Japan and India have very good reasons to forge closer ties. They are both democracies and share fundamental values. With proper attention, their economic relationship, which has been stunted, can grow to their mutual benefit. They share security concerns: stability in Central Asia and the Mideast, access to energy, secure trade and sea lanes, and stable relations among all East Asian nations.
Notice what was not mentioned in that list: China. There is the argument, usually made quietly, that Tokyo and Delhi should cooperate to “contain” China and counter its rise. The logic is implicit in the call for “a concert of democracies,” now made with increasing frequency. But a Japan-India relationship that defines itself in opposition to China would be a mistake.
Chief among Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s chores on his first trip to India is developing a road map that will put meat on the bones of the strategic partnership announced during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo in December. Both countries seek real progress in economic relations. Indian statistics put Japan’s trade with India at about $6.5 billion last year, just 4 percent of Japan’s trade with China. Japanese investment in India has doubled from $254.7 million in 2005 to $515.5 million in 2006, and both countries expect dramatic increases.
The two governments hope to conclude a comprehensive economic treaty by yearend that is expected to lead to $5 billion in investments in five years and push trade to $20 billion by the end of this decade. While ambitions are high, progress during planning meetings has been sporadic: Top-level political initiative is needed to give the negotiations a vital push.
A focus of Japanese investment is infrastructure. Mr. Abe was pressed to back a $90 billion, 2,800-km freight corridor that will link major cities in India. Both sides see this project as a “catalyst” for a genuine strategic partnership. Other deals are expected in a range of business sectors, and a new India-Japan business leader forum, inaugurated during Mr. Abe’s visit, should provide direction and momentum to the business relationship. Japanese businesses are eager to tap a new and expanding market as well as find a second investment site as they embrace a “China plus one” investment strategy.
The political dimension of the partnership is more challenging. The biggest obstacle has been Japanese opposition to India’s nuclear weapons program. The dynamic has shifted with the U.S. decision to proceed with a civilian nuclear agreement with India. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must bless the U.S.-India deal, and Japan, as a member of the NSG, will weigh in on that. Thus far, Mr. Abe has been cautious, noting only that his government is “carefully considering” the agreement’s effects on the nonproliferation regime.
The nuclear question takes on greater significance as the two countries work together to find clean and sustainable sources of energy. India sees a revitalized nuclear energy sector as key to powering 9 percent economic growth annually. The two leaders’ joint statement noted that they “shared the view that nuclear energy can play an important role as a safe, sustainable and nonpolluting source of energy.”
The nuclear issue also fits into Mr. Abe’s “Cool Earth 50” initiative, which aims to halve global greenhouse house gas emissions by 2050. This effort is a cornerstone of the prime minister’s diplomacy and will get more attention when Japan hosts next year’s Group of Eight summit. India’s economic growth makes its participation in the program crucial. Mr. Singh said the proposal would “receive serious consideration,” an echo no doubt of Mr. Abe’s views on the nuclear energy deal.
Another pillar of Mr. Abe’s diplomacy is his call for an alignment of democracies. A cornerstone of this effort is the four-way dialogue among Japan, the United States, India and Australia. “The backbone of this idea . . . is the sharing of basic values such as freedom, democracy and human rights.” The problem is how this quadrilateral framework is fleshed out. It must not be a veiled China-containment policy — rest assured, Beijing will look for indications of that intent. India, Japan and the U.S. have already held naval exercises to promote cooperation on sea-lane security. A truly responsible and forward-looking foreign policy should recognize the shared interests of Japan and India without antagonizing another key state in the region.
That raises questions about the last stop on Mr. Abe’s India agenda. He traveled to Calcutta, to meet Mr. Prasanta Pal, the elder son of the late Radhabinod Pal, who wrote a dissenting opinion in the Tokyo war crimes tribunal. Judge Pal has been a hero of historical revisionists in Japan who argue that the court’s verdict was illegitimate — a product of victor’s justice. It is hard to square that perspective on history with the values Mr. Abe championed during the rest of his India tour.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.