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04 February, 2014

Maturing of Asian relations

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A few months before India attained freedom, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was vice-president in the then interim government, called an Asian relations conference in New Delhi. “Asia is finding herself,” he told the conference.

It was a premature attempt at forging meaningful Asian relations. China was still in the throes of the civil war which was to result in a Communist victory. Japan, battered by two atom bombs and shattered by defeat, was slowly picking up the threads. Korea stood divided. Barring the Philippines, which the United States had granted Independence, all the countries which had been under colonial bondage, were still fighting for freedom.

Asian relations took a back seat as Cold War engulfed the continent. Nehru later devoted his energies primarily to promoting the concept of Non-alignment along with like-minded leaders from other continents.

More than six decades later, Asian relations are showing signs of maturing. The countries of the continent, which include several newly emerging economies, are engaged in bilateral and multilateral efforts to rebuild relations on fresh terms. Indian and Japanese efforts to find new political, economic and strategic equations illustrate this point.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi last month, and the two countries signed eight agreements during his three-day visit. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were in India on a ceremonial visit a month earlier.

Japan, which is looking for new investment and marketing opportunities, offered $2 billion to expand Delhi’s metro system, which it had funded. Last year it had given $2.32 billion for various infrastructure projects and $753 million for a metro system in Mumbai.

Japan will also provide loans to increase power generation and improve energy efficiency of telecom towers. The New Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor project and the proposed high-speed rail system too will receive assistance.

India invited Japanese companies to help develop a new port in Chennai and to improve facilities in the tribal border state of Arunachal Pradesh, to which China has staked a claim.

Politically, the most significant outcome of the Abe visit is the decision to have regular official consultations on national security. Japan, which has enjoyed US defence cover since the end of World War II, feels the need to work out new strategic arrangements, but it will be unwise to read too much into this.

The inability to clinch agreements on civilian nuclear cooperation and sale of Japanese amphibious aircraft to India, which have been under discussion for quite some time, underscores the difficulties involved in the building of political and military ties.

Both Japan and India are claimants for permanent seats in an expanded UN Security Council. However, they have not been able to make any concerted move in pursuit of the common goal.

Indian experts are divided on the impact of the Abe visit. Their assessments vary widely from that of “a game changer” or “a new balance of power” to “probing of each other’s strategic intent”. One analyst claimed the ties with Japan is taking the flavor of relations with Russia and the US, with the two sides cooperating on virtually everything under the sun.

The varying assessments are reflective of the differing perspectives of the commentators.

The clearest indication that Asian relations are maturing came from Beijing. Asked about bolstering of Indo-Japanese ties, a Chinese government spokesman merely expressed the hope that it would be conducive to peace, stability and security in the region.

China raised no objection to Japanese participation in Arunachal projects. When India sought a loan from the Asian Development Bank in 2007 for Arunachal projects, China had objected, pointing to its claim to the territory.

China also made no reference to the Indian decision to allow Japanese firms to participate in port development, an area from which its own companies are kept out on security considerations.

Writing in the Global Times, a tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party, Fu Xiaoquiang, an international relation specialist, said Abe’s aim was to pin down China but it didn’t look like he was succeeding.

This is not the first attempt by India and Japan to come closer. In the 1950s, Prime Ministers Nehru and Nobusuke Kishi had explored the possibilities of wider cooperation between the two countries. Indira Gandhi too made an effort in that direction when she visited that country in 1969.

The Cold War, which prevented close relations between the two countries for decades, may be over but they still have to find their way through the debris it has left behind. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 4, 2014.

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