India-Japan Relations: Changing Dynamics and China Factor

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on a two-day visit to India to participate in the 12th India-Japan Annual Summit at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Besides the exchange of visits by officials and ministers, summit level meetings between Prime Ministers of both the countries have become the norm over the last decade. Read the India-Japan relationship amid of China's presence in Sount Asian region.

Created On: Sep 25, 2017 12:28 ISTModified On: Sep 29, 2017 12:50 IST
India-Japan Relations Changing Dynamics and China Factor

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on a two-day visit to India to participate in the 12th India-Japan Annual Summit at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Besides the exchange of visits by officials and ministers, summit level meetings between Prime Ministers of both the countries have become the norm over the last decade, the newly infused dynamism into the relationship by the successive governments in India (Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi) and Japan (under the leadership of Shinzo Abe) is termed transformative and is largely driven by the domestic, regional and global factors.

While China’s growing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean as well as the South China Sea in the Pacific Ocean, its souring relationship with Japan and inconsistent relationship with India constitutes the regional factors, the competition between the USA and China on the global stage, the USA’s historical alliance with Japan and deepening strategic bond between the USA and India in recent years, which are viewed as counter to China, constitute global factors behind the growing India-Japan friendship in recent years.

It is against this backdrop, it is essential to understand the present nature of India-Japan bilateral relations, the reasons behind the growth and the China factor in India-Japan relations.

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The friendship between India and Japan has a long history rooted in spiritual affinity and strong cultural and civilizational ties. India’s earliest documented direct contact with Japan was with the Todaiji Temple in Nara, where the consecration or eye-opening of the towering statue of Lord Buddha was performed by an Indian monk, Bodhisena, in 752 AD.
The modern nation States have carried on the positive legacy of the old association which has been strengthened by shared values of belief in democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law. Over the years, the two countries have built upon these values and created a partnership based on both principle and pragmatism. Today, India is the largest democracy in Asia and Japan the most prosperous.

Now, let us understand the various dimensions of current India-Japan bilateral relations.

Political Relations

Salient aspects of the India-Japan political relations are –

  • In 2006, Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe agreed to upgrade the relationship to the level of Global and Strategic Partnership with the provision of annual Prime Ministerial Summits. Since then, the annual summits have been taking place alternatively in India and Japan.
  • A Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Japan and India was concluded in 2011.
  • In 2014, the two countries agreed to upgrade the relationship to a ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’.
  • In 2014, a ‘Japan-India Make in India Special Finance Facility’ of JPY 1.3 trillion was established.
  • Besides the annual summits, the two countries have established a number of dialogue mechanisms have established related to diverse fields such as the economy, commercial, financial services, health, road transport, shipping, education, etc.

Economic and Commercial Relations

Salient aspects of the India-Japan political relations are –

  • The India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that came into force in August 2011 is the most comprehensive of all such agreements concluded by India. The CEPA covers not only trade in goods but also Services, Movement of Natural Persons, Investments, Intellectual Property Rights, Customs Procedures and other trade related issues. The agreement envisages abolition of tariffs over 94% of items traded between India and Japan by the end of 2021.
  • Economic relations between India and Japan have vast potential for growth, given the complementarities that exist between the two Asian economies.
  • Japan's interest in India is increasing due to a variety of reasons - including India's large and growing market and its resources, especially the human resources.
  • Japan has been extending bilateral loan and grant assistance to India since 1958. Japan is also the largest bilateral donor for India.
  • At present, Japanese ODA is supporting India’s efforts for accelerated economic development particularly in priority areas like power, transportation, environmental projects and projects related to basic human needs.
  • The Ahmedabad-Mumbai High-Speed Rail, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor with twelve new industrial townships, the Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC) are all mega projects. Even the prestigious Delhi Metro Project has also been realized with Japanese assistance.
  • Japanese FDI in India in the fiscal year 2016-17 was USD 4.7 billion, an increase of 80% over the last year. Japan is the third largest foreign investor in India. The amount of Japan's cumulative investment in India since 2000 is USD 25.7 billion.

