Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped up defence and security ties with Japan.
Placing Japan at the heart of India’s Look East policy in back-to-back speeches to the Keidanren and the Japan-India Association here, Singh said, “India and the world have a strong economic and strategic interest in Japan’s success.”
He added, “We should intensify our political dialogue and expand our strategic consultations on regions and issues of mutual interest. Our defence and security dialogue, military exercises and defence technology collaboration should grow.”
Taking off from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coinage of the “confluence of the two seas” — the Pacific and the Indian Oceans — Singh said he would work with Abe “to strengthen our strategic partnership, impart new momentum to our economic cooperation and deepen our dialogue on shared regional and global interests”.
In 2008, Singh signed a security agreement with Japan, which put India, along with the US and Australia as Japan’s top three security partners in the world. That also saw the birth of the term “Indo-Pacific” into India’s discourse, reaffirming that India’s strategic interests stretched to the Pacific Ocean.
Describing India and Japan as “major actors” in this region, the PM said it was the duty of India and Japan to ensure peace, security and prosperity in Asia, turning on its head the China-centric view of Asia. In a thinly veiled reference to disputes with China, Singh said, “Historical differences persist despite our growing inter-dependence, prosperity has not fully eliminated disparities within and between states, and there are continuing threats to stability and security.”
Putting forward a three-step plan for cooperation with Japan, the PM said, “We should strengthen regional mechanisms … reinforce congruence, we should promote wider and deeper regional economic integration and enhance regional connectivity, and we should uphold principles of freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce in accordance with international law, resolve maritime issues peacefully.”
Singh put India on the side of Japan on the Senkaku-Diaoyu issue, without actually spelling it out. This will doubtless be noticed in Beijing without any pleasure. China and Japan have been ratcheting up tensions over sovereignty of these islands.
As India and Japan warmed up to take bilateral relations to a higher plane, a Communist Party-run newspaper cautioned New Delhi against “petty burglars” among Japanese politicians out to target Sino-Indian ties. The warning in the People’s Daily, which largely reflects the ruling party’s views, coincided with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo during which the two sides decided to enhance defence cooperation.
China’s own trade with Japan stands at $345 billion — about six times of the India-China bilateral trade. But this finds no mention in the People’s Daily article that advises India to be wary of the “narrow-minded diplomatic thoughts of Japanese government”.
“Not long ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Japan, India, Australia and the US to jointly form a ‘Democratic Security Diamond’ to compete with the ascendant China… Some politicians just make themselves petty burglars on China-related issues,” the paper said.
China is locked in a maritime dispute with Japan and the two countries are at loggerheads over the disputed islands in the resource-rich East China Sea. The article brings out Beijing’s nervousness about growing Indo-Japanese ties.
Hundreds of Japanese companies may shift factories from China to India, bringing with them big investments and thousands of jobs, and a remilitarising Japan is likely to emerge as an attractive source of technology for India.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Indo-Japanese relationship is now more than just exports and imports: It is about how Tokyo can transform India. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Tokyo: “Greater investment by Japanese companies in India’s large market will be in our economic as well as strategic interest.”
As the Chinese fumed, Japan rolled out the honours for Singh. In a rare gesture, the Japanese emperor hosted a private lunch for the PM and his wife, protocol usually reserved for visiting head of states only. Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe enjoy a strong personal rapport.
Japan wants to build up India as an alternative, economic and military, to China, and Singh signalled strongly that India welcomed the idea. The first phase of this is giving India a modern infrastructure: the Delhi Metro, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and now, bullet trains. The second is shifting the thousands of Japanese factories in China to India. And on Wednesday, the two sides stepped up defence ties, with an offer from Tokyo for US2 amphibian aircraft, more bilateral naval exercises and defence technology cooperation.
The backdrop is deteriorating Sino-Japanese ties. Tokyo believes the Chinese regime is whipping up anti-Japanese sentiment to absorb rising middle class nationalism. China’s muscle-flexing over the Senkaku islands and anti- Japanese protests inside China are two sides of the same Beijing policy. Beijing ultimately wants Tokyo to end its defence ties with the US and accept Chinese suzerainty, believe Indian and US diplomats.
One, as Chinese attack their employees and as labour costs keep rising, Japan Inc wants to move elsewhere.
Japan is the second-largest foreign investor in China, with accumulated investment of over $70 billion. But a Japan Export Trading Oraganisation survey last year showed India emerging as the most preferred alternative site for Japanese FDI.
India is seen as a difficult place to invest, but helping India’s rise has a strategic benefit that is becoming increasingly important to Tokyo. In the past decade, says an Ernst and Young study, Japan is already the second largest foreign job creator in India.
This is with only 300 Japanese firms in India. If a fraction of the 14,000 Japanese firms in China were to move, the result would be a job tsunami.
Two, Japan is preparing to re-militarise and India is a perfect partner. Abe will seek to increase defence expenditure and even change Japan’s pacificist constitution this autumn. India, which has begun bilateral naval exercises with Japan, will also be the first country to import military equipment from postwar Japan. Because it has no hangups about Japan’s World War II past, India would also provide legitimacy to Abe’s re-militarisation.
Three, China does not fear its neighbours individually. But it is concerned about them ganging up. Japan is still the third largest economy in the world and technologically far ahead of China. Abe seems to want to use Japan’s capacities to enhance Indian power and make it a genuine geopolitical balancer to the Middle Kingdom.
A close Indo-Japanese relationship would also bring the US into the picture -- a trilateral equation that has Beijing gnashing its teeth.
Singh’s speeches, with their call for deepening Indo-Japanese ties and support for freedom of the seas -- a code word for opposition to Chinese maritime claims -- is music to Tokyo’s ears and geopolitical din to Beijing’s.
Hence the dark warning from the Chinese People’s Daily to Abe that any attempt to make India part of an anti-Chinese alliance were doomed.