Modi's Japan visit: Fear of China lurks in the Indian babudom

Modi's Japan visit was an effort by the political leadership to bridge the gaps, but a failure of the diplomatic corps

K Yatish Rajawat September 03, 2014 11:23:11 IST
Modi's Japan visit: Fear of China lurks in the Indian babudom

The striking aspect of prime minister Narendra Modi's visit to Japan was the bonhomie he shared with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe. Modi advanced his visit by a day to visit Kyoto and Abe also changed his schedule to welcome him there. The spontaneous hug by Modi at the arrival did take the Japanese PM by surprise but he responded.

The highlight of the visit was the announcement of the Tokyo pact, in which Japan agreed to invest $38 billion in India over five years. It is, however, not known how much of this will be new investment and which all sectors will the money go to. Japan has already committed an investment of $16 billion in Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the project has been delayed and less than 4 percent investment done.

Two issues did not get the attention or the response that was expected based on the vibes and bonhomie that the two leaders shared. The first was upgrading to the cabinet level the '2-plus-2' talks on foreign affairs and secretary level talks on defence. The second was the export of Japanese nuclear technology to India. While the former was a demand from Japan, and the latter was India's requirement. Though this is not a failure of the two political leaders it is being seen as a combination of China effect and the failure of diplomatic corps at both ends.

The two leaders could not agree on upgrading talks between officials involved in foreign affairs and defence to Cabinet level as Japan had asked for. Japan has initiated ministerial level dialogue on foreign affairs and defence with several countries, including the US and Australia. However, with India it could not upgrade this relationship to the same level. The joint statement obfuscates this fact in a classic diplomatic speak. The release says the annual talks have not been upgraded, and the two countries have "decided to seek ways to intensify this dialogue".

India has not been able to hold ministerial level discussions with any country until now and this could be a failure of India's diplomatic corps. In all these years, the babus have not been able to take the discussions with any country to the next level. Even when a country like Japan demands, they are unable to pull it off. It could also be a tactic by the MEA babus to keep the political leadership out of their control areas.

However, in Japan it is being interpreted as the rising influence of China's over India. Asahi Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, interprets it as follows: In the background to putting off a decision was India's desire to not unnecessarily antagonise China. India already has a 3,000 km border dispute with China, combined this with the fact the trade between India-China is four times that of with Japan. Prime Minister Modi's next foreign visit after Japan is China.

On the nuclear issue, the joint statement says, "The two countries welcomed the significant progress in negotiations on the Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. They directed their officials to further accelerate the negotiations with a view to concluding the Agreement at an early date, and strengthen the two countries' partnership in non-proliferation and nuclear safety."

The fact is that this discussion has been going on for more than four years and is yet to reach any kind of conclusion. Very little is known about the Japanese government's specific concerns on the issue and what is holding it back, though the Japanese press often raises the issue of using nuclear technology for only peaceful purposes both domestically and internationally.

This is particularly important for the public there as Japan is a country that faced the worst brunt of nuclear weapons. Therefore, for any Japanese politician to agree to share nuclear technology with India would be a political decision more than an business one.

On the whole, Modi's Japan visit was an effort by the political leadership to bridge the gaps, but a failure of the diplomatic corps.

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