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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

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   Indian PM Visit to Japan

Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh will pay an official visit to Japan from December 13 –16, 2006. The visit is taking place at a time when significant changes have occurred both in Japan-India ties and the geopolitics on East Asia. - by Mr. D. S. Rajan.

Mr. D.S. Rajan is formerly Director in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He can be reached at rajan@whatisindia.com 

Japan : The official visit of Indian Prime Minister  

             Dr Manmohan Singh -Expectations on some key Issues     

Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh will pay an official visit to Japan from December 13 –16, 2006. The visit is taking place at a time when significant changes have occurred both in Japan-India ties and the geopolitics on East Asia. In the favourable atmosphere created by the agreement on forging  “Japan-India Global Partnership with Strategic Orientation (New Delhi, April 2005), regular talks at the levels of prime ministers and foreign Ministers are being held, preparations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) have started and the bilateral trade has been expanding. Also firm signs have appeared of Tokyo’s enthusiasm to India’s playing a major role in the proposed East Asian Community and the 16-Nation Pan Asian Free Trade Area (FTA). Equally important are the ongoing changes in Japan’s foreign and security policies as a response to the changing geo-political scenario in the region- North Korea’s nuclear weapon test and China’s rapid rise along with its non-transparent military modernisation programme. The National Defence Programme Outline (Tokyo, March 2005) identified China for the first time as a ‘potential threat’ to Japan’s security. Nuclear options for Japan are now being openly debated, even at leadership levels. In a nutshell, the outlook on power balance in East Asia is becoming unclear and to deal with the developing situation, Japan is more and more depending the core US alliance.

What will be the positions of Japan and India during the visit on some of the key issues important for bilateral relations? Other countries in the region, especially China that considers its ties with both Japan and India as of strategic importance, will be keenly watching the outcome. Taking the case of Japan’s attitude towards the US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement first, there are strong indications of extension of such support by Japan to India during the visit. Admittedly, there were signs earlier indicating Japan’s reservations on the agreement. The subject did not figure in the Bush-Koizumi Joint Statement (Washington, June 29, 2006), despite expectations. Japan at the same time has been avoiding any official criticism of the agreement. The Japanese media on the other hand came out strongly against the US-India deal. Such seemingly vague stand of Japan on the issue underwent a transformation around March 2006, with a clear support to the agreement. The then Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe observed (March 2, 2006) that “Japan understands the strategic importance of India and the significance of meeting its energy demands. It is wrong to discuss the Indian nuclear issue and that of North Korea at the same level”. Later, a spokesperson of the Japanese Foreign Ministry told the media (The Hindu, December 10, 2006) that the “agreement is a good development and it has brought India into the international non-proliferation regime”. 

 Why Tokyo seems to have firmed up its position now in support of the US-India nuclear deal? The question needs approach in a wider context. First comes the need for Japan to synchronise its position on the subject with that of the US in the context of the Washington summit’s (see above) call for forging a “Japan-US Alliance of New Century”. The stated purpose was to give renewed attention to cooperation in key areas like regional strategy and energy security, under the Alliance. In particular, as deterrence to the nuclear-armed North Korea, Japan needs the help of its alliance partner. Taking note of the new US “transformational diplomacy” shifting America’s focus from Europe to ‘emerging regions of the world like China and India”, Tokyo has realised that the US-India agreement is part of that diplomacy, designed to ultimately help ‘India in becoming a major world power in 21st century’ and as an ally, Japan is expected to support the same.

Secondly, Japan feels that its support to US-India deal may add further substance to Tokyo-New Delhi relations at a time when India, a rising global economic and political power, is becoming more and more strategically important for Tokyo, especially in the matter of security of oil transport through the Indian Ocean. A third reason may involve China factor. Japan, which remains suspicious of China’s long-term regional intentions, may view the US-India deal as one that could lead to an increase in New Delhi’s deterrence capability against Beijing. It is another matter if India does not share this view with Japan. Fourthly, Tokyo may find nothing wrong in supporting the agreement taking into consideration of the fact that its own nuclear policies are undergoing a re-examination within the country with some Japanese leaders favouring a nuclear option for Japan.

