The Tokyo-New Delhi partnership should be one of the highest diplomatic priorities for India in the coming decades. There are three reasons why India should place its relationship with Japan on a special pedestal. One is that Japan, still the third largest economy and one of most technologically advanced nations in the world, has expressed a willingness to invest and develop India’s economic wherewithal on a scale matched by almost no other country.
The $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, a project that would enormously ease India’s chronic infrastructure problems, is just one of many tangible signs of Japan’s willingness to put its yen where its mouth is. Two is that Japan Inc is on the hunt for a new overseas home for its factories and plants. Japan has been too high cost and demographically constrained for the country’s thousands of manufacturing firms.
China has been their preferred site: Japan is the second largest foreign direct investor in China with a cumulative investment in the region of $70 billion a year. But higher Chinese labour costs and a growing tide of anti-Japanese sentiment, partly whipped up by the Beijing government, has led many such firms to start looking elsewhere. India is one of the countries that Japanese companies are exploring as an alternative. If they were to move here, India would be a triple beneficiary in terms of jobs, exports and capital flows.
Third, which is the strategic leg of this triangle, is a common concern about the increasingly erratic and unpredictable international behaviour of China. Beijing, after decades of encouraging Japanese investment, has revived the dormant Senkaku Island dispute and made Japan-bashing part of its public discourse. If China is seeking to pander to a new urban nationalism, then it is focusing much of this ire on Japan — though Vietnam, India and the Philippines have also been on the receiving end. If Japan were to succumb tomorrow, there is a strong likelihood that China would turn its belligerence towards India.
The new Shinzo Abe government has a clear sense that building up India, economically and militarily, is in its national interest. It has not always been clear that New Delhi shares this vision fully, perhaps out of concern for Beijing’s sensibilities. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s forthright speeches in Japan have helped clear the air somewhat. But what should be abundantly obvious is that India should feel no inhibitions about its relationship with Japan, especially those born from the strident opinions of third countries. Tokyo is one capital that is offering India more than friendship, it is offering a genuine willingness to quantum leap India into a higher level of economic development. This is a less than rare opportunity that should not be missed.