By Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Dipankar Banerjee
Quietly and without fanfare, India-Japan relations have deepened and matured in the recent years. This is despite frequent changes in the Japanese government, rapid geopolitical changes in Asia and an intermittent US policy. However, very little of this relationship finds mention in the Indian media; constrained as it is with continuing scams, obsession with Pakistan and anxiety about China’s encirclement of India. Yet, nurturing and developing a relationship with Japan will significantly enhance India’s all round resilience as well as contribute to peace and stability in Asia.
Much has been written recently about China’s overtaking of Japan in gross GDP terms while no recognition has been given to the fact that Japan’s per capita income is still 10 times that of China. Tokyo still remains the global leader in crucial technologies which are essential for future innovation and growth. And with the growth in GDP and stabilization of its politics there is likelihood that Japan will overcome the current stagflation.
The current upswing in India-Japan relations can be traced back to the annual summits initiated since April 2005. A set of visits, three from each side, has led to the establishment of a ‘strategic and global partnership’. Five pillars that constitute the current architecture of cooperation are: (a) political, defence and security cooperation, (b) a comprehensive economic partnership, (c) science & technology initiatives, (d) people-to-people exchanges and (e) cooperation in regional/multilateral fora.
All these are recent formulations and entail time for maturity. An important element of the security cooperation is the nine point action plan that was signed on 29 December 2010 at New Delhi during Prime Minister Nato Kan’s visit. It is a plan for comprehensive engagement designed to advance strategic cooperation and take it to newer levels. It includes an annual strategic dialogue at the foreign ministers level with regular consultations between the National Security Advisors, a maritime security dialogue and a track 1.5 dialogue on security related issues.
It aims to enhance defence cooperation through regular defence ministerial meetings, maritime engagement and an annual maritime exercise in each other’s shores alternately. Cooperation between coast guards on anti-piracy measures will also continue while military student exchanges will be increased in training establishments as well as the sea. This agreement is a recent development and actualization will be a steady process, but a significant potential has been created.
It is also important to note the geopolitical conditions which have acted as drivers for this change. China’s rise, not apparently peaceful and which can do with greater transparency, is a case in point. Giving up Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “keeping one’s head low”, China has embarked on a three pronged approach to declare its rise. This is evident in its recent policies on the Korean peninsula, tensions over the South China Sea and the Senkaku or Daiyutao islands and rapid military modernization including development of major asymmetric military capabilities.
Yet, the substance of India-Japan relations lies in the comprehensive engagement on economic and trade relations. While it is true that the relations have not reached its true potential, recent agreements promise a major transformation. Since 2004-05 India has been the largest recipient of Japan’s Official Developmental Assistance. This has translated into support for macro infrastructure projects like the Delhi Metro and the forthcoming Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. This project if suitably implemented has the potential to redefine industrialization in India in the coming decade.
The potential for further cooperation remains high and major efforts need to be made to achieve desired results. Only two recommendations are suggested here. First, is to develop and strengthen people-to-people contact particularly among young people, in all spheres and in all possible ways. In this context the recent liberalization of the visa rules, minimum though it is, is a step in the right direction. Very few Indians visit Japan for recreation or on holidays. The global annual exodus of Japanese tourists around the world largely bypasses India in spite of its rich Buddhist heritage and cultural diversity. Interaction between people in today’s world is a powerful force for increasing understanding and cooperation, but this is largely neglected.
Second, India today possesses a very large, young, educated and scientifically trained talent pool that is second to no other in the world. They are adventurous, seek opportunities abroad and contribute to the wealth of their host nations. They have done so in a remarkable manner in the US, Canada and even in Australia, for example. They are law abiding, secular and are willing to adapt to the host country’s traditions and way of life. Over time, if they can be persuaded to move to Japan in some numbers it may address Japan’s ageing problem by providing them with a high quality of talented young professionals. This is a huge challenge for Japan also as it has not been very welcoming to foreigners for several reasons, but the economic benefits for both the countries from this exchange would be enormous and hence the endeavour deserves an attempt.
Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Dipankar Banerjee