Tokyo affirms commitment to helping the country's infrastructure, social sectors

As Japan emerges from political instability triggered by the fall of the Naoto Kan government, Tokyo has said that India will be exempted from cuts in Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) enforced on other countries following the tsunami and the Fukushima disaster in March-April of this year.

India, the highest recipient of Japanese ODA since 2003 will thus maintain its pole position. The affirmation about Japanese commitment to helping India's infrastructure and social sectors came ahead of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's visit next week for the Fifth India-Japan Strategic Dialogue on October 28 and 29.

Japan's signal on ODA aid coupled with Mr. Krishna's discussions on strategic issues including maritime security will set the stage for a visit by Defence Minister A.K. Antony on November 2 and 3.

Officials are trying to squeeze in a 2+2 involving Defence and Foreign Secretaries from both sides as also coordinate the dates for an India-Japan-U.S. trilateral. Diplomats are trying to time this trilateral around the East Asia Summit — 10 Association of South East Asian Nations along with eight observers — during which maritime security, especially in the South China Sea, would be discussed extensively.

Security-related talks

Security-related discussions during these interactions would coalesce into a vision on maritime security for the seas between India and Japan during a summit interaction between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart Yushihiko Noda towards the end of December.

These engagements would breathe life into India's developing bilateral ties with Japan which went on the backburner after political instability in Tokyo and the Fukushima disaster. “We thought India-Japan ties are immune to changes in government in Tokyo. Unfortunately domestic stability in Japan has caught up with our bilateral relations,” government sources had then observed. “Japan still retains focus on domestic issues as it copes with the aftermath of the disaster. Now that a new government is in place we have these meetings bunched up which will give a push to our bilateral ties,” they now say.

Civil nuclear pact

A subject rarely mentioned is civil nuclear energy cooperation. Starting with a bang in 2010 with backing from top Japanese corporate chieftains, talks hit a roadblock after three rounds and have since taken the backseat due to the Fukushima incident.

The absence of an India-Japan civil nuclear agreement will hamper progress on civil nuclear plants to be built in India by the U.S. and France as Japanese companies making critical components for the reactor vessel will not be able to enter into tie-ups. Some discussions have since been held but the political sensitivity of the issue in Japan, heightened by the radiation leak, has led to low prospects of it being signed in the near future.

Though a nuclear agreement remains elusive, Mr. Krishna will hold discussions on India's desire to join the four non-proliferation international organisations including the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement which are scheduled to hold meetings in the coming months.

However, the Japanese assurance on ODA means economic ties will remain the vital cog for India-Japan relations even as both sides continue coordinating their positions on the security and civil nuclear issues. It also means that despite the economic crises in Europe and Japan's own economic woes, the multi-billion dollar Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor will remain on course.

The assurance on ODA reciprocates then Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao keeping her commitment to visit Tokyo despite the tsunami. “The dates for consultations were fixed before the disaster hit Japan. They did not want to change the dates to project a business-as-usual scenario. We agreed because Ms. Rao's presence would be a way to show our support to Japan,” said sources.

  • Assurance indicates that the multi-billion dollar Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor is still on course
  • India-Japan-U.S. trilateral to focus on maritime security, especially in the South China Sea