From the Viewsroom

India will miss Shinzo Abe

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on August 30, 2020

The PM did much to strengthen India-Japan ties during his tenure

It’s geography and geopolitics that make India and Japan natural allies in today’s troubled world. But it would be unfair not to credit Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the way the relationship has flourished. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who like his predecessor Manmohan Singh enjoyed a good rapport with Abe, tweeted praise for his counterpart’s “personal commitment” to the Japan-India partnership. Abe was PM for a year in 2006-2007, returning to the job in 2012 and now is Japan’s longest-serving post-war premier. In 2007, he addressed India’s Parliament and was back seven years later as chief guest at the Republic Day parade. It was another Japanese premier who kicked off the annual Japan-India summits in 2005, but it was under Abe their significance mounted. It was also under Abe’s watch the 2014 Indo-Japan nuclear deal went through, despite stiff anti-nuclear opposition in Tokyo.

It was Abe, too, who persuaded the US and other Western countries to recognise India’s geopolitical and economic importance and talk about the Indo-Pacific region rather than just the Asia-Pacific. He also helped build up the Quad (the loose alliance of India, Japan, the US and Australia) and got India to participate more in the Malabar naval exercises. The two nations will likely sign a reciprocal naval facilities pact soon, allowing India to utilise Japan’s Djibouti base to counter China in the Indian Ocean, and give the Japanese access to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands — China’s a big factor uniting India and Japan, with both countries needing alliances to contain Beijing’s ambitions. On the economic front, too, Abe played a big role in backing the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and Modi’s pet Bullet Train project.

Officially, Abe’s sudden resignation is due to a relapse of the ulcerative colitis that’s long troubled him. But another theory is he’s become more unpopular domestically amid criticism of his handling of Covid-19. Still, he’s such a shrewd player analysts don’t rule out him returning as PM in more favourable political times. The India-Japan relationship will, no doubt, thrive no matter who’s the leader. But it may lack that extra savvy energy Abe brought to the table and which helped push through many deals.

Published on August 30, 2020

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