By Jithin S George
‘Kizuna’ meaning bonds or connections, has been chosen as Japan’s kanji (Chinese character) of 2011. This was also the theme of the address given by the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda’s, during his visit to New Delhi from 27 to 29 December 2011. His visit to India came at a time when both the countries were posited to celebrate their 60th year of diplomatic cooperation. Last month, Noda also hosted the South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and visited Beijing. Among the three, Noda’s India visit was more promising and fruitful. But what does this visit indicate about the India-Japan relations? What are the avenues for greater bilateral cooperation? Are there signs of Kizuna to strengthen in future?
Since the last decade, India-Japan relations have evolved from an economic to a more robust strategic one. Reasons could be many and one can observe the progress made so far promises potential and provides new avenues for both the countries to work together. Noda’s visit entailed multifaceted agendas and some of the notable ones are: cooperation on – security, nuclear cooperation, Africa, and people-to-people exchange.
For both the countries which heavily rely on the freedom of sea lanes of communication for their imports and exports, threat of piracy is an area which offers prospects for bilateral exercises. Earlier in September 2011, Japanese ex-Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, invited the Indian Navy for a bilateral exercise when the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) ships passed through the Indian coast (PASSEX) to their newly established military base in Djibouti. There has been a modest fillip in the defence relationship between both the countries, especially in the bilateral naval exercises. In this context, exercise between the Indian Coast Guard and the Japanese Coast Guard and the bilateral exercise between the Indian Navy and the Japanese MSDF this year provides a welcome sign.
Nuclear cooperation has been a sticking issue between the two countries. This issue can be distinguished in two parts viz. nuclear safety and nuclear proliferation. After the Fukushima incident, the parameters of nuclear safety had to be reworked and Noda assured to provide information on the status of the ongoing investigation on the causes of the nuclear accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, as well as its efforts to enhance nuclear safety. On the Nuclear Proliferation issue, Noda indicated to PM Manmohan Singh to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) at an early date, while Singh reiterated India’s commitment to a unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing. The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to working together for immediate commencement and an early conclusion of negotiations on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). The vigour of Japanese assertion for CTBT has been receding and of late, it is showing some positive signs towards India’s demand for more equal treaty.
Meanwhile, Africa has emerged as a laboratory for India-Japan cooperation; so far three rounds of India-Japan Dialogue have taken place. Both countries are collaborating in building infrastructure, industries and guide war-torn African countries for the purpose of establishing long-lasting peace. As both India and Japan are vying for a permanent position in the United Nations Security Council, this effort will add to their endeavours and perhaps challenge China’s strong presence in the region.
The number of Chinese students studying in Japan amounts to 86,173, as compared to 546 Indian students who are in fact outnumbered by even the Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan students. In addition to existing scholarships, there is an imminent need for more scholarships to invigorate Indian students to consider studying in Japan. Just as the JET Programme (Japan Exchange and Teaching, a Japanese government initiative that brings college graduates as Language Teachers, Sports Education Advisors in Japanese kindergartens, elementary, junior high and high schools) promoted and popularized Japanese culture among the American youths, there is a need to widen the scope for Indians as well. Threat of aging and greying looms large on Japanese human resources and there is an imminent need for more labour forces especially in medical sector which India can provide qualitatively. It is of significant concern that since the 3/11, the number of Indian IT engineers working in Japan has reduced from 15,000 to 7,000 and many Indian IT engineers have not yet returned to Japan.
In the past decade India-Japan relations have grown by leaps and bounds, however China continues to play an essential part in deciding the direction of this relation. As China’s rise rocked Japan from its pacifist slumber, India-Japan bonhomie has inevitably blossomed and has emerged from an economic to a strategic one in partnership with the US. Export and Joint-development of defence equipments could be seen as the next step for the bilateral relationship. In November 2011, Tokyo gave the green light for ShinMaywa Industries to respond to New Delhi’s request for RfI, search-and-rescue seaplane, and a day before Noda arrived here, the Japanese cabinet eased the restriction on arms export. Perhaps these are the promising signs for Kizuna to deepen in the coming years.
Jithin S George
Research Associate, National Maritime Foundation
email: [email protected]