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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 17 New Delhi, April 11, 2020

India-Japan Relations

Saturday 11 April 2020, by Eduardo Faleiro

Throughout history India-Japan relations have been devoid of any kind of dispute, ideological, cultural or territorial. Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, J.R.D Tata and Subhash Chandra Bose were among the Indians closely associated with Japan. Judge Radha Binod Pal was the Indian member appointed to the International Military Tribunal that tried Japanese war crimes alleged to have been committed during the Second World War. Among all judges of the Tribunal he was the only one who delivered a dissenting judgement and held the defendants not guilty. Pal is revered by the Japanese people and there is a monument honouring him in Kyoto. Japanese support and assistance to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and to the Indian National Army continue to shape popular perceptions about Japan in India. There is admiration for Japan’s post war reconstruction. Iron ore exports from India including from Goa in the fifties helped rehabilitate the Japanese steel industry.

Both the countries established diplomatic ties in 1952 and the relations were upbeat. However, the momentum was not sustained. When Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Tokyo in 1988, it was after a gap of 30 years since the last high level visit from India. The links between the two countries were revitalized for a number of reasons. In the economic sphere, the complementaries are striking, India’s rich natural and human resources and Japan’s advanced technology, India’s progress in services and Japanese excellence in manufacturing as well as Japan’s surplus capital for investment and India’s large and growing markets. Japanese involvement in our automotive industry and infrastructure projects has been significant. Suzuki is the most prominent Japanese company to have an investment in this country. In partnership with India’s Maruti Suzuki it is the largest automobile manufacturer in the Indian market. Soon New Delhi will have one of the largest metro networks in the world partly due to Japanese assistance in conceptualising and executing this project.

There are growing economic complementaries and political convergences. The 2007 annual survey conducted by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation identified India as a most prominent overseas destination for Japanese companies over the long term.
India’s economic reforms and integration into the global economy make expansion of ties with the Asia Pacific region a natural consequence. The Look East Policy was devised during the Government of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1992 for better economic management with our eastern neighbours and successive Governments have turned it also into a tool for strategic partnership and security cooperation in particular with Japan and Vietnam.

During the visit of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori to India in 2000 the Japan India Global Partnership was launched. It formed the foundation for strengthening ties in diverse fields and for identifying strategic convergences. The Joint Statement by Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Shin Jo Abe in 2006 upgraded the Global Partnership and provided for annual Prime Ministerial Summits. India is the only country with which Japan has such annual Summit meetings and they alternate between New Delhi and Tokyo.

The upgradation of relations between the two countries and the Annual Summit mechanism has led to an unprecedented progress in the economic and strategic engagement in several fields including defense and security. The Look East Policy has entered a dynamic and vibrant phase and it envisages Japan as a key partner in East Asia.

In December 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan culminated in the signing of the "Joint Statement towards Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership". Japan has helped to finance many infrastructure projects in India, most notably the Delhi Metro system. Indian applicants were welcomed in 2006 to the JET Programme, with one slot available in 2006 and increasing to 41 slots in 2007. In 2007, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces and the Indian Navy took part in a joint naval exercise Malabar 2007 in the Indian Ocean, which also involved the naval forces of Australia, Singapore and the United States. 2007 was declared "India-Japan Friendship Year."

Both India and Japan seek to become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the two Prime Ministers reiterated this demand in their address to the UN General Assembly. Indeed, there is an urgent need to enlarge the membership of the U.N. Security Council so that it reflects the geopolitical realities of the 21st century, becomes more representative and enhances its effectiveness and legitimacy.
During the 2008 Indo-Japan Summit held in Tokyo, a Joint Declaration on Security was endorsed by both Prime Ministers. At the Annual Summit of 2010 a Joint Declaration on the India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was finalized. CEPA came into effect in August 2011.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan in November 2016 for the annual Summit meeting. At this meeting the two sides decided to upgrade their Strategic and Global Partnership and Japan announced its intention to invest in India about USD 35 billion over the next five years. However, the much awaited review of CEPA remained stuck over the issue of giving Indian pharmaceutical companies and experts more access to Japanese markets. There was also no progress on other important items in the Prime Minister’s agenda such as the civil nuclear agreement and defense deals.

The Education sector is in focus in India-Japan relations. Our Information Technology companies take aim at the Japanese market, have increased their recruitment of Japanese speaking individuals and conduct courses to train their employees in Japanese language. Pune has become a major centre of Japanese language education. The University of Pune established a Japanese language course in 1977 and upgraded it to a full Department in 1978. The similarity between Japanese grammar and Marathi is mentioned by some students as a factor which facilitates the study of the language. However, despite increase in the number of students studying Japanese, there is still a major shortfall relative to the needs of the industry. For instance, in the translation business there are 100 jobs available for every 20 students.

Japan is regarded as a key partner of India for economic development. In the recent past the India – Japan relationship has transformed into a partnership of growth, substance and purpose. Japan’s interest in India is increasing due to a variety of reasons including India’s larger and growing market and its resources, especially the human resources.
The Indian and Japanese Prime Ministers will be meeting later this year for the annual bilateral summit. 2020 is bound to be a landmark year in the development of Japan India ties and it will set the tone for the future of relations of these two Asian democracies

India and Japan seek to create an “arc of advantage and prosperity” across the Asian continent. India is the largest democracy in Asia and Japan the most prosperous. An Asian Economic Community, in which both countries have a significant role to play, will engage the wider Asian region within a cooperative framework so that all the people of Asia together meet the challenges unleashed by the forces of globalization.

(The writer is a former Union Minister)

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