Forget the Maldives mishap. Forget the still-born diplomatic moves vis a vis Bangladesh. Forget the one-step-forward, two-step-backward relations with Pakistan and China through this year. Forget the not-so-happening India’s relations with Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Forget even the Devyani Khobragade episode.
Indian diplomacy is all set to turn a new leaf in the New Year with some out-of-the-box thinking. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a known staunch friend of India and a China-baiter, would be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day Parade in 2014.
It has been an unsaid, unspoken and unwritten policy of India to invite a foreign dignitary as chief guest at its Republic Day Parade in New Delhi, from a country which is normally seen as friendly or which is seen as worth pursuing at least in the hope that that country would be bowled over by the Indian gesture.
That is why, leaders from countries such as Pakistan (Governor General Malik Ghulam Muhammad in 1955) and China (Marshall Ye Jianying in 1958) have been invited as Chief Guests at India’s R-Day parade. Even leaders from far-off countries like Mexico, Argentina and Peru and remote tiny dots on the world map like Trinidad and Tobago have been invited as Chief Guests at R-Day parade in New Delhi.
It may be quite strange but it is true that a powerful, advanced Asian country like Japan, the world’s third largest economy, has never been bestowed this honour.
This anomaly will be corrected on India’s 66th Republic Day and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be the Chief Guest at the parade, an annual event that showcases India’s defence might as well as its cultural diversity.
This is a welcome strategic move by India. It would send a strong message to India’s detractors, particularly China.
Needless to say, China will be riled at the Indian move as it indicates the fast-changing international equations and even more so when China-Japan bilateral relations have sunk to a dramatic low in the past few years.
Both India and Japan have been feeling the heat of China’s so-called “peaceful rise”. It has definitely been a rise but not a peaceful one. China’s latest move of imposing the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea is one of the many provocations by the Chinese. Japan, South Korea and Philippines have aggressively refused to honour the ADIZ.
Though India is not affected by the ADIZ and China has ruled out such a dispensation for India, New Delhi has its own problems with China -- stapled visas for Indians domiciled in Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) among the few, apart from repeated Chinese incursions because of an unsettled boundary dispute.
India’s highly commendable outreach to Japan and extending the privilege to the Japanese PM to be the Chief Guest at its Republic Day Parade in 2014 is born out of sheer pragmatism and strategic calculus.
Japan is one Asian country with which India has had no dispute of any kind throughout the history – ideological, territorial or cultural. Few countries in the world enjoy such a great goodwill in India as Japan does. Of late, particularly in the last one decade, Japan has been the foreign engine of India’s infrastructural growth like no other foreign country has been.
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is a proven and tested example of this while many more ambitious infrastructural projects like the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) are happening and likely to be completed in a few years time.
No other country has contributed so meaningfully and immensely to India’s growth story in recent years as Japan has. India has the distinction of being the largest recipient of Japan’s Official Developmental Assistance (ODA) over the years.
Japan was the first Asian country to be fully industrialized and developed and also the first in the most populous continent to have abolished poverty. It has achieved so much in so little a time despite being a major loser in the World War 2 and despite being the first and the only country to have been the target of a nuclear attack.
India and Japan have been having a Strategic and Global Partnership since 2000 (when the Chinese resurgence and its “peaceful rise” had not even been noticed by the international community). Moreover, Japan happens to be one of the only two countries with which India has an institutionalized mechanism of holding annual summits, the other country being Russia.
These facts should be enough to put in perspective Japan’s supreme strategic significance for India. However, in today’s world, the biggest USP of Japan for India and of India for Japan is the China factor.
In the opinion of this writer, no other country is such a great strategic friend of India as Japan; not even Russia.
Therefore, India’s great Japan diplomacy which will be in full bloom on 26 January 2014 needs to be appreciated and supported. India should have exhibited this diplomatic symbolism much earlier. But better late than never!
(The writer is a FirstPost columnist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.)
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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2013 08:06:33 IST