What to Know About In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Visit to Ja­pan

Modi and Abe dis­cuss var­i­ous trade deals and pacts de­signed to de­velop closer strate­gic re­la­tions

Fiji Sun - - Comment - TEKENDRA PARMAR | TIME Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­jisun.com.fj

Naren­dra Modi met his Ja­panese coun­ter­part Shinzo Abe on Fri­day, com­menc­ing a three-day bi­lat­eral meet­ing in Ja­pan, to dis­cuss de­vel­op­ing the two coun­tries’ eco­nomic and strate­gic re­la­tion­ship. “Ja­pan may be on its way to be­com­ing one of In­dia’s most im­por­tant strate­gic part­ners, some years from now,” San­jib Baruah, an honorary re­search pro­fes­sor at In­dia’s Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search think-tank and pro­fes­sor at Bard Col­lege, tells TIME. “[But] China is the ele­phant in the room.” Tra­di­tional al­liances in the re­gion are shift­ing, as Rus­sia — one of In­dia’s big­gest arms sup­pli­ers — seeks stronger re­la­tion­ships with Pak­istan and China.

As the coun­try looks to phase out its its fleet of Soviet-era air­crafts, In­dia has in­creas­ingly looked to Wash­ing­ton, and Amer­i­can de­fense com­pa­nies for mil­i­tary equip­ment. The meet­ing with Ja­pan is in­dica­tive of a con­tin­u­ing pivot for In­dia as the two coun­tries dis­cuss deals rang­ing from a highly cov­eted civil nu­clear co-op­er­a­tion pact to a de­fense trade agree­ment worth more than a bil­lion dol­lars. “There is al­ways some ner­vous­ness in In­dian pol­icy cir­cles that the US may be in­suf­fi­ciently ap­pre­cia­tive of In­dia’s de­sire for strate­gic au­ton­omy. “But with Ja­pan there is no such bag­gage,” says Baruah. “In the long run I can see Ja­pan oc­cu­py­ing the kind of place that Rus­sia once did in In­dian for­eign and de­fence pol­icy.” Here’s what you need to know about Modi’s visit to Ja­pan.

1. Pomp and cir­cum­stance

Modi’s visit was pre­ceded by much fan­fare as 32 mem­bers of In­dia’s mil­i­tary band will par­tic­i­pate in Ja­pan’s Self De­fense Forces 2016 March­ing Fes­ti­val for the first time, cel­e­brat­ing the two coun­tries’ ef­forts to de­vel­op­ing closer strate­gic ties. Ac­cord­ing to The Hin­dus­tan Times, the fes­ti­val, which was held in Tokyo this year, is a tra­di­tion go­ing back more than half a cen­tury and draws au­di­ences of more than 50,000 peo­ple. Although In­dia’s march­ing band has been in Tokyo since ear­lier this week, the ac­tual fes­ti­val will take place from Novem­ber 11 to 13, dur­ing Modi’s visit. While the march is a largely sym­bolic over­ture, it sets the tone for a meet­ing highly an­tic­i­pated in bring­ing the two coun­tries to­gether both eco­nom­i­cally, as well as strate­gi­cally.

2. Search and res­cue planes

The meet­ing will also fi­nalise one of the first mil­i­tary sale’s Ja­pan has made since lift­ing a 50-year-old ex­port ban on arms sales two years ago.

Ac­cord­ing to Reuters, In­dia will buy 12 res­cue wa­ter-planes from Ja­pan, worth an es­ti­mated US$1.6 bil­lion (F$3.28bn). The deal will be in­cluded in the mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing signed by Prime Min­is­ter Abe and Modi dur­ing the sum­mit.

3. Civil nu­clear co-op­er­a­tion-pact

Modi and Abe will also con­clude a much an­tic­i­pated civil nu­clear-co-op­er­a­tion pact, which would al­low Ja­pan to sell nu­clear tech­nol­ogy to In­dia.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ja­pan Times, the pact will ben­e­fit Ja­panese nu­clear-com­po­nent man­u­fac­tur­ers who suf­fered set­backs after the 2011 Fukushima dis­as­ter. The deal may also mark the first time Ja­pan has sold nu­clear tech­nol­ogy to a coun­try that has not signed the Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan in 2010, be­fore ei­ther Prime Min­is­ter was elected, and the two lead­ers reached a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing in De­cem­ber of last year, dur­ing Abe’s visit to In­dia. Abe’s Vice-For­eign Min­is­ter Shin­suke Sugiyama trav­eled to In­dia last month to put fin­ish­ing touches on the deal.

4. Fo­cus on Re­gional Se­cu­rity

De­spite the prom­ises of the meet­ing, some ex­perts see the re­cent US elec­tion as a mon­key-wrench in terms of pro­jected gains from the bi­lat­eral talks — as much of the long term suc­cess of the meet­ing will hinge on US in­flu­ence in the re­gion. There is also un­cer­tainty as to how the new US ad­min­is­tra­tion, un­der Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, will re­spond to its al­liances around the world, es­pe­cially in Asia. “With the elec­tion of Trump, the con­tain­ment strat­egy to­wards China em­braced by the US and Ja­pan looks uncer­tain at best,” Jeff Kingston, Di­rec­tor of Asian Stud­ies in Ja­pan’s Tem­ple Univer­sity tells TIME.

Although, there has been lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of Trump’s poli­cies, some fear his “Amer­ica First” pol­icy speech last April, raised se­ri­ous ques­tions as to Amer­ica’s fu­ture global com­mit­ment in Asia. “The Trump fac­tor re­in­forces the per­cep­tion that the US is a de­clin­ing power in Asia, and lead­ers will act ac­cord­ingly,” says Kingston. Among Ja­pan’s largest con­cerns is China’s in­creas­ing mil­i­tary pres­ence in the South China Sea. As an is­land na­tion, with very few nat­u­ral re­sources, the dis­puted wa­ter­way is Ja­pan’s cheap­est trade cor­ri­dor.

For this rea­son, China’s mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the sea is of great con­cern to Ja­pan and one of the ar­eas in which it seeks stronger rhetoric from In­dia. While In­dia is­sued a joint state­ment with the US in Jan­uary, “[call­ing] on all par­ties to avoid the threat or use of force and pur­sue res­o­lu­tion of ter­ri­to­rial and mar­itime dis­putes through all peace­ful means,” the coun­try has not risked adopt­ing stronger rhetoric against China’s ac­tions in the con­tested wa­ters. Ahead of Modi’s meet­ing with Abe, China’s state-run Global Times, warned In­dia of “great losses” should New Delhi de­cide to call on Bei­jing to re­spect the Hague tri­bunal’s ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing re­buk­ing China’s be­hav­ior in the South China Sea.

Since then, the Times of In­dia re­ported, Bei­jing’s for­eign min­istry has called on New Delhi to “re­spect [the] le­git­i­mate con­cerns” of In­dia’s north­ern neigh­bor dur­ing the In­dian prime min­is­ter’s meet­ing with Abe. Although In­dia would like to check the grow­ing in­flu­ence of China in the re­gion, “China has sig­nif­i­cant ca­pac­ity to cause trou­ble for In­dia in its im­me­di­ate neigh­bour­hood,” says re­search pro­fes­sor Baruah.

For now, it isn’t in In­dia’s best in­ter­est to an­tag­o­nise the Asian gi­ant — es­pe­cially when there is still much trep­i­da­tion as to Trump’s poli­cies and in­flu­ence in the re­gion. “Ev­ery­one is on ‘wait and see’ mode to gauge how Trump will act, be­cause on the cam­paign trail he was a loose can­non,” says Kingston.

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