Public Diplomacy

India and Japan: The Power of Two

August 30, 2014

By Manish Chand

Metro, Bullet Trains, Buddhism, Business, Technology and Innovation. It’s a potent brew, which is made all the more heady by the common strategic intent to co-create an Asian renaissance. It takes two to tango. And India and Japan, Asia’s two vibrant democracies and leading economies, are matching their steps perfectly, and are set to take their bilateral ties to new heights during the August 30-September 3 visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan.

Delhi-Tokyo 3.0

The maiden voyage of Narendra Modi to Japan as the leader of the world’s largest democracy and Asia’s third largest economy, is set to usher in a 3.0 phase in India-Japan relations. The launch of Japan-India Global Partnership in the 21st Century in 2000, the elevation of the ties to the level of Global and Strategic Partnership are some recent milestones in the variegated India-Japan relations. It’s time for a phase of enhancement and acceleration, and the leaders of India and Japan make a perfect pair to shepherd the multi-faceted India-Japan ties to a higher stratosphere.

Why Modi’s visit matters

There are many important markers to the Modi visit to Japan: this is the first time an Indian prime minister will be spending five days in an Asian country, a gesture which signify special ties between the two countries. This is perhaps the first time there are two-way visits by the leaders of India and Japan in the same year. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was India’s chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in January this year, and now Mr Modi is heading to Japan.

images/Untitled_314.jpg Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Celebrations at Rajpath (January 26, 2014)Meeting of Minds

It’s going to be a meeting of minds as the leaders of India and Japan enjoy an unrivalled personal rapport and have deep personal admiration for each other. Both PM Modi and PM Abe are strong believers in economic reforms and are seen widely as architects of the ongoing national resurgence in their respective countries. Prime Minister Modi is one of three people Mr Abe follows on twitter. Ahead of his visit, PM Modi has shared his enthusiasm for his trip to Japan on twitter: "Japan's friendship with India is time tested. We are 2 vibrant democracies committed to advancing peace and prosperity in the world @AbeShinzo." In a gesture laden with emotive resonance, the prime minister has also tweeted in Japanese, conveying his hope to take the India-Japan cooperation to a new level.

images/Untitled_312.jpg Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has shared his enthusiasm for his forthcoming visit to Japan on twitter with a series of tweets
Chemistry and Symmetry

Given this personal chemistry and symmetry of shared interests, all eyes will be on the leaders of India and Japan when they hold talks in Tokyo. What can one expect from the summit meeting? First, the talks will set the tone for enhanced engagement between Asia’s second and third largest economies in virtually all areas, for the next few years. Mr Modi’s visit will underline the special place Japan has in India’s diplomatic-strategic matrix and affirm the pivotal role Japan will play in India’s national resurgence.

Technology and Innovation

Secondly, the visit will underscore the starring role Japan will play in transforming infrastructure and the economic landscape of India, the largest recipient of Japanese FDA. Japan has already ploughed in massive investment in the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the Western Freight Corridor – signature infrastructure projects that are poised to become enduring monuments of India-Japan partnership. The forthcoming talks are expected to give a fresh momentum to another Japan-aided Chennai-Bengaluru corridor. Japanese technology and expertise will also come in handy to actualise the new Indian government’s stated mission to build 100 smart cities.

Thirdly, with Prime Minister Modi stressing on the role of technology in revamping India’s governance and economy, the talks will focus on the transfer of cutting-edge technologies. Technology and innovation are, after all, key pillars of India-Japan relations. Japanese technology and engineers have helped build the Delhi Metro, and which has changed the way millions of people in India’s capital travel. Now, the efforts are on to replicate this success story with the Mumbai Metro. India’s pursuit of high-speed train network – Japan’s forte with its famous bullet train Shinkansen – is set to get a big push. The bullet train pact, once it’s signed and sealed, will be also symbolic of the high-speed lane India-Japan ties have moved into.

images/Untitled_313.jpg The Delhi Metro was built with the help of Japanese technology and engineersCivil Nuclear Deal

The negotiations for a civil nuclear deal began in 2010. The indications are that the conversations are proceeding well. However, given the technical complexity of any such arrangement none can set a timeline for an outcome. The nuclear deal, once concluded, will be a game-changer in transforming India-Japan relations.

Trade: Raising the bar

Economically, the India-Japan ties have been steadily climbing an upward trajectory, after the signing of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in 2011. Over 1000 Japanese companies have set up their base in India, making Japan the 4th largest investor in India. This includes iconic brands like Sony, Toyota, Hitachi and Mitsubishi. In the last 12 years, Japanese companies have pumped in investment of $12.66 billion in India, accounting for 7% of total FDI inflow into India. With so much going between India and Japan, it’s surprising that bilateral trade is hovering around just $18 billion, but Japan-watchers say the time has come to push the envelope. The two sides are confident of doubling this figure in the near term, with some experts saying bilateral trade could surge to $100 billion by 2020.

Convergent Interests

Reinforcing this vibrant economic relationship is a striking convergence of interests in the strategic sphere. Amid the flux in East Asia, defence relations have acquired a new ballast, with the two countries launching what is called 2 + 2 defence dialogue involving senior officials of defence and foreign ministries. Maritime security is a key focus area, with the two countries stepping up joint exercises, and Japan looking at India as a net security provider in the region. With Japan taking a historic decision to ease its defence export laws, India, a close partner, looks set to be a major gainer. Tokyo is likely to clear the sale of a high-tech amphibious aircraft to New Delhi soon.

Cultural alchemy

In this emerging alchemy of diplomatic engagement, cultural affinity has added a special flavour. Sage-poet Rabindranath Tagore, seer Swami Vivekananda and Judge Radhabinod Pal, the sole dissenting judge who gave a not-guilty verdict at the War Crimes Tribunal, have kept India alive in Japanese imagination, says Aftab Seth, a former ambassador of India to Japan. Buddhism provides the enduring spiritual glue to India-Japan bonds, with thousands of Japanese tourists flocking to Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Bihar. Indian films provide a powerful cultural connect. Rajnikanth is a rage in Japan, and is fondly called ‘Odori Maharaja’. Japanese food is finding new devotees in India, with sushi and tempura restaurants springing up in major cities of India. And so are Indian cuisine and dance forms in Japan.

Asian Century

Whichever area one looks at, be it economic strategic or cultural, India’s Japan Moment and Japan’s India Moment are cohering. And this burgeoning relationship between India and Japan, aspirants for a permanent seat in a reformed UN Security Council, is good news for a rising Asia and the collective efforts to fructify the dream of a harmonious Asian century.

(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network,, a portal and e-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story)

- The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

References :

Joint Statement on the occasion of Official Visit of the Prime Minister of Japan to India (January 25-27, 2014)

List of documents signed during the official visit of the Prime Minister of Japan to India (January 25-27, 2014)

Joint Statement on Prime Minister's visit to Japan: Strengthening the Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan beyond the 60th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations)

Modi-Abe Summit: Need for a breakthrough

India's Japan moment

Japan’s India moment: Why Emperor Akihito’s visit matters


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