Intro: Narendra Modi’s five-day Japan visit beginning August 30 is being billed as an attempt to win Japanese backing for a nuclear energy pact, and to balance the rising weight of China across Asia.
The author visited Tokyo in June (17-20, 2014) on the invitation of Japan-India Association and other agencies working for Indo-Japan friendship and met with very important persons in the cabinet as part of PM Narendra Modi’s Japan visit. He met Yasutoshi Nishimura, Senior Vice Minister of Cabinet Office, Nobutaka Machimura, Former Chief Cabinet Secretary, now MP, Natsuo Yamaguchi, Chief of the New Komeito Party and many others. Indo-Japan relation that began centuries ago is now poised to grow with new vigour and direction.
Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Japan and extend his stay by a day more than the earlier three days is more than a mere diplomatic gesture. It comes out of a deep understanding of the Indo-Japan friendship and the need for a strong and lasting strategic partnership that has deep roots in the past and has withstood the test of time. Besides, Japan’s appreciation of the Gujarat model of development and the personal rapport between Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is sure to add to the strength of the existing bond between the two countries.
Both Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe have to grab this historic opportunity and shape a new future that will affect a paradigm shift in Asian power balance.
Little wonder that a senior foreign office functionary in Japan summed up the visit saying, “Japan and India can strengthen their relationship in the realms of foreign policy, economy and regional security in the Indo-Pacific.”
It is not unusual for countries to closely watch the political developments in the country of their interest. With the political change in India many countries have begun redoing their bridges with New Delhi. But Japan is one country which has been building its relationship with not just the BJP but also with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the time he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat.
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The overall principles of foreign policy do not change with change in the government. Notwithstanding that, India`s policy towards regional engagement has to change keeping with the changing geo-political situation and strategic and security requirements. This engagement is necessarily interlinked to the economic vision and dreams of the millions who have reposed their faith in the new government.
PM Modi’s visit actually comes at a time when the two countries have realised through a series of geo-political events spanning over half a century that India-Japan have to work closely towards strategic and security cooperation to ensure regional stability and balance. India-Japan engagement has a long history of religious, cultural and economic exchange firmly rooted in shared values. While the relationship continued in the post-Colonial era uninterrupted, the economic cooperation suffered a setback and lost momentum due to the lackadaisical approach of New Delhi which wrapped itself first in the Nehruvian Socialistic model and then lost its way in the labyrinth of non-aligned movement. Our failure to reshape our economic and foreign policy cost us five decades of progress, putting Japan and then China far ahead of us.
PM Modi has had sufficient time to prepare for this historic visit and is therefore likely to cover a number of areas that touch the lives of every Indian. Some of the areas that are likely to be discussed during the first of a series of long time engagement could be as under.
Indo-Japan Trade Partnership
India and Japan are bilaterally committed for development and innovation and that commitment for shared goals was behind the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in 2011. This was first such partnership with any developed country. India already has similar partnership with Singapore and South Korea.
The CEPA covers most of the bilateral trade with a large coverage of services, investment, IPR, customs and other trade-related issues. Under the India- Japan CEPA only 17.4 per cent of the tariff-lines have been offered for immediate reduction of tariff to zero percent by India. Tariffs will be brought to zero by 2021 on 66.32 per cent of tariff lines to give sufficient time to industry to adjust to the trade liberalisation. The large contingent of businessmen and industrialist will have their hands full after their return. They will have to work with the finance ministry to integrate their industrial policies with the parameters provided by the Indo-Japan CEPA.
The Japanese side has put 87 per cent of its tariff lines under immediate reduction of tariff to zero. This brings on board a large potential for Indian exports including of commodities like seafood, agricultural products such as mangoes, citrus fruits, spices, instant tea, most spirits such as rum, whiskies, vodka etc, textile products such as woven fabrics, yarns, synthetic yarn, readymade garments, petro chemical & chemicals products, cement, jewellery, etc.
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Japan has, however, not extended tariff concession for products like rice, wheat, oil, milk, sugar, leather and leather products. Auto parts and agricultural and other sensitive items have also been kept out of the liberalisation schedule.
However, expectations from India are still high for benefiting from access to Japanese technology and insights on world-class management practices. Prime Minister Modi has lauded the world-class Japanese technology and hopes that Indian industry will benefit out of this.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is another area where Japan and India can work together for collective gains. The 16-member RCEP comprises 10 ASEAN members and its six FTA partners namely India, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The 16 economies account for over a quarter of the world economy.
Technology Transfer Agreement
There is a genuine understanding among many Japanese corporate entities that Indian industry is ready for the next phase of “Maruti-Suzuki” like partnership. Japan’s waste management technology also needs to be brought into India.
Japan is ready to supply Shin Maywa us-2 STOL Search & Rescue Amphibian aircraft and other military hardware and equipments. India needs to take a stand on Japan’s Foreign End User’s List (FEUL) which has sought to ban some government entities such a Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), who could be key players in technology transfer. Infact, this list needs to be scrapped in total as it has become irrelevant.
