When Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertakes a four-day visit to Japan starting from August 31, it will be a big ticket visit. As civil nuclear energy and defence cooperation—are going to be two major issues whose shape will be concretised during Modi’s first ever visit to Japan after becoming Prime Minister in April- May elections. It should be noted that in the first week of July itself, Modi was expected to undertake his Japan visit. But since, he was not happy with the preparation leading to that visit, he informed Tokyo about his inability to accept his host’s invitation as the NDA government-led by him was presenting its maiden budget in July.
Although, it is a fact that Prime Minister Modi and his Japanese counterpart Sinzo Abe share warm relations between them. Both are considered assertive and aggressive in their political and economic agenda. In the world, of the three people that Japanese Prime Minister follows on the micro-blogging site Twitter, Narendra Modi is one of them. This speaks volume of personal chemistry between the two leaders. In that background, it is above secret what would be the outcome of Modi’s forthcoming Japan visit though head of this, China has already seized an opportunity in its attempt to win India to its side. Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi was one of the first foreign dignitaries New Delhi received just after formation of a new government on May 26. Then on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brazil, Chinese President Xi Jinping held bilateral talks, which went on for more than the schedule; the talks lasted for 80 minutes instead of the scheduled 40 minutes.
Nonetheless, India trusts Japan’s willingness to deepen their engagement level. It is already involved in India’s largest infrastructure projects like the ongoing Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the Delhi Metro, the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor and also talks are on to develop road, power, bridges and other projects in the Northeast. But India is very keen to conclude negotiations on the bilateral civil nuclear deal. During the just concluded visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Myanmar for the ASEAN ministerial meet, the issue was flagged with Japan in the course of bilateral meet held on the sidelines of the meet. She also apprised of New Delhi’s desire to conclude the deal during Prime Minister Modi’s forthcoming visit. It is learnt that Sushma Swaraj’s Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida assured her of “pushing the deal to a logical stage.”
Negotiations for a nuclear deal with Japan, notably, started in 2010, but following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the talks slowed down. It was revived this year when Japanese Prime Minister Abe visited India as the chief guest for the Republic Day Parade. Both sides had agreed to clinch the deal soon. Thereby, apart from civil nuclear cooperation, the two countries are likely to push for defence cooperation between them.
Defence cooperation to be focused upon
Already, since Japan has wounded up its arms export ban to India since December 2011, New Delhi’s demand for the acquisition of Japanese weaponry system has increased. It wants Tokyo to conclude the sale of Japan’s US-2 amphibious aircraft. Priced at $110 million each, India is keen to buy 15 amphibious aircrafts for which talks started in March this year. Now that Modi-led government has opened defence sector for investments up to 49 per cent, it has reinforced the idea of joint production of the aircraft in India which also wants US-2i search and rescue aircraft from Japan. The aircraft is said to have a range of over 4,500 km, giving India a significant reach far into Southeast Asia on possession. New Delhi also wants stealth fighter aircraft from Japan whose Mitsubishi Heavy is in advanced talks to supply parts of the F-35 stealth fighter with Britain’s BAE Systems. Indian navy, meanwhile, is keen to get Japanese patrol vessels and other electronic warfare equipment. During the four-day visit of Modi, all these issues are expected to be on the table.
But then the two countries want their defence cooperation not to be limited just to buy and sale of weaponry systems, but also beyond that. Japan which holds a two plus two dialogue with India (New Delhi is another partner after Washington with which Tokyo has such mechanism in existence), wants India to develop regular bilateral service-to-service military dialogues and start official trilateral dialogue that includes the US. Navies of India, Japan and the US, Singapore and Australia have already held joint exercises in the Indian Ocean. Just last year, the first bilateral India-Japan maritime exercise was held in the Indian Ocean.
Strenghthening the Relations
Since 2000, India’s and Japan’s coast guards have been conducting joint exercises annually. Plans are in the offing to expand their bilateral defence cooperation into areas such as land and air forces’ joint operations beyond counter piracy and disaster relief exercises. Yet India is reluctant to join any quadrilateral or multilateral military club that could offend China. During his earlier first one-year term in 2006, Abe had promoted the quadrilateral initiatives which was seen by Beijing as an attempt by India, Japan, Australia and the US to encircle China. Beijing had raised serious objections to it and had reportedly issued demarche to these countries’ China-based ambassadors in 2007. However, for the moment, the expected visit of Modi has generated huge interest in the Japanese diplomatic circle with the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issuing a statement that the visit would strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
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