It is a well known fact that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have shared special chemistry with each other since a long time which dates back to the time when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Both India and Japan have come a long way in forging a special relation with each other ever since Modi became Prime Minister three years ago. But in last one year or so we have witnessed a quantum leap in relations between India and Japan for which both Modi and Abe are equally responsible.
Truly speaking, India and Japan have enjoyed good equations since a long time. This stands vindicated by the irrefutable fact that Japan directly provided all help to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in not just raising and nurturing Indian National Army and in providing all support for attacking British India and the battles at Burma, Imphal and Kohima are too well known to merit description! Even after independence the good equations continued between both the countries. But the real icing on the cake came when Mr Yoshiro Mori who was the then Prime Minister of Japan and Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was the then Prime Minister of India agreed firmly and fully during the landmark Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to India in August 2000 to establish the “Global Partnership in the 21st Century”. From here there was no looking back!
In hindsight, we have to accept and acknowledge that the consolidation in relations between India and Japan in Vajpayee’s term as PM saw further consolidation as the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh paid an official visit to Japan from December 13 to 16, 2006 at the invitation of the then Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. Sure enough, the visit took place against the backdrop of a marked and visible upturn in India and Japan relations, particularly since former Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to India in 2005. During the visit, the two Prime Ministers launched the India-Japan Friendship Year 2007 and attended the inaugural event of the Festival of India in Japan on December 14, 2006. A joint statement titled “Towards India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership” was signed by the then two Prime Ministers Dr Manmohan and Koizumi! Dr Manmohan Singh also visited Japan for the G-8 summit from 7-9 July 2008 which went further in bringing both the nations much more closer.
Now moving to the recent past, as we all know, Shinzo Abe came to India on a two day visit from September 13 to 14, 2017 to attend the 12th Indo-Japan annual summit held at Ahmedabad. PM Modi, PM Abe and his wife set-off on a 8 km roadshow in an open-roof jeep for the legendary Sabarmati Ashram where Mahatma Gandhi had spent a significant time of his life and they were accorded a grand welcome throughout the route. PM Modi presented a marble idol of Mahatma Gandhi’s “Three Wise Monkeys” to his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe as the monkeys are a symbol of the adage “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” which is believed to have its origin in Japan.
It would be pertinent to note that India and Japan on September 14, 2017 during the 12th Indo-Japan summit signed 15 Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs), which dealt with wide ranging issues such as bilateral relations, defence and security cooperation and supporting each other for a permanent seat in the United Nations expanded Security Council. This is truly a landmark development. People of both the countries must feel happy about it.
It merits no reiteration that the track record of both India and Japan is impeccable and therefore both are strong contenders to bag a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. While it cannot be denied that no figure was released on how much Japanese companies planned to invest in India, some sources said that it would be around Rs 5 lakh crore, including the flagship bullet train project from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. Now let us go through the 15 key MoUs signed between India and Japan. They are as follows: –
Disaster Risk Management
1. Memorandum of Cooperation between the Home Ministry and the Cabinet Office of Japan. Cooperation and collaboration in the field of disaster risk reduction and to share the experiences, knowledge and policies on disaster prevention.
2. Further strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation in the field of Japanese language education in India between Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japan.
3. India Japan Act East Forum signed to enhance connectivity and promote developmental projects in the North Eastern Region of India.
Economic & Commercial
4. Aims to send fresh food from Japan to India in cool boxes for Japanese in India.
5. India-Japan Investment Promotion Roadmap between DIPP and METI to facilitate and accelerate the Japanese investments in India.
6. Agreement between METI and Gujarat Government to cooperate in infrastructure development on ‘Japan-India special programme for Make in India’ in Mandal Bechraj-Khoraj in Gujarat .
Civil Aviation: Open Skies
7. Exchange of record of decisions (RoD) on Civil Aviation Cooperation (Open Sky). Indian and Japanese carriers can now fly unlimited number of flights to the select cities of each other’s countries.
Science & Technology
8. Deal for International Joint Exchange Programme signed between interdisciplinary theoretical and mathematical sciences programme (ITHEMS), RIKEN and National Centres for Biological Sciences (Simons-NCBS) to establish a Joint Exchange Programme to identify and foster talented young scientists from both India and Japan to collaborate in the field of theoretical biology.
9. Joint Research Contract between National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology (AIST), Japan and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to conduct joint research and to establish an International Center named as “DBT-AIST International Center for Translational & Environmental Research (DAICENTER)” at AIST, Japan.
