Tokyo togetherness

Making up for time lost, India recognises Japan as an indispensable partner

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's just-concluded visit to Tokyo marks an inflection point in India's quest for a solid strategic partnership with Japan. On the eve of the PM's visit, Delhi appeared afraid of annoying Beijing by drawing closer to Tokyo. Sino-Japanese tensions and Delhi's hopes for a political breakthrough with China suggested that India might miss a rare opportunity at hand in Japan. The re-election of Shinzo Abe, who gave a big boost to ties with India during 2006-07, as the prime minister of Japan last December was an entirely unexpected political blessing, but Delhi seemed reluctant to embrace Abe. The Chinese military intrusion in eastern Ladakh last month exposed the enduring fragility of India's relations with China and underlined the new salience of the Japan option.

Making amends this week in a bold overture, the PM described Japan as a "natural and indispensable partner" in the economic modernisation of India and the construction of a stable Asian balance of power. Singh also backed Abe's Herculean effort to revive the Japanese economy and put Tokyo back at the heart of a resurgent Asia. On the bilateral front, Singh and Abe ordered their officials to quickly wrap up the stalled bilateral negotiations on civil nuclear energy cooperation. To soothe the special sensitivities of Japan, the world's only victim of nuclear bombing, the PM reaffirmed India's commitment to the unilateral and voluntary moratorium on testing atomic weapons. Abe acknowledged India as a responsible nuclear power and promised to support its full integration into the global non-proliferation order. On the crucial economic front, Japan has agreed to intensify its support for infrastructure development in India, including the development of a high speed railway system.

The two prime ministers agreed to step up bilateral defence cooperation, conduct joint naval exercises, and explore the modalities for the Indian purchase of Japanese amphibian aircraft that will extend the Indian capabilities for search and rescue and disaster relief in the waters of the Indian Ocean. As they deepen security cooperation, India and Japan do not want to frame their bilateral engagement in opposition to China. Beijing offers no apologies to Delhi for its military alliance with "iron-brother" Pakistan. Delhi, too, has no reason to be defensive about its unfolding Japanese connection. Both Delhi and Tokyo have their problems with Beijing but each recognises the importance of seeking peaceful relations with a rising China. Singh and Abe, then, have rightly focused on tapping the huge unrealised potential of the India-Japan strategic partnership.

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