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Delhi and Tokyo need to get serious

By Harsh V Pant
October 27, 2010 17:47 IST
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Delhi and Tokyo need to urgently assess the implications of their lacklustre ties and get serious about remedying this situation. The Indian prime minister's visit is a step in the right direction but much more needs to be done to enhance regional and global stability, says Harsh V Pant.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Japan as part of his three-nation tour of East Asia this week is intended to underline India growing role in the region and acknowledge that Japan has a crucial role in the emerging security environment in the Asia-Pacific.

Urging Japan to play a larger role in India's growth story, the Indian prime minister made a strong pitch for strong Indo-Japan ties. He and his Japanese counterpart, Naoto Kan, have signed a visa pact allowing Japanese workers to live and work in India for three years and the much awaited Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that has been in the works for the last four years. As part of the CEPA, Delhi will eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of its imports from Japan with Tokyo removing tariffs on 97 percent of Indian imports.

The prime minister had to intervene personally to make sure that the CEPA was in place before his visit to Japan. There were signs of bureaucratic foot-dragging on CEPA and it is indeed a sign of healthy India-Japan ties that it has finally been signed.

For a Japan embroiled in its domestic political instability and economic drift, India has not been a top priority in recent months. India too has ignored Tokyo and the Indian bureaucracy has been unwilling to push the economic pacts important to signal India's seriousness towards Japan.

This is a crucial period of strategic flux in Asia and there is much that India and Japan working together can accomplish. India's ties with Japan have travelled a long way since May 1998 when a chill had set in after India's nuclear tests with Japan imposing sanctions and suspending its Overseas Development Assistance.

Since then, however, the changing strategic milieu in Asia-Pacific has brought the two countries together so much so that the last visit of the Indian prime minister to Japan resulted in the unfolding of a roadmap to transform a low-key relationship into a major strategic partnership. But ground realities are changing in Asia rapidly and India and Japan need to respond more proactively.

China's rise is the most significant variable in the Asian geo-strategic landscape today and both India and Japan would like to see a constructive China playing a larger role in the solving of regional and global problem rather than becoming a problem itself.

But concerns are rising about China's assertive diplomatic and military posture in both states as exemplified in the wake of a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Senakaku Island and rising tensions on the Sino-Indian border areas.

China's attempts to test the diplomatic and military mettle of its neighbours in South China Sea and along the Sino-Indian border will only bring Japan and India even closer. While Delhi and Tokyo would like greater transparency and restraint on the part of China, there is now a need for them to be more candid about their expectations from China towards her neighbours.

Given the likelihood that the presence of the US navy in the South China Sea might shrink in the coming years because of economic constraints, Japan should encourage a larger role for the Indian navy there even as there is an urgent need for the Japanese Self Defence Forces to expand their presence in the Indian Ocean.

Greater bilateral defence cooperation including joint development and production of defence equipment is the need of the hour. It would be even more productive if the US too is involved in Japan-India military exercises so that a broader regional security framework can be nurtured.

Economic ties too need serious attention. Though the Japanese investment in India has crossed the $3.7 billion mark, much remains to be done. The Delhi-Mumbai corridor remains a centrepiece of India-Japan cooperation in the infrastructure sector. Japan is also supporting the new Indian Institute of Technology in Hyderabad, laying the foundation for academic exchanges and collaboration between the higher educational institutions of the two states.

Japan today is more serious than anytime in recent past about economic cooperation with India. The Japanese government's 'new growth strategy' is aimed at developing emerging markets like India through infrastructure deals combining public financing and private sector investment.

Regional institutions in Asia too need strengthening and active US involvement in ASEAN and ASEAN Regional Forum has been welcomed by member states. India should work towards enhancing its profile in regional institutions. Yet the 'hub and spokes' of US alliances will continue to define the regional security architecture in the region. At the global level the two sides want to re-energise the G-4 grouping that is pushing for reform of the UN, particularly expansion of the Security Council and inclusion of new permanent members.

The talks on civilian nuclear pact seem to be going nowhere at the moment with the two sides merely agreeing to speed up talks. Japan continues to insist that India sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty whereas India has no intention of doing so given its long-standing concerns regarding the discriminatory nature of these treaties.

Given the involvement of Japanese firms in the US and French nuclear industry, an Indo-Japanese pact is essential if US and French civilian nuclear cooperation with India is to be realised. Japanese approval is needed if GE-Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse are to sell nuclear reactors to India. Meanwhile, the new liability law in India could make greater civilian nuclear cooperation between Japan and India difficult to accomplish.

Delhi and Tokyo need to urgently assess the implications of their lacklustre ties and get serious about remedying this situation. The Indian prime minister's visit is a step in the right direction but much more needs to be done to enhance regional and global stability.

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Harsh V Pant