Abe and Indo-Japan Ties

Shinzo Abe has gone but his vision for closer and firmer India-Japan ties will remain.
Abe and Indo-Japan Ties
File Photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Japan on a very short visit on September 27 to participate in the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was assassinated on July 8 this year. Abe was giving a political campaign speech at a street corner when he was killed by a man with a home-made gun; the assassin claimed that he was aggrieved by Abe and his party’s connections with the Unification Church. As Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister after the Second World War and a staunch nationalist Abe dominated his country’s politics for almost two decades. He resigned for health reasons in 2020. He left an indelible mark on Japan and the region.

Abe made a very positive contribution to India’s ties with Japan besides, striking a close personal equation with Modi. Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra correctly appreciated Abe’s role in “turning [a] largely economic relationship into a broad Comprehensive and Strategic Partnership, making it pivotal for the security of both our countries and also for the region’s security”. Kwatra recalled Abe’s speech to the Indian parliament in 2007 and observed that “it laid the ground for the emergence of the Indo-Pacific region as a contemporary political, strategic and economic reality”.

While Abe’s role in the development of India-Japan ties should not be under- estimated it is a fact that the two countries have also come closer to each other because of common concerns arising out of the rise of China. Indeed, Chinese reservations, if not deep feelings of resentments, because of the Japanese attack and conquest of Manchuria in 1931 and a full-fledged war beginning from 1937 between China and Japan continue to be alive. These are the causes for Chinese protests when Japanese politicians visit shrines associated with their country’s militaristic traditions. Japanese leaders like Abe were no longer willing to be weighed down by the actions of their ancestors during the Second World War; nor were they as committed to Japan’s pacifist and anti-nuclear weapons traditions that began after the Second World War.

India’s problems with China, despite all the serious attempts at normalising ties, beginning with Prime Minister’s Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1988, have never come down. China’s has helped in augmenting Pakistani power and continuously condoned its inimical policies towards India. It has also been obdurate on the India-China boundary issue. Thus, the favourite approach, for many years, of some Indian political leaders that India and China had enough space to grow without treading on each other’s toes was essentially illusionary. After the coming to power of President Xi Jinping no delusions could really continue even though an attempt was made by Modi. Thus, a result of China’s policies and their adverse impact on both has led to an alignment of security interests between India and Japan.

It is also a fact that the very different social and political traditions of independent India and Japan were also impediments to developing closer ties. After its defeat in the Second World War Japan rose from the ashes and quickly restored its economy but it pursued a capitalist path at a time India was firmly socialistic. Hence, even though there was admiration for Japan for the manner in which it had overcome adversity and also the echoes of the thrill that many Indians felt in the early part of the 20th century when it had defeated Russia had never disappeared, these objective realities prevented the realisation of the full potential of the bilateral relationship.

India’s abandonment of the socialistic model of development in the 1990s and subsequently embracing capitalism, even though the public sector still plays a significant economic role, provided an opportunity for Japan to look meaningfully towards India as an economic and commercial partner. Abe undoubtedly prodded Japanese companies to consider investments in India despite the challenges they would face. Another issue which dogged ties, especially after India went overtly nuclear in 1998, was Japan’s laws relating to nuclear non-proliferation. For decades there was inadequate appreciation in Japan at India’s security environment because of China and the Sino-Pakistan nexus. The aggressive rise of China has led to a change in Japanese thinking in this area as well.

Thus, the period of inhibitions in Japan towards India is now over. As Kwatra noted “Japan is one of the most trusted and valued strategic partners of India. The two sides are committed to strengthening the bilateral partnership in key areas that include, trade and investment, defense and security, climate change, health security, infrastructure, digital space, industrial development, energy, and critical and emerging technologies and human resources among others. There is a deep convergence in our visions of Indo-Pacific region and there is close cooperation between our countries on issues of international importance”.

India and Japan’s partnership of the QUAD is also a manifestation of mutual anxieties of developments in the Indo-Pacific region. As China is unlikely to change course Indian and Japanese anxieties for international rules to be observed in the region will not dissipate. Another bond is India and Japan’s quest, along with Germany and Brazil, for changes in the permanent membership of United Nations Security Council. All four countries are rightly convinced of their strong cases to be permanent members of a body which is simply incapable because of its antiquated composition to uphold its primary task which is the maintenance of international peace and security.

Shinzo Abe has gone but his vision for closer and firmer India-Japan ties will remain.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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