An official visit of Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe to India on December 11-13 and his talks with his colleague Narendra Modi are said to be one of the three landmark events of the outgoing year, which have been shaping the political situation in the Pacific Rim with China and the US, the two other leading world powers, playing the primary roles in the process.
Since 2005, when Junichiro Koizumi (one of Shinzo Abe’s predecessors in the prime minister’s seat and the person considered Mr. Abe’s “political Godfather”) “re-discovered” India following the US, such annual reciprocal visits have become standard practice. They are seen as a vital element in the expansion of ties connecting Japan and India—a tandem, whose influence on the world politics has been steadily growing. This process has noticeably accelerated after Shinzo Abe (in December 2012) and Narendra Modi (in May 2014) took offices in their countries. Abe and Modi have been maintaining amicable personal relations since the middle of the last decade.
But what really spurs affinity of the two countries is their concern over the fact that China is turning into a global power.
During the last summit, the parties discussed a raft of issues related to the situation currently taking shape in the Pacific Rim and in the world as a whole. Reorganization of the UN Security Council and willingness of Japan and India to become its permanent members was the main topic discussed by the parties.
Upon signing a number of bilateral documents on December 12, the Indian Prime Minister uttered a symbolic phrase that the two countries “have achieved immense progress in the areas of regional partnership and security.” This notion was reflected in the Joint Statement on India and Japan Vision 2025: “Special Strategic and Global Partnership Working Together for Peace and Prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region and the World”. The Joint Statement lists particular measures aimed at the development of cooperation in the domains of defense and security. It also specifies regular, and not one-off (as it was the case before) participation of Japanese navy in the large-scale American-Indian naval military exercise MALABAR that has been annually conducted in Bay of Bengal (the Indian Ocean) since 2007. In addition, the document states that both countries agree on holding “dialogs and joint events” in the tripartite format with the participation of the US.
The Joint Statement also indicates the intention of both governments to sign a bilateral agreement on joint participation in nuclear projects once “some technical details, including those that have to comply with international procedures” have been reconciled.
The intricacy of this phrase is easy to explain since both countries have been long looking into pushing the limits of their bilateral cooperation in this area beyond business projects, but this is when the non-proliferatio
India is one of few countries that refused to join the NPT Agreement, and it will be Japan’s first partner in the nuclear cooperation.
It should be kept in mind that on the international stage Japan defines itself as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the treaty and not only in terms of strict compliance with its provisions, but also as a country with strong belief that other states possessing nuclear weapons should surrender them.
The fact that at the present session of the General Assembly Japan acted as the main shaker and mover of the resolution calling for complete nuclear disarmament just evidences its muscular stance on the issue. The draft resolution was voted “in favor” by 167 members of UN, “against”—by 7 members (4 permanent members of the Security Council, plus India, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Israel), 5 countries (including China) abstained. It should be noted that decisions of the General Assembly of the UN assembly have a recommendatory nature.
The fact that India voted against the Japan-proposed UN resolution illustrates that the establishment of beneficial bilateral cooperation in the nuclear field, closely related to the development of nuclear weapons, is rather problematic.
Ongoing talks between the leaders of the two countries over this topic for almost ten years have not entailed concrete results. Administration of the US, i.e., of the closest Japanese ally, managed to overcome the resistance of its Congress (on certain conditions) opposing the defrosting of the American-Indian cooperation in the nuclear field back in 2007.
Items 35 and 36 of the Joint Statements, where the parties state their harmonized opinion regarding the necessity to assure the “safeguarding the global commons in maritime, space and cyber domains” and propose “to avoid unilateral actions that could lead to tensions in the region” of the South China Sea, were also of a particular interest. There can be no mistake as to who these appeals are addressed to (China).
Signing of an agreement on the implementation of specific projects in the transport infrastructure development is one of the key practical results of the last Japanese-Indian summit. The parties agreed to build a 500-km high-speed rail, which will connect two biggest cities in the western part of India—Mumbai and Ahmedabad. This agreement might be just the starting point of an expanded participation of Japan in the development of Indian transport infrastructure since it is in plans of the Indian government to build six more high speed railroads.
Commenting on the signed documents, PM Modi said that “in the realization of its national economic dream, Japan will be India’s greatest friend.” This statement is especially remarkable since the volume of Japanese-Indian trade operations is by far smaller than the volume of Indian-Chinese trade.
Naturally, China paid particular attention to the last annual Japanese-Indian bilateral summit. The title of an article published in the Global Times (Tokyo’s pursuit of New Delhi may stumble) perfectly reflects a complex mixture of feelings China experiences after yet another manifestation of the growing Japanese-Indian affinity. The article is accompanied with a cartoon depicting a couple, where the gentlemen, resembling Japanese PM, is whispering something (apparently rather suggestive) into the lady-elephant’s ear making her lower her eyes in embarrassment.
The cartoon is an accurate image of the current Beijing’s perception of both its main neighbors. Japan ranks second among geopolitical competitors of China (with the US being first), but has “good prospects” for moving up to the top position. As for India, China still holds it hopes high that India will refrain from “ill” political decisions in respect of China.
But to describe the real state of affairs in the Japanese-Indian duo, one more cartoon will have to be drawn. This time it would have to depict two characters doing something directly opposite: a dashing Sikh guardsman curling his handlebar moustache is whispering something into the ear of a Japanese geisha.
The two cartoons would perfectly complement each other and create an accurate image of the current situation since apparently both countries are interested in the expansion of their political, economic and military relations, which was once again demonstrated during the official visit of Japanese prime minister to India.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.