In the last two months, there have been several high level Japanese visitors to India. In November there took place the first ever visit by an Emperor and Empress of Japan to India. In early January, the Japanese Defence Minister visited Delhi. This was followed by the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was also the Chief Guest at the Republic Day ceremonies. These visits signify a growing momentum in India-Japan relations.
India has for many decades been a major recipient of Japanese Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), and Japanese collaboration has been visible in areas like automobiles (Maruti-Suzuki, Honda Motors, etc) and in notable infrastructure projects like the Delhi Metro.
During the Cold War, India had a strong relationship with the Soviet Union and a major role in the Non-Aligned Movement, while Japan had been a major ally of the US. This had prevented the development of political and strategic relations between India and Japan. India’s testing of a nuclear weapon in the late 1990s also alarmed Japan, which is the only country in the world which was the victim of atom bombs. However, over the last decade, political relations between India and Japan have been developing steadily. In 2006, the governments of both countries agreed upon a “strategic and global partnership”. Very significantly, military ties have been on the increase. India is the world’s largest arms importer, while Japan, despite having a Constitution that limits its offensive capability, has the world’s sixth largest military budget and the largest naval fleet in Asia. India and Japan have started conducting joint naval exercises since 2012. The proposal for the sale of the sophisticated Japanese US-2 amphibious aircraft to India is also under active consideration.
Just like India participates in a trilateral strategic “dialogue” with Russia and China (RIC), India has since 2011 started participating in a trilateral strategic dialogue with the US and Japan also. From talking mainly about “shared values” as two “democracies”, India and Japan have started talking about protecting their “shared interests”. As two countries that import most of the oil they need from West Asia and other parts of the world, both India and Japan have emphasized freedom of maritime navigation and keeping the sea lanes open. In the latest visit by the Japanese PM, India agreed to issue a joint statement with Japan which called on the freedom of overflight and protecting the rights of civil aviation. This was clearly directed against China which had recently declared its own Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) under which it claimed the right to intercept aircraft under certain conditions which come into this air zone.
India is stepping up its relations with Japan at the same time that it is stepping up its relations with China. However, there are many unresolved tensions in India’s relations with China and in Japan’s relations with China, while there are far fewer such problems in the relations between India and Japan. This makes it appear that the growth in India-Japan relations is directed against China. There is some truth in this. However, the Indian state is not keen to have its growing relationship with Japan perceived by China as hostile activity, and wants to keep its strategic options open. It has not shown interest, for example, in a 4-way strategic alliance proposed by Japan involving the US, Japan, Australia and India – something which China sees as an attempt to encircle it.
While there is a growing political and strategic angle to recent India-Japan relations, it is clear that the Indian state is very interested in Japanese investment and Japanese technology in particular. While the Indian state has declared that it wants to invest $1 trillion for infrastructure development alone, so far (since 2000) Japan has invested about $15 billion, or about 7% of the total foreign direct investment in India. About 1800 Japanese companies have investments in India in sectors like infrastructure and logistics, IT, pharmaceuticals and automobiles. Japan is committed to investing in the $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project, but so far the pace of work on this project has been slow. Annual trade between India and Japan currently amounts to less than $20 billion, which is considerably less than the trade between India and China and far less than the trade between Japan and China. There has not been a significant spurt in trade even after the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement was signed in 2011.
Another area where the two countries have not been able to clinch a major agreement is in the area of civilian nuclear cooperation, although discussions are underway. Nevertheless, it is clear that in the plans of the Indian bourgeoisie for rapid economic growth, the role of Japan in providing capital and technology looms very large.
Both the Indian and the Japanese states claim that theirs is a unique relationship which has no problems, either political or ideological, and which is not directed against any other country. However, this represents a coming together of one power (India) which is seeking to expand its economic and political reach globally, and another a country with a highly developed economy and technological capabilities, which is seeking to be politically more assertive and to break out of the constraints imposed on its military capacity and ambitions at the end of World War II. There is a definite danger in the various “strategic partnerships” combined with arms trading and joint military exercises that are unfolding in the world at the current time, in which the Indian state is an active player. History shows that both world wars of the last century were preceded by just such kind of alliance-building and shifting alliances. The working class and people of the world need to be vigilant about these kinds of alliances and the real purpose that they serve.