Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India signals a new beginning for Indo-Japanese relations. This is reflected in the joint statement on the ‘Roadmap for new dimensions to the strategic and global partnership’ issued at the end of Mr Abe’s three-day sojourn. Japan’s youngest-ever premier may be a hobbled leader at home, after his party was mauled in the recent Upper House elections for the Diet. But that has obviously done nothing to reduce the enthusiasm of the Japanese establishment in cheerleading a new phase in Tokyo’s ties with India.
Mr Abe and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh signed agreements on cooperation in civil nuclear, political, security, defence, economic, high technology trade, higher education, science and technology, and disarmament fields. The target of $ 20 billion by 2010, which has reportedly been set for bilateral trade, will encourage Japanese investors to tap India’s huge market in sectors like power, urban transportation, development of ports and inland waterways, airports and SEZs. Once negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) between the two countries are wrapped up — hopefully by the end of this year — bilateral economic cooperation could touch new horizons. The compact on currency swap could also benefit other countries, adding to a regional network of similar accords that provide emergency financial liquidity in times of turbulence in currency markets. The pact allows countries to help each other in times of balance of payments crises, or to counter speculative attacks on their currencies.
The best thing about Indo-Japanese relations is that they are free from any historical baggage. If anything, Tokyo could be said to have actually helped India’s independence struggle through its support to the Indian National Army. After literally rising from the ashes of World War II to become the economic superpower that it is, Japan is evidently keen on taking a new role in Asia and the world.
Assertive leaders like Mr Abe even seek to revise the Japanese Constitution, so that the country’s Self- Defence Forces could have greater freedom to act abroad. And given India’s emergence as a fast-growing economy that shares several geopolitical interests with Japan, Mr Abe’s suggestion that the two countries should form a ‘quadrilateral bloc’ with the US and Australia is hardly misplaced.