Japan has long been a significant investor in India’s infrastructure sector. Of late, there have been consistent efforts by both New Delhi and Tokyo to transform this economic momentum into a “special strategic and global partnership”. Japanese Prime Minister > Shinzo Abe’s three-day visit to India this month, during which both sides agreed to major deals, including the introduction of > Japan’s bullet train technology in India and an agreement on > nuclear partnership , clearly sets the stage for elevated bilateral ties in the future. The potential of > Indo-Japanese economic partnership is huge. Despite India being one the world’s largest economies, it accounts for only about 1 per cent of Japan’s imports, exports and direct investments abroad. The proposed bullet train link between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, which will have access to a soft Japanese loan of $12-15 billion at a concessional interest rate of 0.1 per cent, will cement economic cooperation further. Besides, this suits well Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda of building quality infrastructure in the country. The civil nuclear cooperation deal, after five years of talks, marks a complete reversal of the policy Japan adopted towards India after the Pokhran nuclear tests in May 1998. Tokyo, which considers itself a champion of non-proliferation, had suspended much of its aid after India’s nuclear test. The deal, however, can be seen as a Japanese seal of approval to India’s status as a nuclear-armed state.
To be sure, enhanced economic and energy cooperation will benefit both countries. Japan has capital and skill whereas India has huge untapped potential. What they need is a clear road map, which, as the recent official exchanges show, is in the works. But at the same time, India should be wary of the great game going on in Asia. It may not be a coincidence that Japan is shedding its historical pacifist foreign policy, which helped its rise as an economic giant in Asia, at a time when its tensions with China are on the rise and the United States has been “pivoting” towards Asia. The American strategy appears to be to build an alliance in Asia to contain the rise of China. Japan, Washington’s strongest ally in Asia, is obviously one of the pillars of this “pivot” strategy. It is hardly a secret that both the American and Japanese establishments want India to “swing” towards their alliance. Mr. Abe had earlier written about the strategic need to forge a “democratic security diamond” with the U.S., Australia and India. This is the challenge India’s policymakers would face while deepening the country’s partnership with Japan further. New Delhi should get its economic and strategic priorities right and state them clearly. To script its own rise, India should build strong ties with each power, instead of aligning with any particular bloc. The country will gain more from everybody’s rise rather than joining some geopolitical alliance that is not in its primary interest.