 The issue relating to Abe’s proposal for Japan-India-Australia-US strategic talks comes next. There is apprehension in some countries particularly China that the proposal may lead to formation of an Asian NATO. The Indian Prime Minister has said that he would discuss the proposal with Abe. A background to the proposal is worth paying attention prior to assessing the likely outcome during the visit. The Japan-Australia-US Trilateral strategy dialogue system already exists (e.g. Sydney Trilateral strategic dialogue, March 2006).  Without specifically mentioning India, the subsequent Bush-Koizumi Joint Statement (see above) broadened the scope of the concept by saying that it is important for both the nations to advance the strategic dialogue with “friends and allies in the region like Australia”. The subsequent remarks of   Shinzo Abe in the following month have been forthright in including India for the first time in the concept. He said that Japan, India, the US and Australia should hold strategic dialogue, based on shared democracy and values.

 The response from the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has been the latest. In his interview with the Daily Yomiuri (December 5, 2006), he said that he would discuss in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart Abe about his proposal to ‘open the four-way strategic dialogue for achieving close cooperation among major democracies in the region’. It was finally left to the Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Taniguchi to clarify the concept further. He said (December 10, 2006) that the four nations can act together in the interest of peace and stability in the region, but the same has only been an ‘idea’ so far, with no institutionalised mechanism yet. The purpose of the concept, according to him, is to hold quadrilateral discussions on maritime security and anti-terrorism cooperation, particularly the safety of sea-lanes which link Japan with Persian Gulf with India lying in between.

It thus looks certain that the proposal of Abe for quadrilateral strategic dialogue will come under discussion during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister. A final consensus between the two sides may however take further time to materialise. As long as the aim remains maritime security and counter-terrorism, the discussions may not lead to any controversy and there may be scope for other powers/ regional organisations to join. On the other hand, if the proposal generates bloc rivalries, countries like China may come out with their opposition to the same.  It may be recalled that Japan’s proposal to form a 16-nation Pan-Asian FTA that includes India had already come under criticism of Beijing as an effort to restrict the regional influence of China. 

Chances of a consensus between Japan and India during the visit on the issue of North Korea are bright. Japan has already refused to treat the Indian nuclear situation and that of the North Korea at the same level. China’s military modernisation generates concerns in Japan, but India’s views could be different considering the present bonhomie between New Delhi and Beijing. The then Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had downplayed the threat to his country from China’s military build-up. On the issue of amending Japan’s constitution giving powers to the Japanese Self-Defence forces to take part in non-combatant operations abroad as assistance to its allies, New Delhi may tend the consider the issue as an internal matter, though other countries like China have always had critical views on the same. The debate in Japan on a nuclear option for the country, a domestic issue, may not figure in the talks though the Indian side should have already been monitoring closely the developments in this regard in Japan for obvious reasons. An issue that both Japan and India treat with priority relates to efforts by both sides towards getting permanent membership status in the UN Security Council. Will there be any forward movement to the old G-4 proposal on the issue during the visit? It is difficult at this stage to surmise. Also worth watching will be the positions of India and Japan on energy cooperation. Lastly, relations of each country with Pakistan may figure in talks as a briefing by the Indian prime minister on New Delhi-Islamabad peace talks would in any case happen. Japan still considers Kashmir as disputed territory and has not blamed Pakistan for cross-border terrorism. A final picture on this account during the visit may perhaps not emerge except for Japan’s endorsement of the ongoing peace talks between New Delhi and Islamabad. What looks like a sure outcome is further practical commitments by Japan in the fields of trade and investment relations with India.

("Some of the information in the article was obtained by the author from an interview of a journalist in China.")


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