Is Ja­pan mis­lead­ing In­dia against China?

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIEW - By Long Xingchun The author is a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Charhar In­sti­tute, and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for In­dian Stud­ies at China West Nor­mal Univer­sity. opin­ion@glob­al­times.com.cn

apanese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe paid a three-day visit to In­dia from Wed­nes­day to Fri­day.

It was his third time in four years to visit In­dia, a rar­ity for a Ja­panese prime min­is­ter.

Abe has been the brain behind trans­form­ing In­dia-Ja­pan ties such as clinch­ing the land­mark civil nu­clear deal in Novem­ber 2016, which came into force in July.

The Ja­panese prime min­is­ter de­lib­er­ately chose to gloss over In­dia’s record as a non-signatory to the bind­ing Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty and went ahead with the civil nu­clear pact.

Abe also ap­proved the sale of Ja­pan’s state-of-the-art US-2 am­phib­ian air­craft in what prom­ises to be a land­mark de­fense agree­ment.

In­dia has be­come the largest re­cip­i­ent of Of­fi­cial Devel­op­ment As­sis­tance from Ja­pan.

Be­sides, In­dia’s creak­ing, colo­nialera rail­way sys­tem, which has been in news of late for a spate of ac­ci­dents, took a gi­ant leap for­ward as In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi broke ground on the coun­try’s first bul­let train project, thanks to Ja­panese hitech and a gen­er­ous line of credit. The Shinkansen model train will cut the 508-kilo­me­ter jour­ney from Ahmedabad to Mumbai from eight hours to about three.

The bet­ter In­dia-Ja­pan ties have mu­tual self-serv­ing in­ter­ests. Ja­pan, as the sec­ond-largest econ­omy for long, is com­pet­i­tive in ex­port of com­modi­ties, tech­nol­ogy and global in­vest­ments. While In­dia is a key emerg­ing mar­ket seek­ing for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment and tech­no­log­i­cal know-how. Huge po­ten­tial ex­ists in the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries.

How­ever, ev­ery time the In­dian and Ja­panese lead­ers meet, both of them con­sider China as the first pri­or­ity. The In­dian me­dia read too much into Abe’s lat­est visit as that of great sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance be­cause the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter landed in In­dia barely two weeks af­ter the Sino-In­dian bor­der stand­off. The bul­let train project was also touted as a blow to China by a sec­tion of In­dian me­dia. And the nar­ra­tive around the Asia Africa Growth Cor­ri­dor (AAGC) was built around a counter to China’s Belt and Road ini­tia­tive (BRI).

The AAGC, in ad­di­tion to projects con­cern­ing health, agri­cul­ture and dis­as­ter man­age­ment as pri­or­ity, also de­lib­er­ated upon con­struc­tion of ports, in­dus­trial parks and their con­nec­tiv­ity.

The ba­sic con­cept of the AAGC is sim­i­lar to 21st-Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road (MSR) project and is in line with the BRI’s spirit.

The BRI, an am­bi­tious ini­tia­tive of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, doesn’t include the im­print of Bei­jing’s lead­er­ship or par­tic­i­pa­tion in each and ev­ery project.

China wel­comes any ven­ture con­ducive to the devel­op­ment of re­lated re­gions and coun­tries and which could ful­fill the pri­mary goal of con­nec­tiv­ity.

Con­se­quently, the AAGC can com­ple­ment the BRI and can also be dove­tailed with the lat­ter.

The AAGC won’t im­pact the MSR project. The past 30 years have seen an un­prece­dented large-scale in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment in China. Big cities are con­nected with high-speed rail­ways. High­ways have cov­ered most coun­ties.

China has emerged as a trea­sure trove of en­gi­neer­ing tal­ent, thanks to its build­ing of the world’s most pow­er­ful in­fra­struc­ture ca­pac­ity.

Glob­ally, China is also con­tracted to con­struct many ports, roads, bridges, air­ports and rail­ways. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Bei­jing has de­vel­oped trade and in­vest­ment ties with Euro­pean, Asian and African na­tions. The BRI is a cul­mi­na­tion of China’s grow­ing eco­nomic foot­print and is def­i­nitely not an il­lu­sion.

Con­versely, In­dia’s in­fra­struc­ture is where China’s was 20 years ago. New Delhi has just started build­ing ex­press­ways and high-speed rail­way, but roads in smaller cities and ru­ral ar­eas are still akin to dirt tracks.

Over the next 20-30 years, In­dia will con­cen­trate on strength­en­ing its do­mes­tic con­nec­tiv­ity with ex­ter­nal aid.

Be­sides, out­side South Asia, In­dia lacks re­sources in a big way. At best, New Delhi can pro­vide lofty ideas and con­cepts such as the “spice route,” “mon­soon plan” and the AAGC. For in­stance, some projects are funded by Ja­pan and sup­ported by Ja­panese tech­nol­ogy, and when they come up for con­struc­tion, the co­op­er­a­tion of Chi­nese en­ter­prises can­not be over­looked. Abe’s “globe-trot­ting diplo­macy” to be­siege China can only be con­strued as a bar­gain­ing chip with Bei­jing be­cause Tokyo doesn’t re­ally want to con­front the lat­ter.

In­dia should be wary of be­ing mis­led by Ja­pan in con­fronting China, while Tokyo ben­e­fits from New Delhi’s face-off with Bei­jing. The US and Ja­pan’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Belt and Road Fo­rum for In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion in May amid In­dia’s boy­cott is an ex­am­ple.

In fact, China, Ja­pan and In­dia – the three ma­jor Asian pow­ers – can foster prag­matic co­op­er­a­tion, which could be a win-win sit­u­a­tion for re­gional progress and devel­op­ment as well.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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