Modi-Abe bonding: Neighbours’ envy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a mark in his first foreign bilateral visit outside South Asia, signaling the significance he attached to India’s relations with Japan. His mannerisms and his own characteristic style have been able to connect with not only ordinary people, from schoolchildren to businessmen, but also with the Japanese political class and top leaders. Though the visit yielded results mainly in economic sector and has improved sentiments in diplomatic and strategic arena, the world was waiting for some concrete bigticket announcements in nuclear and defence sector, the absence of which must have disheartened a lot of strategic observers in India. Modi succeeded to convince the Japanese Government and the business community by promising to remove red tape and laying the red carpet for Japanese businessmen but he failed to erase Japanese domestic and governmental concerns on issues relating to nuclear and defence cooperation. In fact Modi had tried to assuage Japanese sentiments by stating a day before his departure for Tokyo on August 29that he will not rewrite the Nuclear Doctrine of India. Even the Japanese were not ready to sell the US-2 ShinMaywa amphibious plane disguised as civilian plane in view of its constitutional obligations. Even in Tokyo, Modi talked of the concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam” (world is one family) and in view of this the reliability of India’s nuclear posture. Indian officials requested the Japanese to agree to ink the India-Japan nuclear cooperation agreement, using India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement as template, but it failed to cut ice. However, Japan affirmed commitment to work together with India to become a full member in the four international export control regimes—Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group—with the aim of strengthening the international non-proliferation efforts.
But Modi’s pronouncements during his interaction with the Japanese businessmen drew the attention of strategic community
world over, especially in China. Modi said in his speech, without naming China, thosewho follow the path of Buddha and have faith in “Vikas-waad” (Development-ism), they develop but, we see, those with ideas of 18th century engage in encroachments and enter seas (of others).
These comments are significant in view of tense relations between China and Japan and serious differences on the border and territorial issues between India and China. Both India and Japan accuse China of territorial encroachments. However the Chinese Government ignored Modi’s comments and instead launched a frontal attack on Abe alleging that Abe was trying to divide India and China. But India was careful on issues relating to maritime disputes while drafting the joint Tokyo Declaration which made mention of maritime disputes in generic terms and did not refer to any particular area or country. Definitely India was mindful of Chinese President’s forthcoming visit to India in the third week of September. China is India’s next door powerful neighbour, which India cannot afford to antagonise especially when the Chinese themselves are eager to warm upto relations with India.
According to Dr C. Raja Mohan, strategic affairs analyst, Modi’s visit to Japan helped consolidate three important parameters: First, on reviving the spiritual bonds, which connects with the masses; second, in the economic sector, which will go a long way in strengthening economic partnerships, and third, in the nuclear and defence sector. Though the nuclear agreement could not be signed but a lot of progress has been made and this will not keep hostage the bilateral relations. His visit has helped in re-energising the emotional bonds of the two countries and will provide a foundation for good defence cooperation. During the summit the two countries signed an MoU on defence cooperation and exchanges.
Recent amendment in Japan’s policy on transfer of defence equipment and technology was welcomed by India, and both the Prime Ministers expressed the hope that this would usher in a new era of cooperation in defence equipment and technology. They recognised the enormous future potential for transfer and collaborative projects in defence equipment and technology between the two countries. Modi also asked the Japanese to take advantage of the liberalised FDI policy in defence sector, setting 49 per cent limit for the foreign companies in the joint ventures, and make India as the base for international exports based on Japanese technology. Officials of the two countries have been directed to launch working-level consultations between the two countries with a view to promoting defence equipment and technology cooperation.
Hence, the Tokyo Declaration described the Modi-Abe meeting as the dawn of a new era. Explaining this the noted China expert Srikanth Kondapalli said, “The regional context and the personal ties between Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe to a large extent contributed to the dawn of a new era in bilateral relations. Modi’s visit will go down in history for opening up a Special Partnership chapter in bilateral relations.” Naturally the deepening of relations, which was signified by raising the level of global and strategic partnership to special global and strategic partnership has deeper connotations, which will add odour to the evolving partnerships of the two Asian giants and will be a cause of concern for China.
In view of China’s aggressive behaviour in the East and South China Sea which raises hackles in the strategic establishments of both Japan and India, the coming together of forces to jointly protect the maritime interests of both countries in East and South China Sea is significant, but the Tokyo Declaration was not assertive enough to warn the Chinese to desist from militarism in the maritime area. Hence the declaration by India to invite Japan also to participate on a regular basis in the Indo-American bilateral exercises will serve as a red flag to the Chinese.
Without naming any country and the maritime arena (obviously China and the East and South China Sea) the Modi-Abe statement referred to shared commitment to maritime security, freedom of navigation in and overflight above, civil aviation safety, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. Since more than half of India’s maritime commerce is conducted via the South China Sea, India has sincere interests in safeguarding its maritime trade and ensure the right to freedom of navigation, which can be better promoted by seeking cooperation from a regional power like Japan.
No wonder that the state-run Global Times reacted sternly to Modi’s casual comments and the indirect reference to China in the joint statement saying, if Japan attempted to form a united front centred on India, it will be a crazy fantasy generated by Tokyo’s anxiety of facing a rising China.
Observers point out that the Tokyo-Beijing tension on Senkaku (Diayou) islands has led to a lot of anti-China atmosphere in Japan and anti-Japanese sentiments in China making it little uncomfortable for the Japanese businessmen to go to or work in China. Hence they want to shift their base in the long run from China to India. But it all depends on the kind of congenial business environment India provides to the Japanese. To allay Japanese fears Modi did try to con- vince by promising to lay the red carpet and removing all red tapes. Besides a special track will be created in the Prime Minister’s office to facilitate Japanese business in India. Indeed the Japanese feared the Indian red tape so much that the Japanese investment was only $1.35 billion last year in India, which is much lower than the Chinese. In fact, the two-way trade between India and Japan last year was only around$12 billion, whereas India-China trade was$60 billion and the China-Japan trade was over $312 billion in 2013.
A strong foundation for a strategic partnership can only be laid on the strong economic exchanges and partnership. If India is able to provide opportunities and climate to the Japanese in the near future the Japanese will feel encouraged to assist India in the defence sector also. Since much of the India-Japanese trade and commerce will be conducted via the South China Sea, the two countries would need to strengthen maritime partnership also to give meaning to the special strategic and global partnership that was especially mentioned in the Tokyo Declaration.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe signing the agreements at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shares a lighter moment with Japanese ceremonial drummers