10. MoU b etween DBT and National Institute of Advanced Science & Technology (AIST). To promote research collaboration between DBT Research Institutes and AIST in the field of life sciences and biotechnology.
11. International Academic and Sports Exchange between Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education (LNIPE) and Nippon Sports Science University, Japan (NSSU). To facilitate and deepen international education cooperation and exchanges between the sports bodies.
12. International Academic and Sports Exchange between Sports Authority of India and Nippon Sports Science University, Japan.
13. Letter of intent between Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education (LNIPE) and University of Tsukuba, Japan.
14. Letter of intent between Sports Authority of India and University of Tsukuba, Japan.
15. MoU between RIS and IDE-JETRO for promotion of Cooperation in Research Related Activities. To promote institutional cooperation between RIS and IDE-JETRO to strengthen research and effectiveness of dissemination of research findings.
Let me hasten to add here that adding an icing on the cake in the relations between India and Japan is the launching by Prime Minister Narendra Modii and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe of the 508-km long bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. It will take 2 hours and 58 minutes to cover the 508 km stretch. The project cost is estimated at Rs 1.10 lakh crore.
Truth be told, Modi thanked Abe for the “big gift from Japan to India” even as the Japanese PM attributed it to the “special bond” between the two nations. Speaking at the jam packed Sabarmati Railway Stadium, Abe hoped the first bullet train in India would soon make its route to other parts of the country. He also said amid a huge applause that, “The next time I am in India, I wish to ride the Shinkansen with Mr Modi and enjoy the beautiful scenery of India through the windows”.
To put things in perspective, Abe said after the two leaders pressed a button, unveiling a plaque that, “A strong India is in Japan’s interest and a strong Japan is in India’s interest”. There can be no denying it and this alone explains why both India and Japan have agreed to work together and cooperate on multiple fronts. He said the first letters of his country, ‘Ja’, and that of India, ‘I’, together make up the word “Jai” or victory. After starting his speech with “Namaskar” and ending it with a “Dhanyavad” said proudly that, “Jai India, Jai Japan”.
It must be brought out here that India’s first bullet train is being built with a Japanese soft loan of Rs 88,000 crore, which India will pay back in the next 50 years at 0.1 percent interest. Modi was candid enough to admit that this was not a loan but a gift. He very rightly said that, “We are building India’s first bullet train practically free”.
It also must be brought out here that the target for the completion of India’s first bullet train is December 2023, though officials say there are indications that the Government may seek an earlier deadline of 2022. A 21-km-long tunnel will be built between Bolsar and Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai, of which seven km will be under the sea. Initially, the train will have 10 coaches with a total seating capacity of 750 passengers. Later, it is proposed to have 16 coaches with a seating capacity of 1250 passengers.
Be it noted, the bullet train will have 12 stops of 165 seconds each. The proposed stations are Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Bolsar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati. This ambitious project will reduce the travel time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai from seven hours to less than three hours. PM Modi was very elated and called Abe his “close friend” which the latter also reciprocated.
To be sure, Modi made a candid admission that, “The dreams and ambitions of this ‘new India’ are limitless. India has taken a big leap today to fulfil a long-held dream. Fast trains, top technology will bring us top growth, employment and progress.” He also added that, “India has taken a big leap today to fulfil a long-held dream. Fast trains, top technology will bring us top growth, employment and progress.”
While mincing no words in expressing his gratitude to Abe, Modi said that, “Japan too has shown today what a great friend it is to India. India’s first bullet train project is a symbol of this friendship. Abe has ensured this project sticks to time.” He also added further that, “This is not the time to progress at low speed. The speed of this country’s progress now depends on the high-speed connectivity”. Modi also castigated the Opposition for criticising the project without any valid reason. Modi certainly has a valid point here.
Simply put, Modi said that, “They first asked where’s the bullet train and now say why the bullet train”. In 1964, Modi said that Japan started the bullet train and now this technology was in 15 countries. He also said while justifying his decision to bring such a transportation marvel to India that, “From Europe to China, the bullet train’s image can be seen everywhere. Not just economical but also societal changes have been brought about by these trains”.
It is imperative to note here that the target for its completion is December 2023, though officials say there are indications that the Government may seek an earlier deadline of 2022. The train will stop at each of the 12 railway stations on the route, but only for 165 seconds. A 21-km-long tunnel will be dug between Boisar and BKC in Mumbai, of which 7 km will be under water. The two Prime Ministers also laid the foundation for an institute that will come up in Vadodara where nearly 4,000 people will be skilled for the bullet train project.
