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Japan-India Ties On Sound Footing

Modi and Abe will be watching the implications of a possible shift in Washington's approach towards East Asia under Trump

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan for the Annual Summit. This was his second visit to Japan and came at a significant time - Donald Trump, who has been elected as US President, has argued in favor of a more inward looking US foreign policy, including less involvement in Asia. It remains to be seen whether Trump would continue to follow such a policy after taking over as President.

If one were to do an appraisal of the Japan-India relationship, it has grown both in the strategic and economic sphere over the past decade. The signing of the India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) has been one of the key catalysts for the strengthening of economic ties between both countries. Bilateral trade between both countries in 2015-2016 stood at nearly $15 billion, while Japanese investments in India are pegged at $2.6 billion. Japanese PM Shinzo Abe had committed investments worth $35 billion in 2014.

Japan is also involved in a number of big projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. The Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA), which provided assistance for the Delhi Metro, will also be providing a loan of nearly Rs 80,000 Crore over a period of 15 years for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train. The interest rate is a mere 0.1 percent.

Political Consensus

What has helped in giving a boost to this relationship is the political consensus with regard to strengthening ties, while there is no doubt that Modi has invested heavily in ties his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh laid the foundations for strengthening this relationship.

In the strategic domain, India, the US and Japan have found common ground in the Asia-Pacific, with India participating in the Malabar Exercises, much to the chagrin of China. The improvement in India-US ties and New Delhi's decision to shed its reticence about annoying China have helped in building an effective India-Japan partnership.

Modi's focus was on big ticket items such as the civil nuclear deal. This deal will pave the way for Japan to export nuclear technology to India, it is also important because it will pave the way for India's nuclear deals with other countries such as the US, France and other countries. Japan is likely to impose a condition, that if India does go ahead with a nuclear test, the accord will be cancelled.

In addition to formalizing the nuclear agreement, other issues likely to be high on the agenda are taking stock of major infrastructural projects in India.

Changing ASEAN

Apart from the above bilateral issues, the increasing dominance of China in ASEAN, and recent developments such as Philippines President Duterte seeking to move away from the US, and Malaysian Premier's criticism of US intervention in Asia are likely to become part of future Japan-India discussions. Modi and Abe will be watching the implications of a possible shift in Washington's approach towards South East Asia and East Asia under Trump.

What should India focus on? Apart from doing a serious appraisal of Japanese investments and projects in India, and examining the China factor. It is important for both countries to join hands in other regions such as South East Asia, Iran and Africa.

Japan is also investing in infrastructure in the North-East region, which will help enhance India's connectivity with neighbours Myanmar and Bangladesh, and give a boost to New Delhi's Act East Policy.

JICA pledged nearly Rs 7,000 crore for two highways projects in Mizoram and Meghalaya. Some of the key projects which Japan is involved in are: the upgrade of 350-km stretch between Aizwal and Tuipang in Mizoram. This stretch is a part of the Kaladan multi-modal transportation corridor, which will link the North East to Myanmar through sea, river and road links.

The second project is the improvement of the Tura-Dalu section of NH 51 in Meghalaya that runs up to the Bangladesh border. This clearly shows Japan's interest in supporting India's Act East Policy. Better connectivity between North East and Myanmar and Bangladesh would also help in bringing Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor a brainchild of the US to fruition.

Chabahar And Africa

Apart from the Eastern borders, both sides can also find common ground in the Chabahar Port, which India has signed an agreement to develop during Modi's visit to Iran. Japan has already evinced interest in participating in the Chabahar project. Japanese participation in Chabahar will not only strengthen the India-Japan relationship, but will also provide Japan access to Central Asia.

In Africa too, Japan and India are likely to possible synergies. Such cooperation between India and Japan in Central Asia and Africa could emerge as an alternative to OBOR.

In conclusion, the Japan-India partnership needs to move beyond just bilateral relationship and both countries need to work jointly and emerge as a possible alternative to China.

While the scale of Japanese investments may be lesser than China, the terms and conditions of assistance are far more favorable. Both bureaucracies need to be less risk averse, and show similar enthusiasm as their political leaderships.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Tridivesh Singh Maini

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat. His areas of interest include the India-China-Pakistan triangle, Role of India's state governments in foreign policy (especially the economic dimension) and Federalism in India. Maini was a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai ( 2013-2014) and has worked earlier with The Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and The Indian Express

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