ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Japan and India: Making Up for the Lost Decade

We are witnessing a turning point in Indo-Japanese relations at the diplomatic, political and military levels. How would India and Japan ensure that no single Asian power, notwithstanding its dominant economic and global prowess, dominates and destabilises the region?


Making Up for the Lost Decade

We are witnessing a turning point in Indo-Japanese relations at the diplomatic, political and military levels. How would India and Japan ensure that no single Asian power, notwithstanding its dominant economic and global prowess, dominates and destabilises the region?


t is now a truism that Japan is “determined to make up for the lost decade in bilateral relations” with India. The visits of the Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to India in April 2005 and of the foreign minister Taro Aso in January 2006 indicate that Tokyo is certainly keen on a relationship that goes beyond the economic to include the political and strategic dimensions. This is notwithstanding Japan’s earlier bitter and outspoken condemnation of India’s nuclear policy, which accounts for the lost decade.

It is in this framework and the setting up of the annual bilateral, strategic dialogue that during the last week of May the Indian defence minister, Pranab Mukherjee, came on a low key visit to Japan to “further develop the dialogue and exchanges between the two countries in the security and defence fields...with a deep interest in promoting the security, stability and prosperity in Asia and in the world at large, as well as in tackling regional and global security challenges”.

What is not well known is that between Aso’s visit in January and April 2006 there were high-profile visits of Japan’s three self-defence force (SDF) chiefs (maritime, army, and air) to India. These unique and significant visits need to be underscored as they all together send a firm signal to Asian countries and the US that Tokyo and New Delhi have finally squared the proverbial circle in their security relations and that Japan now recognises India not only as an emergent economic and political power in the region with its own areas of interest and concern, but intends to join forces in promoting “strategic interests”. This is a significant development and a turning point in Indo-Japanese relations at thediplomatic, political and military levels. The prime question is: how would Japan and India mutually mine these and other areas of their relations to solidify their emergence and to ensure that no single Asian power, notwithstanding its dominant economic and global prowess and promise, would dominate and destabilise the region?

Securing Oil SuppliesSecuring Oil SuppliesSecuring Oil SuppliesSecuring Oil SuppliesSecuring Oil Supplies

Despite the inauguration of the Japan-India strategic dialogue at the level of defence ministers, in the notable absence of an Indian external affairs minister and thereby seemingly lacking in policy-level contribution from the ministry of external affairs (MEA) establishment, much has yet to be done by each party to give meaning and muscle to diplomatic communiqués and go beyond outlining areas of mutual interest and re-paying cordial visits to each other.

Economic and Political Weekly June 24, 2006

The visit by Mukherjee was probably intentionally declared as routine: New Delhi didn’t want to pre-empt the subsequent significant visit on May 31 of the Indian defence minister to China where “the first ever MoU between Chinese and Indian defence ministers” was signed. This gave effect to the fact that “India sees no military threat from China” and India is not “concerned” by China’s military expansion and modernisation. However, how does one explain the surprising absence, at the time of the defence minister’s visit, of an accredited Indian ambassador in Tokyo, and the sudden foreign press conference of the minister while in Tokyo. All of which ostensibly indicate that New Delhi and the MEA are still apparently wary and yet to formulate a meaningful and substantive response to the high-level military and security-related Japanese initiatives, while not wanting to miss the boat in the “qualitative transformation” of the strategic aspect of the bilateral relationship.

What are Japan’s strategic, regional interests and how do they merge or are codependent with those of India? Japan, the world’s second largest economy, has virtually no domestic sources of fossil fuel. Japan is Asia’s biggest oil importer and Saudi Arabia is its principal oil supplier, followed by the United Arab Emirates, and Iran coming third in supplying crude oil. Japan imported 13.8 per cent of its oil from Iran in 2005, though imports from Iran tumbled 20 per cent to 13.71 million barrels in April 2006, according to recently released data. Iran has the world’s second-largest reserves of oil and gas. Oil is a strategic resource for Japan and securing its regular and uninterrupted supply is vital to its economic well-being. The proposed plan is to ensure that Japan’s oil supplies from west Asia are undisturbed, especially at a time when Iran is defiantly resisting international pressure to abandon its justifiable nuclear ambitions and may use oil as a weapon both to cut supplies and disrupt oil-navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, in case other options fail to satisfy its national aspirations. The Strait connects the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea and is only 1.5 miles wide at its narrowest point. It is estimated that roughly 15 million barrels of oil are shipped through it daily. The war on terrorism and other threats to Japan’s oil lifeline from west Asia unite India and Japan in one important aspect of the strategic dialogue. India currently imports 70 per cent of its oil and in 2004, according to the State of the World 2006, used 2.6 million barrels per day, most of which came from the west Asia with Saudi Arabia being India’s largest oil supplier. Though, unspecified in the Eightfold Initiative, signed in Tokyo, by the Indian defence minister and Japanese minister of state for defence Fukushiro Nukaga in late May, it is clear that securing oil supplies from west Asia and “countering terrorism and violent extremism” is one very, if not the, important aspect of the emerging Japan-India strategic dialogue.