It also warms the inner cockles of my heart to learn that in a stern message to Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in their joint statement strongly pitched for a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach towards terrorism. In the statement signed after their bilateral talks in Gandhinagar in Gujarat on , the two leaders asked Islamabad to bring to book the perpetrators of terror strikes, including those involved in the Mumbai (2008) and Pathankot (2016) attacks. They also called upon international community to work towards rooting out terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terrorist networks and financing channels and halting cross-border movement of terrorists. The joint statement said, “They (Modi and Abe) looked forward to convening the fifth Japan-India Consultation on Terrorism and to strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats.”
Needless to say, while making it clear that India and Japan will be intensifying their collaboration in the counterterrorism measure, Modi and Abe in their joint statement underlined the need for all countries to ensure that their territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other nations. They also expressed firm resolve towards strengthening international cooperation to address the challenges of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. It is a no-brainer that to eliminate terrorism all peace loving countries have to come forward and unitedly take collective steps to ensure that this Frankenstein monster is crushed once and for all!
What should not be missed out here is that the joint statement very categorically said that, “They emphasized the need for stronger international partnership in countering terrorism and violent extremism, including through increased sharing of information and intelligence. They called for enhanced bilateral cooperation in this regard.” Also, India and Japan will jointly hold a consultation on terrorism in the coming months.
Truly speaking, while condemning the growing menace of terrorism and violent extremism, the two PMs shared the view that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is a global scourge that must be forcefully combated through concerted global action in the spirit of “zero tolerance”. Accordingly, the leaders called upon all UN-member countries to implement the UNSC Resolution 1267 and other relevant resolutions designating terrorist entities and emphasized the need for stronger international partnership in countering terrorism and violent extremism, including through increased sharing of information and intelligence.
As it turned out, the two PMs also reiterated their desire and determination to work together to maintain and promote peace, stability and development in the Indo-Pacific region. They also both reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in accordance with international laws. The joint statement said that, “They also highlighted the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes, including through full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, and in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
It is of immense significance that a memorandum of understanding to set up India Japan Act East Forum with an aim to align India’s Act East Policy with Japan’s Free and Open Asia-Pacific strategy in the backdrop of China’s One Belt One Road initiative is among the major agreements signed while Abe was in India for the 12thIndo-Japan annual summit. The forum will enhance connectivity and promote developmental projects in India’s Northeast region in an efficient and effective manner, according to the MoU signed following the summit in Gandhinagar on . It must be said here that Japan has a historic connection with the Northeast and is among the few countries that India has allowed a presence in the eight landlocked states which are the country’s gateway to the Association of Southeast Asian Nation members.
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform them that India and Japan on also signed a document on Japanese loan and aid for highway development in the Northeast that can complement India’s connectivity initiatives in Bangladesh, Myanmar and beyond, besides BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) Motor Vehicle Agreements. Japan will extend a loan of Rs 2,239 crore to India for ‘North East Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project’ to improve the National Highway 40 (NH-40) and construct a bypass on NH-54 in the Northeast. The project is expected to contribute to the improvement of the intra-regional and international connectivity through regional economic development.
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that Japan is keen to expand infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia amid China’s OBOR initiative and along with India, it is exploring opportunities to develop projects in ASEAN. This is part of Indo-Japan corridor conceived last year for the Indo-Pacific region that also extends to Eastern Africa under Asia Africa Growth Corridor which is an initiative that would provide an alternative to OBOR, which is being implemented in a non-transparent fashion dictated by China’s interests. Both countries agree that improving connectivity between Asia and Africa is vital for achieving prosperity of the entire region.
It also cannot be lost on us that the two countries have decided to seek synergy between India’s ‘Act East’ Policy and Japan’s Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’, by closely coordinating, bilaterally and with other partners, for better regional integration and improved connectivity as well as industrial networks based on principles of mutual consultation and trust. Briefly stated, the development of the Northeast is a priority for India and a key to promote its Act East Policy. Japan has also placed a special emphasis on cooperation in the Northeast for its geographical importance of connecting India to Southeast Asia and historical ties. We all know fully well that Japanese forces had fought British in Manipur during World War II.
