Communist China has preferred to call Modi as the ‘Nixon’ of India –After the US President Richard Nixon’s ice-breaking visit to Mao’s China in 1971 helped better the ties between two countries.
Communist China and Japan being frenemies, India under Modi must tread a carefully crafted cautious strategy in balancing its ongoing relations between the two Asian rival nations; while continuing with a more ‘business-like’ relations with Beijing, it has the task of preserving the ‘warmth’ of a much closer bilateral diplomatic embracement with Tokyo.
As ‘Lotus blooms’ ushering a ‘MODIfied India’, India-Japan mutual love can be safely forecasted to be in full bloom, as already signaled by a ‘ABEd Japan’. Nice omen to begin with!
-Sourabh Jyoti Sharma (The writer is a pursuing PhD research scholar working on ‘Chinese Navy in Indian Ocean and Strategic Implications for India”, at Department of Political Science, Delhi University, [email protected])