Modi's equation with Shinzo Abe will make Mission Japan a success

As of today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has 327,184 followers on Twitter but is following only three people. These are Naoki Inose, a Japanese journalist, historian and social critic; his 52-year-old wife Akie Abe, a socialite who hails from a wealthy family; and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan President Shinzo Abe.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

This conveys the kind of chemistry that Modi enjoys with Abe which will come in handy for Modi as he embarks on a crucial bilateral visit to Japan on 3-4 July.

Though Japan will be Modi’s second foreign visit, this visit will be his first major test and challenge. Modi’s maiden foreign visit to Bhutan (15-16 June) will be a cakewalk considering that Bhutan is a zero-problem for the country. The only tricky issue during his Bhutan visit will be the China factor. But there is much more bilateral agenda between India and Bhutan and given the extremely close political and cultural ties between the governments and peoples of India and Bhutan and the fact that Bhutan and China do not have inimical relations, the China factor will not be a headache for Modi during his Bhutan visit.

The same cannot be said about Japan. Yes, India and Japan have a “Strategic and Global Partnership” and are getting closer, largely because of the China factor. The India-Japan-China triangle is a tricky one. The India-China relations are virtually like navigating through choppy seas. Japan-China relations are, on the contrary, full of mutual hatred largely because of baggage of history but fuelled, over the recent years, by China’s assertive and aggressive diplomacy and military manoeuvres in South China Sea.

In any India-Japan conversation, China is the gorilla in the room. Modi won’t be unaware of this delicate situation. Therefore, his 'Mission Japan' will be broadly focused on two things: (i) engage with the Japanese leadership to get as much Japanese investment in Indian infrastructure as possible; and (ii) not do anything that waves a red flag to the Chinese.

The agenda of Modi’s upcoming Japan visit will inevitably be topped by economic, trade and investment issues. This won’t be his first visit to Japan. He has been there many times before as chief minister of Gujarat. Modi’s last visit to Japan as Gujarat CM in July 2012 provides a sneak view into what his strategy is going to be like when he visits Japan as the Prime Minister.

Modi gave an extensive interview to Sankei Shimbun, a major economic daily of Japan during his July 2012 visit. He was asked by Sankei to give his views about the recent labour dispute in India and whether he saw the possibility of investment from Japan getting cooled off. Modi replied thus: “(State of Gujarat) is politically stable and employers, employees and stake holders are communicating well as if they are family”. He indicated the state government plans to be actively involved in efforts to prevent and settle labour disputes.

This will surely be Modi’s template as PM also.

Modi addressed the Japanese media during his July 2012 visit and spoke in English. He described Gujarat as a policy driven state that does not run on the whims and fancies of individuals. All policies, he stressed, are made for the long term and every policy is in black and white, leaving no ambiguity of any sorts. He also mentioned that Japan was looking for investments and in the last 5-7 years their experience of working with Gujarat was very good and so this is an opportunity that must be taken forward.

As Prime Minister, and arguably a strong one at that, Modi is expected to take this forward in a big way. Therefore, one can expect a burst of Indo-Japanese cooperation in several new infrastructural projects, apart from the existing ones.

Modi himself gave a sneak peek into his foreign policy when, during his interaction with a group of 29 IFS probationers today, he said the diplomats should focus on expansion of trade and commerce and technology transfer, adding that India needs to concentrate on 'zero-defect manufacturing' and 'packaging and presentation', to boost its exports.

The second major talking point during his Japan trip would be to bolster defence and strategic ties with Japan. Modi must be knowing it too well that he will have to do it in such a way that he does not tick off China.

Sale of Japanese amphibious aircraft US-2i to India will also be high on Modi’s agenda in Japan. The amphibious aircraft deal is highly significant as it will be the first time since World War II when Japan will be selling its military aircraft to India. The deal may well be upwards of $1.5 billion as India is keen on buying at least 15 such planes.

As for the ongoing talks on Indo-Japan nuclear deal, it is a rather exotic issue. It will take some time for the two sides to ink it.

Indications are that given the very strong Indo-Japan political relations and very good personal chemistry between Modi and Abe, it is going to be love in Tokyo for Modi’s India.

*The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2014 08:54 AM

Also See