It is a matter of great satisfaction to note that apart from fresh investment proposals at the summit, Modi claimed that Japan’s foreign direct investment (FDI) to India had actually trebled in the past few years which is a testimony to the growing economic ties. So far, around $ 25.7 billion has flown in as FDI from Japan and the plan is to double this by 2019. Modi and Abe also used the summit to jointly condemn North Korea’s latest nuclear test and uranium enrichment activities, urging the hermit nation to comply with UNSC resolutions.
To say the least, the talks were not just confined to economic and diplomatic cooperation. Japan has agreed to help India build a convention centre in Varanasi. Calling it a symbol of cultural cooperation between the two countries, Modi said that Abe had conceptualized it during his last visit to the town. Japan and India also welcomed the renewed momentum for trilateral cooperation with the US and Australia and resolved to work with regional partners to ensure a rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.
Let me be direct in saying: India and Japan have both realised that to counter China’s hegemony they have to act in unison. Both countries are not on very good terms with China. Japan has also realized that India can be a good partner in security related matters and an alliance will benefit not just India but also Japan which is not so strong militarily.
Needless to say, Kanwal Sibal who is an eminent, most sought after expert in analyzing most complicated foreign affairs and is one of the most reputed former Foreign Secretary of India very rightly points out that, “Both, India and Japan, have problems with China on territorial issues and on Beijing’s muscle-flexing. Japan has long been China’s rival in the western Pacific; now India is seen as China’s potential rival in Asia. China’s hegemonic ambitions in Asia are becoming increasingly apparent. If China succeeded in its quest for dominating Asia, it would be at the cost of India and Japan, and neither country would accept the situation. So far Japan has relied on the US for its security but with Obama failing to oppose China’s expansionism in the South China Sea and Trump questioning the assumptions underlying the US-Japan alliance and creating uncertainty about the future course of US foreign policy, Abe has tried to widen his security options by reaching out to India, which alone in Asia, by virtue of its size, growing economic strength and substantial military capabilities, can check China’s ambitions. Therefore, while the alliance with the US remains the anchor of Japan’s security policies, Tokyo is enlarging its security base by drawing closer to India.”
All said and done, both India and Japan have a lot to gain from each other. It is most heartening to note that in last few years there has been a quantum leap in relations between India and Japan and both countries have come a lot closer to each other than earlier. It is certainly a matter of some concern that there has been a decline in India-Japan trade from $18.61 billion in 2012-13 to $13.48 billion in 2016-17, though Japanese investments in India have increased. This needs to be set right on a war footing. It cannot be ignored that earlier it was Abe who was the driving force in making the India-Japan Civil Nuclear Agreement operational. Abe’s visit has certainly come as a shot in the arm in the bilateral relations between India and Japan and India has many reasons to cheer for this visit.
It is most heartening to learn the happy news which will cheer the hearts of millions of Indians like me that Japan has pledged on March 29, 2018 to provide India with yen loans of up to 100 billion ($940 million). This loan money would be utilized by India for the construction of Mumbai’s subway system and nearly 50 billion yen for other infrastructure projects. It will help vastly in improving the quality and infrastructure of big Indian cities like Mumbai. So, it goes without saying that we all must welcome this with open arms.
It must be mentioned here that the Foreign Minister of Japan – Taro Kono and India’s External Affairs Minister – Sushma Swaraj oversaw the signing of notes on the loans after they held the ninth round of a bilateral strategic dialogue in Tokyo. It also must be mentioned here that while including the latest decision, Tokyo has pledged a total of 384.1 billion yen in loans top New Delhi in the current fiscal year ending March 30 thus marking the largest yen loans that have ever been provided to a single country in a year. No doubt, India must make full benefit of this lavish aid that it is scheduled to get from Japan and should not fritter away by wasting money because this money has to be paid back to Japan which Centre should never forget under any circumstances!
It is of high significance to note here that Kono said at a joint press appearance after the signing of the loan deal that, “Japn has contributed to India’s nation building for many decades as a development partner…we will continue to actively support regional development, including by strengthening connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region.” Sushma Swaraj who is India’s External Affairs Minister too while expressing her satisfaction at the loan deal exclaimed that, “A consensus between Japan and India on the economic front is important for the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.” It is beyond a straw of doubt that whatever Sushma Swaraj has said is absolutely right. Both countries are fully committed to work with each other in tandem to ensure peace, progress and prosperity!
