Abe’s visit will bolster security ties
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Issue Courtesy: Mail Today | Date : 14 Jan , 2014

Dr Manmohan Singh and the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe will be the chief guest at our next Republic Day, a decision that marks India’s reciprocal interest in deepening bilateral political and economic ties. Until now the two countries have not exploited the full potential of their relationship, which is surprising given the  economic inroads South Korea has made into India, and even more so, China.

Prime Minister Abe’s January 26 visit should lay the foundation of a robust India-Japan strategic partnership to underpin a stable security architecture in Asia.


India’s high growth rates in recent years- unfortunately stalled currently- and the improvement of India-US relations signified by the nuclear deal opened the doors for renewed Japanese interest in India. The result was the declaration of a strategic and global partnership between the two countries in 2006. The practice of annual summits has been instituted between the two, with Russia being the only other country with which India has such an arrangement. India and Japan are conducting a joint foreign affairs and defence dialogue- the so-called “two plus two dialogue”- which India has with no other country. As part of growing military contacts, joint naval exercises have been held, which is significant in the light of Japan’s inhibited defence posture since the second world war, which, beyond the constitutional restrictions imposed on a vanquished nation, reflects the pacifism of Japan’s post 1945 society. The Japanese Defence Minister Onodera has just visited India, with an agreement on enhanced military cooperation, including between the air forces of the two countries.

Abe’s agenda of lifting Japan from its economic stagnation, and concomitantly, regaining some political prestige at the international level, suits India strategically. The Japanese Prime Minister has a declared strategic interest in India, expressed also Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso. After assuming power Abe has visited every Asean country, not to mention his foray into Africa to restore Japan’s profile in that continent. This is creating the ground for giving substance to the India-Japan global partnership, taking it beyond a rhetorical flourish. There can be synergy between Japan’s renewed drive to stimulate its relations with Asean and India’s own Look East policy, with Myanmar and Vietnam being two countries where geo-political interests of the two countries have particular compatibility. Actually, Japan’s effort to regain lost ground in Asean can be bolstered by a stronger relationship with India because India will give strategic depth to such Japanese ambitions in this part of Asia. Similarly, in Africa the scope for a productive partnership needs to be explored seriously.

Japan has the financial resources and technology to boost India’s economic growth and provide the technological inputs India needs to modernise its industrial and physical infrastructure. India-Japan trade- at $18.5 billion- remains low; Japanese investment in India at $15.9 is unimpressive. The untapped potential of the relationship is therefore immense. The two sides signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in February 2011, which has so far not yielded   any spectacular result, but should help in efforts to achieve the trade target of $25 billion by 2014. The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the Delhi-Mumbai Rail Corridor are huge projects that are being supported by Japanese agencies, besides the potential involvement of Japan in the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor project.

India and Japan would have a shared interest in countervailing China’s hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.


Japan needs to finalise the needlessly delayed India-Japan Civil Nuclear Agreement. After the India-US nuclear deal and the NSG exemption for India, Japan’s procrastination in normalising nuclear ties with India makes little sense strategically. It actually calls into the question the depth of Japan’s commitment to a strategic relationship with India. Leveraging India for meeting the new geo-political challenges Japan is facing constitutes a limited strategic objective. Japan should shed its political phobia about nuclear ties with India. Demanding additional commitments on “non-proliferation” and advocating the CTBT to India, as the head of the New Komeito Party Natsuo Yamaguchi did during his recent visit to India, is unnecessarily grating, especially because Japan has numerous nuclear power plants on its territory, possesses huge plutonium stocks and by all accounts is only a screw-driver away technologically from manufacturing nuclear weapons if it chose to do so. It is to be hoped that Abe’s visit will bring to a closure the pending nuclear file.


The China factor is becoming strategically salient to the developing India-Japan ties, given China’s aggressive actions in the East China and South China Seas. India and Japan would have a shared interest in countervailing China’s hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. Both have territorial disputes with China, though in the resolution of these disputes neither country can help the other directly. By strengthening their bilateral ties in all spheres, the two can send a powerful signal to China that lines of defence are being created on its periphery by countries that were not until now partners. India is still reticent about sending negative signals to China by picking up Japan’s cause, just as Japan has never shown any inclination to pick up India’s cause vis a vis Pakistan, for instance, and this despite the Pakistan-North Korea nuclear and missile connection.

A  broader US-Japan-India partnership has been developing with a potential China threat in view, reflected in trilateral naval exercises and a trilateral political dialogue at foreign office level. Japan has an interest in an enhanced Indian naval role in protecting the sea lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean, an area in which the Indian and US navies have had sustained cooperation in recent years.

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Unfortunately, US’s political ineptitude in alienating India over a maid’s wages has derailed for the time being any forward movement in trilateral cooperation to counter China’s increasingly disruptive conduct.

Prime Minister Abe’s January 26 visit should lay the foundation of a robust India-Japan strategic partnership to underpin a stable security architecture in Asia.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kanwal Sibal

is the former Indian Foreign Secretary. He was India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia.

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One thought on “Abe’s visit will bolster security ties

  1. Agree fully with Mr. sibal’s assessment. At this time in history, India and Japan are ideal partners in facing the developments in the Indian Oceans. Both are democracies, both seek peaceful resolutions of conflicts where possible, both have economic stakes in the game and both are facing major threats to security. Japanese technological edge and India’s vast market for products and services bode well for moving this project on a fast track. The Prime Minister must become the key decision maker for India and Mr. Abe must do the same for Japan. This is much too important an issue to delegate to the underlings.

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