Can Kishida Gear Up Abe’s Legacy For New Model Of Japan-India Relations? – Analysis


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s upcoming visit to India (from March 20) leaps into controversy, after Japan refused to send its Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to the G-20 summit held in New Delhi under India’s presidency, on March 3, 2023. His paradoxical googly, first, not sending a Foreign Minister to the summit and, second visiting India himself within two weeks of the summit, raised eyebrows among the pro-Japanese for furthering the relation after the assassination of Mr. Shinzo Abe.

Mr Abe’s personal bond with Prime Minister Narendra Modi elevated India’s high hope for Japan’s strong support for India’s new goals in the world. Even though Mr Kishida was known as handpicked by Shinzo Abe as a potent successor to gear up his legacy, much has been undone since the assassination of Abe.

Mr Kisida’s last visit to India as a Prime Minister of Japan during a similar time last  year drew despair among the Japanese lovers. Even though his commitment for big increase in Japanese aid, from US$33 billion to US$42 billion over the next five years, enchanted Indian policy makers, it failed to enthuse the corporate sector, as it remained  silent on Japanese investment in India.   

Till Abe’s Prime Minister-ship, the longest ever for a Japanese Prime Minister, Japan-India relations made a great leap in economic engagement and financial assistance to improve India’s infrastructure. Abe’s move for Japan’s global power and reliance on partnership with India for diversified multilateral dynamism, including flexing political muscles for a counterweight to China, brought the two nations into a close bond. 

The new era of Japan -India relation witnessed a paradigm shift  from mere bilateral economic relation to special strategic relation, including defence and global partnership. The relations extended to joint partnership for economic development in third countries. Development of AAGC project (Asia- Africa Growth Corridor), joint cooperation for the development of Chabahar Port in Iran, strengthening of defence cooperation for national security with MOU in Defence cooperation were the cases of a new dimension in political and economic relations between Japan and India. The new era provided opportunities to give the strong spine to India-Japan special strategic and global partnership in political security.

Abe’s foreign policy harped on combating China’s rise in power in the geopolitical landscape by increasing self-defense of Japan, engulfed by risker nations, like China, Russia and North Korea  and play active role for freedom in Indo-Pacific region with likeminded democracies. He relied on India  for balancing  power in the Indo-Pacific region. In his  book “Towards a beautiful country: my vision for Japan ( 2007)”, he advocated strong partnership with India.       

Can Mr. Kishida accelerate Abe’s legacy for the new era of Japan-India relations, amidst the onset of triangular  global leadership, which is steered  by Russia-China alliance, the west and Japan and India with neutrality. During his maiden visit to USA in March 2023, Prime Minister Kishida said, “Tokyo will further enhance the Japan-India Special Strategic Global Partnership in order to strengthen Washington Indo-Pacific strategic framework“,  sending a strong message to China. 

Abe’s legacy is caught into divisive characteristics. To the supporters, he was realistic. He wanted to build a strong Japan, which can protect Japanese people and culture, surrounded by risker neighborhoods. To his critics, he was obsessed with autocratic democratic power, which let him violate democratic norms and deny Japan’s imperial colonialism (war crimes, comfort women).  

For India, Japanese investment has been crucial for the new era of industrialization and Abenomics became the new template for the trigger. It placed India in the global map for automobile industry and transforming Indian manufacturing in technology oriented and supply chain dynamism. During Abe’s regime (2012-2020), Japanese investment made a whopping growth in India. It increased by more than doubl . It increased from US$2,802 million in 2012 to US$4,569 million in 2020.

On the contrary, Japanese investment in China declined during Abe regime. It slipped from US$13, 479 million in 2012 to US$12,088 million in 2021. According to Global Times, a Chinese premium media, there is a catchphrase,  “Any loss to China, is a gain to India.”

However, with the end of the Abe regime, Japanese investment in India declined. In 2021, Japanese investment declined by 24.4 percent. This was despite the fact that Japanese overall investment in overseas increased in 2021. This leaves no room for arguments making the COVID pandemic a scapegoat for the fall in investment in India, according to pro–Japanese viewers.     

Nevertheless, the fall in Japanese investment in India should not demonstrate the downturn of  Japanese sentiment. The euphoria for investment in India continues to float. According to latest JBIC survey in 2022 (Overseas business operation by Japanese manufacturers) India topped in the investment destinations for Japanese preferences in the next 3 years. It outsmarted China, displacing to the second rank for Japanese preferences. The spur in Japanese sentiment could be due to India’s bounce back in economics to the peak in the world and India’s great success to address the COVID pandemic, leaving many nations in a tailspin.  

In summing up, it is a matter of time how Mr Kishida steps in the boots of Abe’s legacy to carry forward his aim  for  strengthening Japan’s self-defence and strategic partnership with like-minded democracies to counter China, where India will likely play an active role.  

Subrata Majumder

Subrata Majumder is a former adviser to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), New Delhi, and the author of “Exporting to Japan,” as well as various articles in Indian media, including Business Line, Echo of India, Indian Press Agency, and foreign media, such as Asia Times online and Eurasia Review .

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