The biggest missing piece in the Indo-Japanese strategic partnership is the lack of a bilateral nuclear agreement.
This is important. India treats “nuclear trust” as the litmus test of another country’s strategic intent. Also India’s ambitions plans to import reactors from France and the US are dependent on Japanese approval. Japanese companies have a monopoly on necessary parts like reactor forgings.
But Japan is also the land of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and Fukushima. In past, Tokyo has been among the strongest advocates of sanctions against India for its nuclear tests.
Since 2010, when the then Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, announced the start of nuclear talks with New Delhi, there have been repeated hopes of a settlement. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s present visit is no exception. Even in December diplomats on both sides were hopeful of a last minute breakthrough.
The talks are stuck on two crucial elements. Japan has given up expecting India to sign the nuclear test ban treaty. But two points of difference remain. One, Japan wants to be able to terminate the agreement the instant India tests once again. New Delhi wants the treaty to call for one year of talks before termination — as is the case in the US agreement. Two, Japan is reluctant to allow India to access reprocessing technology.
Both sides are prepared to be patient.
India’s passage of a flawed nuclear liability law has meant its own nuclear expansion plans are moribund.
Abe faces stiff domestic opposition over all things nuclear post-Fukushima. His priority is to save Japan’s domestic nuclear power industry.
As a Japanese official noted, if Japan follows the zero nuclear path than it will not be able to cooperate with India in any case.
His coalition partner, the New Komeito Party, has objected strongly to the nuclear deal with India. “We have invited Komeito leaders to visit India to try and diffuse this,” said an Indian diplomat.
Manmohan Singh and Abe will reaffirm their commitment to signing a deal on this trip. However, the window of opportunity for this all-important agreement has yet to come.