Public Diplomacy Public Diplomacy

Why Japan, India Must Forge Closer Ties in Double Quick Time

May 24, 2013

By Rajeev Sharma

First, some facts.

The importance of Japan for India can be gauged by the fact that Japan is the only Asian country and second in the world – Russia being the other one – with which India has an institutionalized system of annual summits. The world’s two leading peaceful democracies and Asia’s number two and three economies have been holding annual summits regularly since 2006. (With Russia, India has been having annual summits since 2000.)

The only blemish in the Indo-Japan annual summits track record was last year when the two sides could not hold an annual summit. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had planned his visit to Japan last year but the visit, which was to begin from November 15, 2012, had to be cancelled at the eleventh hour because Japan was in the midst of elections.

Don’t be surprised if the two sides try to make up last year’s loss and hold two annual summits this year – the second one perhaps towards the end of the year!

The importance of India for Japan can be ascertained by the fact that for the last one decade India has been the largest recipient of Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA).

From 2003-04 to September 2012, India has received over $ 35 billion under Japan’s ODA programme on commitment basis. Besides, a total of 59 projects are under implementation with Japanese loan assistance. The loan amount committed for these projects is over $ 12 billion. These projects are in the sectors of power, environment and forests, urban transportation, urban water supply and sanitation, rural drinking water supply, tourism, irrigation, agriculture, shipping, railways, renewable energy and financial services.

The Japanese have not been cutting corners when it comes to giving financial assistance to India even though their economy has been badly affected by the global recession since September 2008. This is despite the fact that in view of its sluggish economy, Japan slid down to number three spot in the world and number two position in Asia in terms of economic rankings, ceding ground to China in early 2011.

Now some perceptions!

Sony, Suzuki, Toshiba and Honda are household names in India. But the Indian perception of Japan has gone far beyond Japan’s technological prowess.

Ask aware Delhiites to name one single country which has brought about a dramatic and visible change in their life styles in the last one decade. Japan will win this competition hands down because the Delhi metro rail system, built with financial and technical assistance of Japan, has significantly raised the comfort quotient of millions of Delhiites.

Now more than three dozen cities are trying to emulate Delhi Metro. So much so that visiting official delegates from several developing countries find time out from their business schedule to have a ride on Delhi Metro.

If there is one country in the world which is silently but substantively involved in the transformation of Indian infrastructure it is Japan. Delhi Metro is set to be overshadowed by several other mega infrastructure projects where Japanese involvement is sizable: Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Project and Dedicated Freight Corridor Projects on the Mumbai-Delhi and the Delhi-Howrah routes. The Japanese government has also expressed interest to help establish a Chennai-Bangalore Industrial corridor and a Dedicated Freight project in the south, connecting the cities of Bangalore and Chennai.

Now, over to challenges in Indo-Japan bilateral ties.

The biggest challenge for India and Japan today is: how to deal with a formidably resurgent China. In fact this question was put to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by his Japanese counterpart a few years ago when Singh had visited Japan in 2010. The Indian PM’s response reportedly was: efficiently manage bilateral contentious issues while focusing on economic and trade ties.

Despite such a sturdy presence of Japan in the unfolding infrastructure growth story of India and despite the fact that Japan and India are second and third biggest economies in Asia respectively, their bilateral trade stands at a paltry $18.43 billion in financial year 2011-12.

The two sides can look forward to a major fillip in bilateral trade after the signing of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) on 16 February 2011.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s upcoming visit to Japan (May 27-29, 2013) must be seen against the backdrop of this broad brush picture. The visit will inevitably push Indo-Japan bilateral ties to a higher groove.

For those having a knack for history, the breakthrough in transformation of Indo-Japan ties in the modern times came about in August 2000 when the then Japanese PM Yoshiro Mori visited New Delhi in August 2000. Mori and his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed to establish the "Global Partnership in the 21st Century", reflecting a broad convergence of their longterm political, economic and strategic interests, aspirations, objectives and concerns.

The second landmark visit was that of then Japanese premier Junichiro Koizumi to New Delhi in 2005. Koizumi and Manmohan Singh decided to further strengthen their cooperation and pursue an all round and comprehensive development of bilateral relations, with a particular and urgent focus on strengthening economic ties. It was also agreed that the two countries would strengthencooperation in diverse areas such as environment, energy, disarmament, nonproliferation and security, taking advantage of, and further building on, their strategic convergences.

This bilateral engagement process was given a major boost when Manmohan Singh travelled to Japan from 13-16 December 2006 during which he and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe signed a joint statement - "Towards India Japan Strategic and Global Partnership".

The exchange of prime minister-level visits between India and Japan for the annual summits since then can be briefly summed up as below.

Shinzo Abe visited India from 21-23 August 2007 during which he and Manmohan Singh signed two Joint Statements on "The Roadmap for New Dimensions to the Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan" and on the "Enhancement of Cooperation on Environmental Protection and Energy Security”.

Manmohan Singh visited Tokyo from 21-23 October 2008 and India and Japan signed a Joint Declaration on "Security Cooperation" and a Joint Statement on the "Advancement of Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan”.

Yukio Hatoyama visited India from 27-29 December 2009 during which a Joint Statement on "New Stage of Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership” was signed.

Manmohan Singh paid an official working visit to Tokyo from 24-26 October 2010 and a Joint Statement "Vision for India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership in the Next Decade” and a Joint Declaration on the India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) were signed by the two Prime Ministers in Tokyo.

Yoshihiko Noda paid a State visit to India from 27-29 December 2011 and along with Manmohan Singh signed a Joint Statement entitled "Vision for the Enhancement of India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership” upon entering the year of the 60th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

The next milestone in Indo-Japan ties should be the DMIC project and should inevitably figure very high on the agenda of the two prime ministers. The $ 75 billion Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor is a corridor of opportunity for the two leading Asian powers to forge closer ties. The sooner that happens the better it will be for both.

*The writer a New Delhi-based cloumnist and a strategic analyst who can be reached at

(The views expressed above are the personal views of the writer)

Read More:

Joint Statement on the occasion of the 6th India-Japan Energy Dialogue between the Planning Commission of India and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of JapanExternal website that opens in a new window

Joint Statement on the Fifth India-Japan Energy DialogueExternal website that opens in a new window

Vision for the Enhancement of India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership upon entering the year of the 60th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic RelationsExternal website that opens in a new window

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