Naysayers may say nothing came from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India. The usual catchwords alluding to summit success did not fly thick and fast. The headlines were staid. The joint statement of the two Prime Ministers is a dry read. Such a reading is wrong.
Diplomacy has given India the break it needed: Japan is more than willing to waltz to a strategic tune, a huge change in outlook since the frosty days of Pokhran II.
Buried in the joint statement text are indicators of closer political and strategic cooperation. These are couched in the usual diplomatese, but their intent is clear: from strengthening defence exchange to furthering security cooperation to “deepening and broadening strategic dialogue at various levels”, these are harbingers of interesting developments in Asia.
For pacifist Japan, this is a leap. While there was no assurance on nuclear cooperation, Japan “noticing” India’s energy needs, clearly indicates that it will not oppose India at the Nuclear Supplier’s Group for sourcing fissile material for its reactors. If India signs the safeguards protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear cooperation is very likely, spurred by the interests of Japanese business corporations. Unlike a “seat on the nuclear high table”, these will be real gains on the energy security front for us.
Japan is waking up to its political role in Asia and world at large, while India is a regional power, nuclear weapons or not, in its own right. Japanese defence forces venture out more often on peacekeeping missions, an area where India is experienced. Maritime security is now an area of common interest and keeping international sea-lanes free from any problems (such as the ones in Moulaccas) is economically vital both to Japan and India.
Here the hurly-burly of events have added to the slow confluence of interests. The anti-Japan riots in Chinese cities in April 2005, the speeding up of the Japanese economy after a decade-long slumber, the emergence of India as an open economy that is open to ideas, investment and technology and finally the Indo-US nuclear deal represent the concert of events against a backcloth of growing warmth.
If the arc lights are focused on the strategic side, the high-adrenalin economic prospects between the two countries have not materialized. The in-principle agreement on currency swaps is one exception. In a world where financial liquidity vapourizes in a flash, the deal raises comfort levels for India greatly. Once the deal materializes, possibly the country can think about taking bolder financial steps, ones that it has shied away from so far.
Projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai corridor will inject more life into India’s economy when completed. Similar high capacity corridor projects in western and eastern India hold the potential to createinfrastructure.
The sluggishness on this front has many reasons. For a long time, the Japanese economy was in the doldrums while India was pushing forward. That was the time when many investors and countries reaped the first-mover advantage in India. Now, as Japan contemplates investments, wages and costs in India are on the upswing. The opinion, that Japan has missed the Indian bus, may not be off the mark. If the Economic Partnership Agreement/Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement materializes, things may change.
There have been a few attempts at successful building of strategic and economic cooperation with another country in our history. Where they have come anywhere close to success (the Soviet Union in the last century and the United States in this one), they have only deepened fissures at home. The Japanese experience may prove to be a refreshing change.
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