On Saturday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his 5-day visit to Japan, his first major foreign trip since he was elected to office in May. According to a joint statement issued on Monday, this visit is a “reflection of Japan’s importance in India’s foreign policy and economic development, at the heart of India’s Look East Policy.”

High on the agenda are nuclear energy cooperation, security ties and defense technology transfers, and trade relations. On nuclear energy, India is seeking to import nuclear fuel and and technology, without giving up its nuclear weapons program; meanwhile, Japan wants more guarantees from India on inspections and limits on nuclear tests. The two sides were not yet able to agree to a deal at the summit.

On defense, India’s navy is seeking to buy amphibious aircraft from Japan. On July 1st, Japan’s government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reinterpreted the self-defense forfeiture article in its constitution, which allows Japan more flexibility in arms sales to other nations. The Joint Statement also mentioned regular bilateral maritime exercises, and further defense technology transfers to India.

On trade, India and Japan have set to double Japan’s direct foreign investment in India in five years from around US$2 billion dollars in 2013. Prime Minister Abe also pledged to provide an aid loan of US$480 million to the India Infrastructure Finance Company. The two sides will cooperate on producing rare earth minerals, and Japan will assist India in building its high speed rail network.

India’s Economic Times say that Prime Minister Modi’s visit is being seen as India and Japan’s attempt to “balance the rising weight of China across Asia.” Although the Joint Statement did not mention China by name, Modi said on Monday that he is seeing in Asia an “18th century-style expansionist attitude, encroaching some country and occupying it, intruding into the seas,” an obvious reference to China’s territorial claims in the South and East China Seas that overlap with territories claimed by Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. China’s state-run Global Times played down the importance of the visit, saying that it was “not necessary to read too much into it.”

China and India has also had long standing territorial disputes in the Himalaya mountains, in the Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh areas. China is India’s largest import partner and second largest trading partner, while Japan ranks eleventh.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to visit India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka later in September. Modi and Xi met earlier this year on July 15th in Brazil at the signing of the BRICS Development Bank.

Japan itself has also been actively promoting foreign relations, including a visit by Prime Minister Abe to Australia on July 8th to sign a free trade agreement, and a summit meeting of the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian nations plus Japan on July 16th to discuss energy, trade, and defense. These moves, coupled with the constitutional reinterpretation on defense, are read together as Japan’s response to a more aggressive Chinese foreign and defense policies.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Modi visited Japan’s historical capital Kyoto, and bonded with Prime Minister Able over visits to Buddhist temples and macha at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Before the visit, Modi tweeted several times about his trip on his personal account, in Japanese, as a gesture showing good will to his hosts.

(Feature photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October 2013, on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)


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