By Ambassador R. Dayakar
- The 3-day visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India (11-13 December) represents a high water mark in Indo-Japanese relations. As a vibrant Asian democracy that nurtures the second largest economy in Asia anchored in an innovative manufacturing hub with a number of firsts in its bag, a vast industrial base, a wide range of scientific and industrial achievements and a global reach for its quality products and services, Japan can address India’s needs significantly in its quest for a sustained high economic growth and up-gradation and expansion of infrastructure, particularly in transport and energy sectors. Not surprisingly, Japan was the first country Prime Minister Modi chose to visit outside the sub-continent in August 2014. Prime Minister Abe’s visit to India is his first after NDA assumed the political direction of the country. The outcome of the visit reinforces Japan’s role as a key partner in India’s development and in sustaining the country’s targeted GDP growth rate. The visit has given a boost to India’s infrastructure expansion particularly in energy and transportation.
The text released at the end of the visit, captioned “Joint Statement on India and Japan Vision 2025” speaks of a Vision for a “Deep, Broad-based and Action-oriented Partnership” and recognizes a high degree of congruence of political, economic and strategic interests between the two who “view each other as partners” in responding to global and regional challenges. India and Japan are thus poised to play a significant role in shaping the 21st century branded as the Asian century, in the direction of peace, stability, development and prosperity.
In terms of concrete takeaways, the visit stands unique and illustrates the benefits of summit diplomacy under committed leadership in imparting momentum to critical areas of cooperation and in consolidating strategic objectives. Defence, energy and infrastructure made significant gains from the visit. While 16 agreements/ Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) were signed during the visit, two areas deserve special mention as they bolster India’s traditional and non-traditional security concerns. In the former category stand the Agreements for the Transfer of the Defence Equipment and Technology and for the Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information, that pave the way for co-production and co-development in India of defence ware such as amphibious aircraft to begin with.
The existing executive and institutional framework for defence and security dialogue is further strengthened with the addition of Air Force-to-Air Force Talks to the already existing array of “2+2 Dialogue”, Defence Policy Dialogue, Military–to–Military Talks and Coast Guard to Coast Guard cooperation. Japan has now become a regular participant in the biennial Malabar naval exercise. Both the PMs reiterated the principled position on freedom of navigation in the light of UN Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS) and over-flights in South China Sea as part of maritime interest. Japan has expressed support to India’s membership in technology control regimes and APEC. Both countries continue to work jointly for permanent membership of the expanded UN Security Council
In the non-traditional areas, India’s energy security received a boost with the MoU on Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, signed by none other than the two Prime Ministers, underscoring the importance of the agreement. PM Modi himself acknowledged this in his media statement at the conclusion of the talks when he said the MoU “is a shining symbol of a new level of mutual confidence and strategic partnership in the cause of a peaceful and secure world” and that “I know the significance of this decision for Japan”. The MoU will be followed by a formal Agreement after technical and legal procedures are completed on the Japanese side. Such an agreement will unblock supply to India of nuclear reactors made in third countries with Japanese components, in addition to the supply of Japan’s own reactors. Japan will also share with India environmentally friendly Clean Coal Technology and renewable energy generation.
In infrastructure, Shinkausen or the bullet train, the high speed rail (HSR) between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is to be funded and built by Japan with a US $ 12 billion loan on highly concessional terms of 0.1 % interest with a 50- year repayment period including 15 year moratorium. When completed, HSR marks the most significant addition to India’s railway network, post-Independence. Other infrastructure projects agreed to be considered for the Japanese finance are metro projects of Chennai and Ahmedabad, Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link, Tuticorin Outer Harbour, road network in North-Eastern India and Bengaluru’s ring road. Japan is already committed to assist Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor.
In addition it is agreed that Japan will also support India’s signature developmental programmes like “Make in India”, “Digital India”, Skill India”, “Clean India” and “Smart City” by sharing its advanced skills and technologies and through its public and private sector involvement. In particular, Japan has set up “Make-in –India Special Finance Facility” to promote direct investment by Japanese companies in Make-in –India ventures. Japan will also set up Japan Industrial Townships (JITs) and jointly with the government of India will create special incentive packages to attract Japanese investments into JITs. Both the PMs met the India-Japan CEO Group and received their recommendations. In a facility not available to any other national, India will issue visas to Japanese nationals, effective from 1st March, on arrival at Indian airports without requiring any advance application for visa or notification of the visit (which is thus different from E-visa which requires prior on-line application).
By any yardstick, Japan has proved itself to be a true partner in India’s development. At the last summit in September 2014 in Tokyo, PM Abe had spoken of US $35 billion for financing projects and investments in India by Japan over a 5-year period. The current visit seems to give a broad break-up of that figure that includes $12 billion for HSR, $12 billion for Make-in–India Fund, $5 billion under ODA and $5billion for Chennai-Bengaluru industrial corridor.
India and Japan have a long history of cultural relations, manifested in the shared heritage of Buddhism. Zen is derived from the Sanskrit word Dhyana meaning meditation. It is only appropriate that the two ancient cities of Kyoto and Varanasi are aptly partnered and PM Modi accompanied PM Abe to Varanasi and participated in Ganga Aarti, reciprocating Abe’s gesture of escorting him to Kyoto in the last summit in Japan. Japan will play a role in rejuvenation of Ganga and Varanasi.
There has been some comment in the media that the current upsurge in India-Japan relations are motivated by security concerns arising from China’s rise. Such observations seem to ignore the reality that India is known to pursue an independent foreign policy in pursuit of its national interests and principles. India is against joining any bloc or group. This is an unstated constant in India’s engagement with the world. So the speculation and debate to see anti-Chinese undertones beneath Indo-Japanese relations is misplaced.
(The author a former diplomat was head of the Gulf Division in the Ministry of External Affairs and was also India’s Ambassador to Iraq, Jordan and Sweden)