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Jitender Gupta
Park view The Japanese royal couple at Lodi Gardens in New Delhi
diplomacy: indo-japan ties
Nippon In The Air
The royal couple’s visit signals Japan’s desire for deeper ties
The former Japanese PM on the current visit, bilateral ties and developments in Japan’s neighbourhood.
Pranay Sharma

Barely has Japan’s royal couple—Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko—ended their week-long visit to India than it’s time for the country’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to pay New Delhi a visit. He will most likely be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in 2014. This, of course, follows our own prime minister’s visit to Tokyo in May this year, besides a number of high-level bilateral exchanges, be it regarding economic and business cooperation or joint naval exercises and defence.

“Our relations are growing in leaps and bounds and we expect them to get even better,” says a Japanese diplomat.

What has made India kisetsu no aji (flavour of the season) for Japanese leaders? On the face of it, this is part of the extended celebration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between India and Japan. But at a deeper level, developments in their own country and in the neighbourhood, as well as India’s ‘Look East’ initiative, are driving Japan Indiaward.

Japanese brands and companies are familiar enough in India, but given its stagnating economy and its premier’s aggressive thrust, enshrined as ‘Abe­nomics’, Japan is looking to expand its business interests. Especially since it has to play catch-up with its East Asian neighbours. South Korean companies already dominate the Indian white goods market, and the South Korean president, Park Guen-hye, the first woman in her country to occupy that post, will be visiting New Delhi in January, signalling the growing ties between India and the Republic of Korea.

With its East Asian neighbours strengthening ties with India, Japan has to play catch-up, given its stagnating economy.
Just two months back, Manmohan Singh concluded a very successful visit to Beijing, laying the groundwork for stronger Sino-Indian ties and wider cooperation between the two countries in a number of areas, especially in inf­rastructure development.

And China is one country Japan is not particularly happy with right now, given Beijing’s establishment of an air defence ide­ntification zone over disputed isla­nds, in response to what it perhaps sees as Japan’s ultra-nationalist tendencies under Abe. 

In fact, it was the unpredictability of its ties with China that had led Tokyo to look beyond Beijing and explore other countries for investment. However, the nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998 forced the country to postpone its attempts to deepen ties with India and put on hold all high-level visits to the country. Empress Michiko, who had been scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the International Board on Books for Young People World Congress in Delhi in September that year, called off her visit in the wake of the tests.

The royal couple’s visit to India, therefore, is a clear indication that Japan has got over its reservations and pragmatism has replaced idealism in its ties with India. Irrespective of its stand on nuclear weapons, Japan is now in serious negotiations with India on cooperation in the field of civil nuclear energy. Not just that, the country had supported the US initiative in 2008 to grant a waiver to India at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) that paved the way for commerce between New Delhi and members of the NSG on civil nuclear energy.

As for India, it does not mind the attention being lavished upon it. “Let us enjoy the party as long as it lasts,” says an Indian diplomat. The only fear is it may not last too long.

The former Japanese PM on the current visit, bilateral ties and developments in Japan’s neighbourhood.
Pranay Sharma
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