The recently concluded visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is indicative of the high potential of Indo-Japan relations. The fact that India and Japan have been holding annual summits for the past few years outlines the importance that both these countries give to each other. Apart from Japan, India holds such annual summits with Russia.
India and Japan have enjoyed close and cordial relations for a long time. There has been a continuous effort from both the governments to strengthen the relations further. While taking the relations forward it is important to have clear goals and the direction in mind. It is also important to define the exact role that both the countries would play.
One of the most important factors pushing India and Japan towards each other is China. India and Japan have to counter China in three areas. One is border dispute (land border dispute for India and maritime boundary dispute for Japan), second is China’s expansion plan through Belt Road Initiative (BRI) and the third is troublesome neighbours – Pakistan for India and North Korea for Japan. In either case, China is seen as the main driver behind India-Japan co-operation. It is important to recall that Japan is the only country to back India on the stand-off with China at Doklam.
However, certain other factors must not be ignored. In addition to being one of the fastest growing economies, India is also a large market for any country to sell its products. Japan, like many other countries, has made investments worth billions of dollars in India in different sectors and also looks at India as a market. Japan is a hard competitor with other countries in order to get a major stake in India’s economy. The bullet train is one such example where Japan competed with China and was successful in striking a deal with India. Japan’s economic engagement with and in India makes the latter a valuable partner for the former on international stage.
With respect to countering China, India and Japan have proposed Asia-Africa Growth Corridor as an alternative to China’s BRI. If and when materialised, this corridor would provide assistance to the countries of Asia and Africa in development. Involvement of India and Japan in development projects of various countries has been looked at as promoting equality in terms of sharing the benefits of the projects. Asia-Africa Growth Corridor could also be expected to create multi-polar order as against the uni-polar order that would be expected if China is the only player in the region. Besides this project India will also have an added advantage of increasing its influence in the Indian Ocean Region.
The above discussion covered economic and strategic partnership between India and Japan. However, it is more of a reaction to China. So the context of India-Japan relations in this case is limited and pertains to some short term solutions since at present both India and Japan are challenged by China in one way or the other. The potential of India-Japan relations is much more. Apart from Asia and Africa India and Japan should also look forward to co-operating in other regions such as Asia-Pacific and Middle East and formulate policies accordingly.
India and Japan have an opportunity to influence the regional order as well as extended neighbourhoods. Uncertainty over the US’ policies in the entire Asian continent could create a power vacuum which India and Japan should look forward to fill. Thus, expanding the strategic outreach by both India and Japan would eventually lead to realising the high potential of their partnership.
(The author is an Independent Researcher based in Vadodara and can be reached at – email@example.com)
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)