India and Japan have experienced a remarkable transformation in their relations in the past decade on both economic and strategic levels. This paper attempts to explain the reasons for this shift, especially by looking at the motivations on both sides. The relationship developed initially because of a convergence of economic interests. The strategic element became more pronounced as both countries, but more so Japan than India, experienced heightened tensions with China over existing territorial disputes.
But the new trajectory in the relationship has been underpinned by more than mutual concerns regarding an assertive China. Japan’s ambitious plans to provide India the sort of modern infrastructure and manufacturing base that India lacks is about ensuring Asia has more strategic ballast against China — as well as providing an economic boost to Japan’s economy. India is also seen as playing an important role in legitimising Shinzo Abe’s recent attempts to undo Japan’s post-war pacifism.
Strategic ties remain nascent, their course partly dependent on the nature of Asian geopolitics in the coming years and the future economic trajectory of both India and Japan. The economic relationship, after a lull during the second Manmohan Singh government, is gathering steam and much is expected from the pro-business Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But Indo-Japanese relations continue to face many hurdles. The most important are the continuing impediments Japan’s private sector faces when trying to operate in India. The early strategic signals of Modi’s foreign policy are of a willingness to more openly align with Japan and the U.S. on mutual concerns regarding China. However, the difficulties India and Japan have had in reaching a bilateral civil nuclear agreement indicate how hard it will be for two countries, both unused to proactive strategic decision-making, to convert policies into actions.
About the Author
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri is the Foreign Affairs Editor of the Hindustan Times. He completed his second two-year term on the National Security Advisory Board this January. As a member of the Aspen Strategy Group of India, he is a delegate for track two strategic dialogues including those with the United States, China, Israel, Turkey and the U.S.-India-Japan trilateral. He is also a senior associate of the consultancy Rhodium Group, New York, an adviser to the U.S.-based Bower Group Asia, and a member of the Council of Emerging Markets, Washington D.C. He also serves as an advisor to Mitsubishi Corporation India. He has been a media fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; fellow at the Henry Stimson Centre, Washington D.C.; a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at the University of Maryland-College Park; a South Asian fellow at Cornell University; and a Schwarz Fellow with the Asia Society New York. Mr Pal Chaudhuri graduated in history from Cornell University in 1985. He has lived in or travelled through more than 50 countries.
East Asia and Asia Pacific / International Politics and Security / Policy Reports / South Asia
Last updated on 14/05/2015