Moving forward

For over a decade now, India and Japan have both desired to leave behind the indifferent relationship of the Cold War era and develop a strong and vibrant bilateral partnership. There has, however, been a major obstacle to overcome. Being the only country to suffer the devastating nuclear attack, Japan has found it very hard to accept India’s de facto nuclear power status since 1998. On its part, Delhi has appreciated the Japanese position and tried to convince it that India would always be ready to join any meaningful, universal, non-discriminatory global nuclear disarmament initiative. The Japanese leadership hasn’t really accepted the Indian position. And yet, this has provided it a basis for convincing public opinion back home and secure popular support for transforming Japan-India relations.

As a result, the bilateral relations have moved a long way in the last few years. That Tokyo is committed to build a strong partnership with India was evident when Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama undertook a three-day visit to the country earlier this week. The visit underscored a strong political consensus in Japan on ties with India. For one, Hatoyama, who led his Democratic Party of Japan to a stunning election victory just four months ago, has reaffirmed the India policy of the predecessor Liberal Democratic Party. That he chose to visit India within four months of assuming charge is a clear pointer that his government intends to move faster on the India front.

The two countries have already unveiled a common vision for the relationship. It envisages a global strategic partnership between the two countries. It involves a vibrant people-to-people level contact and expanded cooperation in economic, political and defence fields. Hatoyama’s engagement with the captains of Indian industry in Mumbai ahead of his political engagements in Delhi is a clear pointer to Tokyo’s focus on expanding economic and trade ties with India. Significantly, Japan was the single largest foreign investor in India in 2009. There is immense scope for Japan to enter India’s promising civil nuclear energy sector which is being opened up in a big way for foreign investment. Hatoyama appeared willing to bring the civil nuclear item as an agenda on the bilateral negotiating table. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh adopting a conciliatory approach on the nuclear disarmament issue, including India’s position on the controversial Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the two sides could be closer to overcoming the nuclear hurdle in the bilateral ties.

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