Tuesday, May 28, 2013

• India with Japan and stop looking over its shoulder at China

Japan occupies a large space in Manmohan Singh's heart, and he has logged enough frequent flyer miles to Tokyo to prove it. When he lands in Tokyo on Monday, Singh is certain to get the kind of reception that will show Japan reciprocates in full measure.

The PM introduced a new element during the Depsang crisis with China to announce he would stay an extra day in Japan. While that in itself would not have scared the Chinese, the growing closeness between India and Japan has added new worry lines to Beijing. Not a bad thing, both for India and Japan, even though the "softies" in the UPA carry a fatal attraction for China and Pakistan. Japan has the kind of technological and innovation heft India needs in spades.
Acknowledging this, the PM once famously listed three of India's relationships he described as "transformational" -- US, Japan and Germany -- that if India used these relationships wisely, they could help transform our nation. And then he fell silent.

With Shinzo Abe back in power in Japan with a convincing mandate and a will to resuscitate Japan from its "lost decades", India has a unique opportunity.
Over the next couple of days, Singh will have a lot of economic talk. Abenomics -- Abe's three-step plan to revive the economy -- appears to be working, despite possible pitfalls in the future. Japan's flagship investment in India -- the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and a new Bangalore-Chennai corridor -- should revive India's manufacturing fortunes.

So far, India has made the right noises, and even been helpful. But it will be in the area of security and the strategic future of Asia that the two countries can make a difference. It is time India came out of the closet to strengthen the countries in the region: Indonesia, Vietnam and the real power in Asia -- Japan.
India should not waste its time looking for Japanese endorsement of Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh, though many officials will tell you this is why we're kind of reticent with them. Instead, India should be more helpful on the Senkaku issue -- because if China gets away with this one, it will be unstoppable everywhere else.

With Abe, the prospect of reopening the nuclear story is brighter -- the upper house elections in July will indicate if his nuclear ambition has popular approval.
That should signal India to resume civil-nuclear negotiations -- a Japanese deal is imperative for India to buy nuclear reactors or supplies from France, US and pretty much everybody. The high seas will be where India and Japan will really bond. The two countries will do Malabar-type exercises, and India will buy Japan's first military export -- US2, possibly the world's best search-and-rescue amphibious aircraft for the high seas.

But India is doing it for the wrong reason -- fear of China. India opted out of a quadrilateral exercise, going instead for smallscale bilaterals. Cooperating on the seas was Abe's vision in the first place. Speaking in Delhi in 2011, when he was out of power, he said, "Please let your navy meet the Japanese naval force more often at sea.... Our two navies can exchange flag signals. They can speak with each other... The Americans may watch us performing small exercises, which is OK with all of us. Even the Chinese may fly over us to see what is going on, which is more than welcome." Indian ships now hang out with the Japanese in their naval base in Djibouti. India should welcome the Japanese in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

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