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Time to fulfil potential

Policmakers agree that Manmohan's Japan visit marks a significant phase in Indo-Japan relations, writes Madhur Singh.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2006 01:30 IST

Much has been written about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tour of Japan, which started on Wednesday. Analysts and policymakers in India and Japan agree that this visit marks a significant phase in Indo-Japan relations, which have been rather lukewarm since the 1960s. Why are India and Japan suddenly so interested in each other?

The reasons are not hard to seek. India's economic growth and the clout this has brought is the most obvious. No country, none the least Japan, which relies heavily on external trade, can afford to ignore India's 200-300 million-strong middle class. According to Japanese ambassador to New Delhi Yasukuni Enoki, as Japanese companies expand, they seek out not only new markets but also new and cheaper production and export bases. Clearly, India provides both.

As India grows and expands, there are tremendous opportunities for Japanese companies to grab gigantic infrastructure-building contracts, says Dr H.S. Prabhakar from the Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU. This works two ways by also facilitating other Japanese companies that need this infrastructure.

According to Professor Brij Tankha of the Department of East Asian Studies, DU, Japan can also gain from the demographic complementarities between the two nations.

Whatever the importance of economics, politics plays an equally important role in the scheme of things, as National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan said on board the PM’s flight on Wednesday. In the view of many analysts, India, Japan and the US form a triad aimed at managing relations with China. India and Japan have, of late, been laying great emphasis on “shared values” like democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, in a speech in November, and Singh, while speaking at LSE last week, both reiterated their commitment to these values. This language not only unites India and Japan, but also implicitly outs China. Whether the two countries see China negatively as a threat or positively as a challenge, they could do with each other’s help to tackle it.

Looked at another way, India’s own efforts to reach out to the world since the reforms of 1991 have dovetailed into Japan's strategic plan to establish a new Asian order. According to Enoki, both countries share an interest in building international institutions that reflect new global realities. They are together looking at reform of institutions like the UN and WTO.

Should India convince Japan to lend support to its nuclear programme, which, as Narayanan suggested, it is likely to sooner or later? It would be a significant reinforcement of India’s improving status in the world stage. Gestures like Japan extending the privilege of addressing the Diet to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mean a great deal to the country as it stakes its claim in international relations. Japan’s support will be crucial at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. 

Email Madhur Singh: madhur.singh@hindustantimes.com