Defence and Security Cooperation

Salient aspects of the India-Japan Defence and Security cooperation are -

  • Quadrilateral Initiative, which was later refurbished as the Democratic Security Diamond in 2012, has considered India as an important role of Japan’s strategic design. Apart from India and Japan, the alliance involves the USA and Australia. The involvement of four major democratic nations in the Asia-Pacific region is viewed as anti-China engagement due to the one-party ruling in the country.
  • Since 2015, Japan has become the permanent member in the annual Malabar Naval Exercise. In the trilateral naval exercise, which began in 1992, includes the USA and India.

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Evidence of Chinese factor in Indo-Japan Relations.

1. Both the countries have border (land/maritime) issues with China- a common ‘enemy’ for India and Japan.

  • Border conflicts between India and China have been a long issue and it is evident from the recent dispute over the Doklam plateau in the Himalayas started two-and-one-half months ago. Both the countries have been seen accusing their counterparts of breaching the existing border norms. The recent conflict began when Indian troops prevented China from building a road at Doklam, a plateau disputed between China and Bhutan. Since then, about 300 troops from each side have been sent to the area of conflict which raised fears of larger conflict.
  • Japan has the similar border issue with China and is one of the perennial sources of friction for two neighbours still harbouring scars from World War II.  Both the countries have the simmering territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea are known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. At present, both the island is administered by Japan but are claimed by China. The conflict has been on rising in the last few years is because of increasing China’s maritime mightiness in the region.

2. Alliance with the USA, and its Pivot to Asia Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region.

  • In the last few years, India has strengthened it's diplomatic, economic as well as the military ties with the USA in a view to check growing China’s growing influence in Asia. India and USA, both the countries using each other’s military facilities that is evident from the last year’s Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and other foundational agreements like CISMOA and BECA have been a headache for China.
  • Apart from India’s ties with the USA, India’s ‘Act East Policy’ (AEP) admirably waning the influence of China in the region. Through AEP, India has imparted greater vigour to its ties with ASEAN. Now India has shifted its focus on to promoting connectivity through Myanmar and Thailand with other ASEAN states.

So, India has a great opportunity if she able to align its AEP with the USA and it will be pivotal to Asia through the Joint Strategic Vision, India seeks to expand its geo-strategic space to contend with China’s growing assertiveness and foster balanced relations.

3. The dominance of China in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and Pacific Region.The threat to commercial and strategic interests of both the nations.

  • India has already shown its genuine concern over South China Sea and sought to firmly articulate its principled position of freedom of navigation, maritime security, expeditious resolution of the dispute according to international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, developing a Code of Conduct, and settlement through dialogue and peaceful means. India’s more than 40 percent of total trade volume traverses through the South China Sea, and on account of its interest in harnessing fossil resources in the region.

4. The issue of Democracy and Human Rights, shared values of democracy binds together.

  • India and Japan are not only natural allies in the Asia-Pacific region but it also sharing common democratic values. India is the largest democracy in the Asia while Japan is the most prosperous.  Both the countries rather confronting choose to function as a vibrant democracy with a social matrix which emphasizes harmony and consensus among its citizens.
  • After the establishment of People’s Republic of China in 1949, the authoritarian rule has been a new normal in the country. Imprisonment of political opponents and journalists common practices can be seen as a part of the Chinese Government agenda. While the press has many restrictions and the religious intolerance also common phenomena in the country.

Despite the visible signs of Chinese factor behind the deepening friendship between India and Japan, Indian leadership has been restraint enough and matured. In sum, India is playing a balancing card to maintain the healthy relationship with its allies while it is Japan or China. India’s one step ahead on Doklam issue and its interests to resolve the issue with bilateral dialogues shows that India is not playing anything card while to maintain the healthy relation with Japan. According to the Japanese survey that India is the most favoured destination for long-term Japanese investment. So, it will too not be justified to say that Japan is playing any China card while maintaining its long-term relationship with India.

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