Mixed bag

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan has brought mixed results. While India and Japan can draw satisfaction on their expanding economic and strategic co-operation, there is considerable disappointment in India over the much-anticipated deal on nuclear energy not materialising.

During the visit, the two countries finalised deals that will see Japan investing over US$34 billion in India over the next five years. Japanese public and private sector companies will provide funds and technology for rejuvenation of the River Ganga, development of smart cities, clean energy, building of bullet trains and transport corridors, procurement of liquefied natural gas, etc.

The range of issues on which the two countries will work together is indeed remarkable and India’s ramshackle infrastructure will surely benefit from infusion of Japanese technology, funding and expertise. Defence co-operation is poised to grow too and the coming years could see the Japanese selling India amphibious aircraft, for instance.

Such aircraft will enable the Indian Navy to insert troops even in areas where there are no landing strips. An agreement is expected to see transfer of technology too as the amphibious aircraft could be manufactured in India, reducing our dependence on foreign manufacturers for defence hardware.

Modi got on well with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe. Their interaction was punctuated with bear-hugs and bonhomie. However, an agreement on civilian nuclear co-operation proved elusive. Although the two sides downplayed the differences by claiming ‘improved understanding’ on the issue, it is evident that Japan is still a long way from sympathising with India’s concerns.

While Modi’s Japan visit was a success, there were blunders that could have been avoided. Modi’s comment on the ‘expansionist’ tendencies of some countries was needless. While he did not mention China by name, it is sure to have raised eyebrows in Beijing.

That the comments were made on Japanese soil suggests India-Japan oneness on the subject. This may have impressed Modi’s Japanese hosts but this was a tactless remark that reflects short-sighted thinking and poor diplomacy. Surely India can improve ties with Japan without baiting China.

Indian leaders and diplomats need to understand that while Japan is an important partner, China is our neighbour, a country with which we share a long, disputed border. Smart diplomacy involves improving ties with both Japan and China, not siding with one while ruffling the feathers of the other or even choosing between them.

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