Safety of Regional MaritimeSafety of Regional MaritimeSafety of Regional MaritimeSafety of Regional MaritimeSafety of Regional Maritime

Another vital feature of the Initiative is “contributing to the safety and stability of regional maritime traffic.” This aspect has to be read not only in connection with securing oil supplies, but ensuring their delivery from the west Asia to India and Japan. Besides the Strait of Hormuz, according the International Maritime Bureau, “the most dangerous passage of all (for oil tankers) is the Strait of Malacca.” Gal Luft and Anne Korin, defence analysts, in an article ‘Terrorism Goes to Sea’, in the influential journal Foreign Affairs write that this “500-mile corridor separating Indonesia and Malaysia (accounts) every day (for) a quarter of world trade, including half of all sea shipments of oil bound for eastern Asia and twothirds of global shipments of liquefied natural gas.” Further, they say that this Strait saw “42 per cent of pirate attacks in 2003.” It is now accepted that pirates and Islamic terrorists conduct joint operations “with almost military precision, are well trained, and have well laid out plans” in the Strait of Malacca to attain common objectives. In financial terms, it is estimated that the loss of ships, cargo, and rising insurance costs “amounts to $16 billion per year.” Together with these mounting and dangerous maritime, security threats is the harsh reality that Japan’s “large nuclear power industry runs on imported uranium.” Military strategists and national security advisors in Tokyo and New Delhi might have read Luft and Korin’s perceptive analysis with utmost care and trepidation as they conclude that, “roughly 600 freighters loaded with everything from Japanese nuclear waste bound for reprocessing facilities in Europe to raw materials for China’s booming economy traverse this chokepoint [Strait of Malacca] daily. Roughly half of all piracy attacks today occur in south-east Asia, mostly in Indonesian waters. Any disruption of shipping in the south China seas would harm not only the economies of China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, but that of the US as well.” What the Initiative thus addresses is the crucial fact that energy consumers are finally focusing on ways “to fight terror at sea and cushion the blow to their economies in the case of a major disruption of oil traffic.” One of the concrete, envisaged means to achieve these aims is to quickly modernise and effectively use the bluewater navies of Japan and India to jointly police these seas.

The initiative could be interpreted, some commentators have already done so, as covertly aimed at China. This might well be in the future, but it certainly is not the case at present and not warranted by facts. Consider this economic fact: “Japan’s trade with China totalled ¥ 24.949 trillion in 2005, making it the country’s biggest trading partner for the second year running”, according to Japanese finance ministry data released in late January this year, despite souring bilateral relations. At the political level, acerbic statements from China and South Korea about Japan’s second world war atrocities and the repeated visits by Koizumi to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, where 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined as well as Japan’s war dead, are not something unusual.Repetitive private and public appeals by Chinese, South Korean, and Indonesian leaders, recently even by an influential American Congressman, have been made to an apparently tone-deaf Koizumi to desist from visiting Yasukuni and apologise for Japan’s horrific conduct in Asia during second world war. In other words, severe political differences have not inhibited vigorous pursuit of Sino-Japanese trade over the years. This scenario will probably hold for the immediate future. Also, it certainly would not be in India’s interest to align with Japan against China. The consequent strategic, regional destabilisation effects this would have all around are immense, let alone the fact that this would leave in tatters the much heralded, epoch-making, and recently signed MoU between Beijing and New Delhi.

Saving FuelSaving FuelSaving FuelSaving FuelSaving Fuel

On the domestic front, unlike India, Japan is intensely putting its energy into saving fuel. The government’s earnest public campaigns to reduce energy

Economic and Political Weekly June 24, 2006 consumption, diversify its power sources, and be far less dependent on oil is something that Indian leaders could learn from. Recently, the Japanese government has “set strict new energy-saving targets for 18 kinds of consumer and business electronics. Home and office air conditioners, for instance, must be redesigned to use 63 per cent less power by 2008.” The recent mass “Warm Biz (business)” winter campaign, initiated by the Koizumi government and embraced across political party lines, led thousands of businesses and government offices to set their thermostats “no higher than 20 degrees this winter,” while encouraging employees to wear sweaters and jackets to work. A similar mass campaign “Cool Biz” last summer, where air conditioners were set “no cooler than 28 degrees” saw a saving in the Tokyo metropolitan alone of “70 million kw from June through August – enough to power a city of a quarter-million people for one month, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company.” Toyota, Japan’s leading automobile maker, with its low-emission vehicles as the Toyota Prius “already account for almost 11 million or 21 per cent, of all autos on Japanese roads.” It is common to see “intelligent machines” from subway fare chargers to building escalators automatically turn off when not in use. Japan now accounts for 48 per cent of the global solar power generation. Japan’s major electronics makers are making all out efforts to sell energy-efficient products. What is most heartening is that Japanese view energy as an individual responsibility and many are clearly willing to put their money where their mouths are. Are concerned Indian business tycoons or its informed political leaders undertaking any such efforts?



Economic and Political Weekly June 24, 2006

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top