Human Resource & Skill Development
The Overseas Human Resources & Industry Development Association (HIDA) is a skill development agency supported by the Commerce ministry of Japan. There can be a RIS (under MEA) or NSDC–HIDA (Japan) agreement for a greater skill training programme as part of trade and technology transfer initiatives.
On the lines of USAID, India can set up a single window agency such as the existing Development Partnership Administration (DPA) in the MEA.
Indo-Japan Nuclear agreement: Nuclear Proliferation and related security issues
In a last-ditch attempt, the UPA government tried to clinch a nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan. Given Prime Minister Mr. Shinzo Abe’s inclinations to deal with a strong and politically mature leader in New Delhi, this matter could be taken up for discussion now.
Given the ground realities, the India-US civilian nuclear agreement is a non-starter. (At the Jaipur meeting of the Congress Party in 2013 its Foreign Affairs Committee rejected the then PM’s request for a resolution hailing the N-agreement as an “achievement”). There are some in the establishment in Tokyo who know of this.
Although the money and muscle of the global nuclear industry is pushing hard for the India-Japan N-deal, Japanese public sentiment and lobbies remain opposed to it. The Fukushima meltdown and radiation fears have reignited Japanese opposition to nuclear power and compelled a worldwide rethink. But, Japanese technology is at the heart of nuclear power equipment, be it from Areva in France or White Westinghouse and GE in the US. Their Japanese collaborators, namely, Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Hitachi, will not let these companies make a killing in India unless Japan also benefits from the N-power projects; and, that depends on overcoming opposition at home.
Considering the fact that Japan was the only country in the world to actually experience the scourge of nuclear attack and destruction due to it, the issue of nuclear proliferation is a highly sensitive issue in Indo-Japan relationship.
The 1998 nuclear test by India and followed by Pakistan did not go well with Japan and as a punitive measure Japan imposed severe economic sanctions on India. When India came up with a Nuclear Doctrine and outlined a policy of peaceful nuclear programme, Japan showed signs of softening its stand on India. Now after sixteen years both India and Japan have to look at the strategic realities of the region and the world in a different perspective.
Until then, India’s nuclear agreements with the US and France cannot be implemented. Japan would like to squeeze a no-test-treaty out of India. We are committed to our self imposed moratorium on further tests as also to the no first use. It is unlikely that a strong prime minister like Modi would yield for any more concession but at the same time there are enough indications that he will use his persuasive negotiating skills to carry forward the civil nuclear technology cooperation to its logical conclusion.
Indo-Japan relations & China
It is doubtful if the India-China trade deficit would in any way get resolved in India’s favour because of India’s relationship with Japan. It is equally uncertain whether the undercurrent of India-China tensions would in any way be minimised because of Japan’s closeness to India.
Japan may not go so far as to speak out in favour of India’s case against China, China-Pakistan nexus, POK issue etc, no matter what its own disputes are with the latter. Nor would any expression of New Delhi’s support to Japan’s claims on the Senkaku (Diaoyu, to China) islands be taken seriously by anyone, least of all Beijing. The South China Sea and Indo-Pacific are contested sites where there are many players, players with far more power and stakes than India and Japan.
In fact in an earlier visit to India, Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera had said that dialogue is the only way to resolve the row created by imposition of restrictions by China in the East China Sea and other areas. (“For both India and Japan, China is an important neighbouring country. Both countries have important economic linkages with China. However, after the recent Chinese provocative actions, entire international community will have to send a message to China,” he told in an interview.) Japan wanted UPA government to commit support in the backdrop of the security situation in the region due to tensions between Japan and China triggered by imposition of 'Air Defence Identification Zone' (ADIZ) over East China Sea and other areas by China. India is understood to have told Onodera that India stands for freedom of navigation in international waters and application of global conventions.
Other Areas of interaction
India and Japan should have a wide range of understanding in the areas of Education, Urban Transportation (like metro trains, bullet trains, etc), Ports and water transportation, Agriculture, Horticulture, people to people contacts and other related areas.
A new area where both India and Japan need to concentrate and work together is in various countries of Africa. China has made deep inroads in this region but some of the countries here are eager for greater engagement with India and Japan. Japan realises the importance of Indian handholding in the African region where India has a strategic edge over Japan.
The South-South Cooperation, India’s Look East Policy, The Mekong Region are also some of the subjects that may come up for discussion during the preparatory period of the proposed visit.
As part of our strategic self-reliance policy and integrating trade and foreign policy architecture, we have to begin addressing challenges largely by our strength. The US and EU have not been very supportive of India on issues of core concern to us, such as terrorism, trade deficit, military hardware or nuclear technology.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much awaited Japan visit has opened a new chapter of peace and prosperity in Asia. The political, trade and strategic community as also the general public sentiment as reflected in the media is very ripe for the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Japan. There is an air of hope, expectation and optimism in Tokyo and the palpable goodwill is evident.
Seshadri Chari (The author is the Director of Forum for Strategic and Security Studies (FSSS) and Secretary General of Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS), [email protected])