As the two countries consolidate relations, the Japanese ruling coalition’s victory in the upper house elections will help
India should be pleased with the outcome of elections to the Upper House in Japan, likely as it is to speed up cooperation in four areas — economics, defence and security, political and people-to-people exchanges. On a civil nuclear deal though, New Delhi seems happy to wait for the Japanese to choose the right political climate to resuming talks.
Japan’s progress to a closer relationship with India is bound to accelerate with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led coalition winning a majority in the Upper House, strengthening the Lower House victory it recorded in December last year.
This will reverse the political instability that has prevailed since 2006, coincidentally the same time that India-Japan ties took off. After the end of the Junichiro Koizumi Government that year, Japan has had seven Prime Ministers including Shinzô Abe, now in that office for the second time.
The main Opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) — which went through three Prime Ministers during its three-year reign that ended in December last year — was also committed to closer ties with India. But its political philosophy was less antagonistic towards China than that of Mr. Abe and his LDP. As a result, it took a more conservative view of opening up the civil nuclear and defence sectors to India.
In contrast, soon after taking over as Prime Minister for the second time, Mr. Abe set about overhauling Japan’s long-held notions about defence trade by reviewing its military policy; barring the United States, it has, since 1967, frowned upon ties with other countries in this sector.
By the time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Tokyo in May this year, the Japanese were ready to sell India a civilian-military use amphibious plane by bending some of their rules prohibiting defence sales. And before this year-end, in a joint exercise that will be bigger than the first ever India-Japan exercises in June last year, the two navies will be in a better position to understand each other’s way of operations.
The Japanese Embassy in New Delhi will have three defence attachés by the end of the year — there is a single official at present — for a more intensive interaction at the levels of operations as well as trade. From India’s point of view, closer defence ties with Japan are a vital element of its Look East policy, as it provides a security component in ties with countries on its eastern flank.
The civilian nuclear sector is another key area of interest for India; talks with Japan had progressed smoothly till the Fukushima nuclear accident happened. Mr. Abe would be more than eager to resume talks on an India-Japan civilian nuclear agreement. But New Delhi would want Japan to set the pace, especially after it has tried to accommodate Indian interests without being asked. For instance, Japan has reduced its export control list for India which today stands at just 10 entities.
Tokyo has offered to take four of them off the list without being asked. A civilian nuclear agreement will offer Japan Steel Works massive opportunities in India; the initial impetus for opening India-Japan talks on the subject came from the Japanese industry. It should be a matter of time before the industry begins encouraging Mr. Abe to reopen talks for an agreement.
New Delhi hopes Mr. Abe, with the tailwind of majorities in both Houses of Diet behind him, will be able to implement his Abenomics of opening up business opportunities for Japanese corporates, essentially away from the Chinese mainland. For India that would mean Tokyo may speed up investment decisions in industrial corridors for the north and south.
While it will be smooth sailing for India in economics and defence with the civil nuclear field likely to follow, New Delhi would be looking at a more forthcoming Tokyo with respect to greater people-to-people exchanges. Also, Japan has a rapidly ageing population and requires immigrants as caregivers. The India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) did envisage such a movement of people and New Delhi would be trying to gently persuade the conservative Japanese Government to open up its market to skilled personnel.
The Upper House majority for the LDP and its allies means that Mr. Abe will not have to worry about numbers in either House of Parliament for the next three years. His political position has been bolstered by seats won by two parties further on Mr. Abe’s right. Provided Mr. Abe manages to survive the machinations within his own party and maintains his anti-China posture, India-Japan ties seem set to make progress.