It also has to be considered here that the other 49 billion yen in loans will cover a desalination plant and technology to reduce the traffic congestion that always hits Chennai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu which is capital also and tree planting activities in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. This was disclosed by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. It would also be significant to mention here that Kono said that he and Swaraj agreed to begin a new “Indo-Pacific Dialogue” in order to build on existing bilateral public-private consultation frameworks. It would also not be out of context to mention here that according to Japanese government officials at a subsequent working dinner, the ministers of both the countries – India and Japan affirmed the importance of maintaining maximum diplomatic pressure on North Korea to compel it to completely, verifiably and irreversibly abandon its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
There can be no gainsaying the irrefutable and pivotal fact that if both Japan and India exert full pressure on North Korea to make it realize that nuclear weapons will only invite more sanctions from the world and threatening to attack any big power like USA by it would have most destructive consequences for North Korea also which it cannot overlook under any circumstances! Both countries must make North Korea realize that peace with big powers like USA is in its own best interests which it must exploit to the hilt and not fritter away just for preserving false pride which will take it nowhere other than the road to destruction and death for its citizens also! The Japanese officials also revealed that they also agreed to further advance cooperation between Japan and India on maritime security.
It goes without saying that Japan and India have really worked very hard to strengthen their bilateral economic and security ties in recent years which is quite ostensible also amid China’s growing regional influence and its rising assertiveness in the South and East China seas and Indian Ocean. This only serves to further compel both India and Japan to work together more vigorously with an effective and well planned strategy to counter China’s moves on every front as both face a common enemy which is an equal potent threat to both the countries. Both countries fully understand this also which only serves them to come more closer as is apparent also by the moves taken by both the countries in the last few years.
It is most heartening to see that Japan has not hidden it from anyone that it will now start investing in North East and has refused to buckle under Chinese pressure of not investing anything in North East which China considers as “disputed region”. China must now accept the ground reality that all major countries of the world like Japan treat North East fully as an integral part of India which alone explains that why it has agreed to invest heavily in North East region without any reservation of any sort! How long will China live in a fools paradise and run away from the ground reality? When India can accept Tibet as a part of China even though it never was a part of China and was a fully autonomous region then why is China always so bullish in its approach! It must learn something from peaceful countries like China and soften its stand on North East which have been an integral part of India since many thousands of years and history stands a living testimony to it!
It would be pertinent to mention here that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying hoped earnestly that close ties between India and Japan is conducive to the regional peace and stability. She also minced no words in making it crystal clear that, “I should also add that the India and Japan are important countries in Asia. We hope the normal development of the relationship can be conducive to regional, peace and development and play a constructive role in this process.” There can be no denying or disputing it!
It may be recalled here that the two countries had decided to elevate bilateral ties to a “special strategic and global partnership” in 2014 at a summit in Japan between Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. It is the good fortune of India that once again Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has won elections and became PM with a fresh mandate which will only serve to further deepen the already strong relations between both the countries. Modi was quick to congratulate Abe who got a resounding victory in the polls held in October 2017 with his LDF-led coalition winning two-thirds majority in the lower house of Parliament.
It may also be recalled here that the previous round of the strategic dialogue between the Japanese and Indian Foreign Ministers were held in India in January 2015 between Sushma Swaraj and Kono’s predecessor Fumio Kishida. According to the Foreign Ministry, Sushma Swaraj is on her first visit to Japan since taking up her portfolio in May 2014. Sushma Swaraj has always worked with full dedication to ensure that both countries ink agreements on more and more new areas and this is a matter of utmost satisfaction for all of us as India has a lot to gain from Japan which is one of the world’s most developed nations. Japan has proved by its relentless hard work coupled with intelligent investment that one can again rise from the ashes of the World War like it did after being bombed by USA way back in 1945! No one had then expected that Japan would bounce back so hard! For this they truly deserves all laurels and praise and all countries in the world must learn from them how to bounce back even after being hit by atom bombs in which two of its most advanced cities – Hiroshima and Nagasaki were completely destroyed!
One is pretty sure that relations between India and Japan will further progress to reach new unprecedented heights in the days to come and this has been openly indicated by both Modi and Abe also in no uncertain terms! As has been mentioned above, both countries have inked key agreements on various different areas and in the coming time this will only multiply further which shall benefit both the countries and this has been reiterated time and again by leaders of both the countries! Before winding up, let me mention here what Abe wrote way back in 2007 when he predicted before hand that, “It would not be a surprise if in another decade, Japan-India relations overtake Japan-US andJapan-China ties”. How right he was in predicting is before all of us to see for ourselves!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.