Is Japan misleading India against China?
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.