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Koizumi Visit – Need to Advance Strategic Dialogue and Content

Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar is former officiating Director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • May 02, 2005

    The visit of the Japanese PM Mr. Junichiro Koizumi to Delhi on April 29 is the last in a series of high levels visits that have the potential to fundamentally re- alter India's bi-lateral relations with the major poles of relevance in the post Cold War/post 9-11 global systemic and the challenge will be in realizing the potential that has been agreed to at the highest political level. These visits began with that of Ms. Condi Rice, the US Secretary of State in mid March and this was followed by the Chinese PM Mr. Wen Jiabao in early April. In retrospect it would be valid to infer that the Rice visit and its immediate aftermath (the background briefing of March 25 in Washington that outlined a new US policy to South Asia) has had a non-linear impact on the visits that followed and the manner in which Beijing and Tokyo now perceive Delhi in the emerging global strategic matrix.

    It is pertinent that the Rice and Wen visits dwelt on the need to advance the 'strategic' content of their respective country's relationship with India and the Koizumi-Manmohan Singh eight fold initiative follows in much the same mould. There was reference to a "global partnership" that reflected the broad convergences that both nations shared across the political, economic and strategic spectrum and they reiterated their commitment to respond to the emerging regional and global challenges. A high level strategic dialogue between the Indian National Security Adviser Mr. M K Narayanan and his Japanese interlocutor Ms. Yoriko Kawaguchi, Special Adviser to Mr. Koizumi has also been agreed to – and this will provide the appropriate framework for such consultations.

    Perhaps the most important consensus – albeit symbolic at this stage – is that India and Japan have agreed to work as "partners against proliferation" and this reflects their common anxieties about nuclear non-proliferation, clandestine networks and deviant regimes that abet such activity. Given that the May 1998 nuclear tests by India had led to considerable tension in the bi-lateral relationship, this is a positive development and should be managed with requisite sensitivity – on both sides. This nuanced shift in Tokyo's position is also indicative of the changes that are taking place in Japan's internal polity and related security discourse and the emergence of a 'normal' Japan that will assume what it deems to be legitimate security responsibilities at both the regional and global level.

    This gradual assertion by Japan comes during the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing and is also linked to the claim that Tokyo has made as regards the permanent membership of the UN Security Council – yet another issue on which India and Japan share a common aspiration. But as noted over the last fortnight, China and other neighbors including Taiwan and South Korea have given vent to their anti-Japanese sentiment and are determined to raise this issue at the UN later this year. But unlike other Asian neighbors, India has no animus against Japan – despite the experience of World War II – and this point was highlighted by the Indian PM Dr. Manmohan Singh – that India and Japan have stood by each other in their hour of need.

    This strategic affinity and empathy is now poised to be translated into tangible action and the Koizumi visit has laid the framework – however tentative – for this kind of security and strategic co-operation. Given Japan's past diffidence and strict constitutional interpretation, many bi-lateral military and security initiatives that would be deemed normal were not allowed but this time the two leaders agreed that the interaction between the two Coast Guards and the Navies would be enhanced. As it happens since the 1999 incident when the Indian Coast Guard responded with commendable speed in rescuing a hijacked Japanese merchant ship, the co-operation between the two Coast Guards is robust. Extending this to the naval sphere is logical and Japan's technical competence in ship-building and design and its state-of-art naval technology and India's operational credibility can provide natural complementarities.

    In like fashion, the shared convergence in energy matters will be given a strategic orientation – and here again apart from the safety of the sea-lines of communication that India and Japan share with other major oil dependent economies including China and South Korea – the possibility of working together in the Russian Far East and prospecting elsewhere could be explored. The real challenge is that till now Japan has been reluctant to either invest or engage with India in a sustained manner and the nuclear issue further exacerbated matters. Japan preferred to engage with China, Taiwan, South Korea and ASEAN and it is only now that India's economic potential is being acknowledged in Tokyo. However bi-lateral trade remains very low and at US $ 4 billion, this is a contrast to the Indian trade with China that is closer to $ 15 billion and set to double in less than five years.

    The less noticed agreement is that Japan and India have agreed to promote the spread of the Japanese language in India and a target of 30,000 learners at different stages by 2010 is a welcome step. Japanese insularity and its distinctive strategic culture make it imperative to have a language affinity and both the trade potential and security dialogue will acquire a fillip if Japanese language studies are encouraged in India from school level onwards. I would describe this as being truly long-term and strategic and since education is a state subject in India, this matter should receive the highest attention from state education officials. It merits recall that many schools and colleges in Europe and North America are prioritizing the study of Japanese and Chinese and for good strategic reason.

    Bi-lateral relations between India and Japan have remained stunted for many reasons not the least the contrast between the two peoples and their cultures. Japan is a nation where individual excellence gets synthesized into a collective zeal and whether it is the Japanese private sector of the 1970s and 80s – or the precision with which the Japanese bullet trains are run – this is in sharp contrast to the cacophonous, complacent and often chaotic Indian experience. Currently all of Asia is in a state of flux and the emergence of both China and India have significant tectonic implications for the conduct of international relations. Japan is the third pole of relevance in the Asian strategic calculus and the manner in which the Koizumi visit is translated into tangible action will have a significant bearing on the evolving regional and global systemic.

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