Mutual benefit

Updated on: Mar 09, 2018

Both India and Japan stand to gain by working together to contain an increasingly stronger and belligerent China

It’s not just mutual admiration that’s drawing the right-leaning nationalist leaders of India and Japan into a tighter embrace. This is a partnership that’s growing in the shadow of the Chinese Dragon. India and Japan have been drawn together inexorably by their common nervousness about their giant neighbour that’s becoming more militarily powerful by the day. China's defence budget is now reckoned to be $215 billion by Sipri (the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). That’s way more than India’s $56 billion and Japan’s $48 billion. Japan openly admitted it was hiking its defence budget mid-year as it was worried about North Korea’s nuclear antics and has “strong concerns” about China's “heavy-handed attitude in the East and South China Seas”.

The high point of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to India — he’s the second foreign dignitary after China”s Xi Jinping to head to Ahmedabad and give Delhi a miss — was, of course, laying the foundation stone for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. The hugely costly project to utilise Japan’s Shinkansen bullet-train technology has come under fire in India, but Tokyo’s sweetened the deal by offering a ₹88,000-crore 50-year loan at a virtual give-away 0.1-per cent interest rate. In fact, in 2016-17, Japan gave loans worth ₹22,000 crore at the same super-cheap rates for seven infrastructure projects. These include ₹6,800 crore for metro projects in Ahmedabad and Chennai, and ₹4,000 crore for improving roads in the North-East, and also another ₹1,000 crore for upgrading transmission lines in Odisha. Despite the bonhomie, however, trade figures have been lacklustre, sliding from $18 billion in 2012-13 to $13 billion in 2016-17 with India struggling to penetrate the Japanese market as a result of language barriers, high quality and service standards, and other factors.

Improving ties between India and Japan have been high priorities for both Abe and Narendra Modi. Abe’s visited India thrice since Modi came to power and Modi has travelled to Japan once. And it’s still fresh in India’s memory that Japan was the lone country to come out openly in support during the Doklam standoff. During this trip, Abe pleased India with a statement against “terrorist havens ‘, clearly targeting Pakistan. India and Japan are also talking about joint military exercises in 2018 in addition to the India-US-Japan Malabar naval exercises. But negotiations to purchase amphibious US-2 planes have dragged on for years with no headway on price. China’s reacted to the Abe visit with injured innocence while a columnist in China Daily warned Delhi against becoming a pawn on the US-Japan “chessboard”. Also, still at the discussion stage is the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor which is a riposte to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. If India and Japan really want to be an effective counterweight to the Chinese, India and Japan would be advised to focus on efforts like this that will ensure they can hold their own against the Middle Kingdom.

Published on September 14, 2017
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