Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a three day visit to Japan from 10–12 November 2016, as part of the Annual Bilateral Meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This was the third bilateral meeting as part of the ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’. It was also the second visit of Prime Minister Modi to Japan and the eighth bilateral meet between the two leaders in three years. In the last Annual Bilateral Meet held at New Delhi in December 2015, the two leaders had outlined a ‘Vision of Working Together for Peace and Prosperity in the Indo-Pacific Region and the World’.

The signing of the Agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy on 11 November was an important milestone. Though the deal will have to go through the process of approval of the Diet (Parliament), the signing of the Agreement displays a mature understanding of the Indian position by Japan with regards to nuclear energy, in contrast to the stand taken after the 1998 nuclear tests when Japan had led a vociferous campaign against the tests conducted and was quick to apply sanctions. India will be the only non-NPT signatory with whom Japan has signed the civil nuclear deal and this speaks volumes of the initiative taken by the Abe government.

This agreement is important to both countries. India has presently signed civil nuclear agreements with 11 other countries; Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. Apart from Russian reactors, most of the planned nuclear projects depend on Japanese components. Today, the largest and best-known supplier of heavy forgings (required for components of nuclear plants) is Japan Steel Works (JSW) which claims 80% share of the world market. This nuclear deal will facilitate companies having major Japanese investments to set up nuclear projects in India. For Japan, especially after the Fukushima disaster, it will provide a vast new market for nuclear projects. This agreement will strengthen energy security, facilitate the development of nuclear power projects in India, promote clean energy partnerships and combat the challenge of Climate Change.

Japan reaffirmed its commitment to work towards facilitating the entry of India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). This will have a positive effect on some of the countries who are still opposed to India’s entry into the NSG. A “Two-Step Intergovernmental Process to Address the Issue of Non-NPT States’ Participation” set up by the NSG is presently discussing issue of inclusion of non-NPT signatories.

In addition to the civil nuclear agreement, nine other Memorandums of Understanding (MsOU) and Memorandums of Cooperation (MsOC) have been signed between India and Japan during this visit. The ‘Manufacturing Skill Transfer Promotion Program’ (aimed at furthering ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’), provides for preparing a 30000 strong skilled workforce and establishment of Japan-India Institute for Manufacturing (JIM) in three states by the summer of 2017. MoU between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) intends to strengthen the bilateral cooperation, identify and carry out mutually beneficial cooperative projects on space applications, space exploration, research and development and promotion of the space industry. Collaboration in data sharing, joint research in marine and earth sciences as well as in the fields of agriculture and food industries, promoting investment in infrastructure projects in India, and improving the quality of Indian textiles for the Japanese market are some of the other major agreements that were inked.

The signing of the MsOU / MsOCs are important steps towards realising the vast potential for deeper bilateral collaboration. They are also the building blocks of the larger convergence of ideas, interests, complementary skills and resources between India and Japan.

One of the prime drivers of this symbiotic relationship is the perceived Chinese threat factor. Overemphasis of this facet, however, cannot drive India-Japan bilateral relations forward. The relationship needs to be nurtured by intense economic engagements, technological exchanges, security cooperation and people-to-people ties. This visit by Prime Minister has tried to achieve exactly this, in light of the Indo-Japan Vision of Working Together for Peace and Prosperity of the Indo-Pacific Region and the World.

Going forward, this relationship can be taken to the next level with increasing synergy between Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ and India’s ‘Act East’ policy which provides an opportunity to expand influence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans to include Asia and Africa. Within the Indo-Pacific region, both countries can work together to shape and strengthen the regional architecture based on rule of law, peace and inclusive growth.

Also, the issue of the sale of amphibious aircraft ShinMaywa US-2i needs to be resolved at the earliest. The US-2i amphibious aircraft is the best in its class, has multifarious roles and will be the first overseas military sale by Japan, since their self-imposed arms export ban in 1967. It will be the harbinger of high technology acquisition from Japan and an additional source of military procurement. During the recent visit, the deal for US-2i could not be finalised due to pricing, lack of firm commitment on the numbers required and other issues. The Japanese side is also taking a finer look into the manner in which the procurement and proposed Transfer of Technology will take place.

Over the years, the Indo-Japan partnership has manifested itself in a number of other areas like infrastructure development, healthcare, energy sector, rural and urban development, environment management and security. On the Indian side, there has been a significant policy shift and foreign investment in certain strategic areas like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the North East regions of the country is now being accepted.1

In the last decade Japanese FDI in India grew by six times. The acceleration has been very visible in the last two years and there are now, more than 1200 Japanese companies operating in India. Many of them are looking to scale up their operations2. India and Japan are therefore clearly poised, in the aftermath of this visit, to continue the rising trajectory in the strategic, economic, political and security partnership.