Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrapped up a three-day visit to India on Sunday, his third trip to the south Asian country as prime minister. During a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two sides clinched a slew of contracts that included a $15-billion deal for Japan to build India’s first high-speed railway, a breakthrough on nuclear energy cooperation and Japanese financing to stimulate investment in India. Japanese troops will join their Indian and US counterparts regularly in the biannual Malabar naval exercises.
Abe and Modi also said the two countries would work together to promote inclusive, balanced and open regional architecture and maritime security in the region.
As the Asia-Pacific landscape has evolved, the coming together of Japan and India has caught international attention. Media reports mostly interpreted that this is meant to counter China’s rise. A Bloomberg article said that with Abe’s visit, Japan and India had made “their biggest steps yet to deepen strategic ties” and the two leaders’ personal chemistry is translating into warmer ties in all aspects, “mostly thanks to China.” The agreements are bringing India further into the US military orbit, said the report.
Frankly, Japan and India may feel closer to each other than to China as they have no major historical or border disputes. But in addition to their personal connections, apparently Abe’s trip makes economic sense. Abe agreed to offer India a $12-billion loan with a very low interest rate of 0.1 percent, with the repayment period prolonged from the usual 30 years to 50 years, and provide over 80 percent of the total cost of the railway project as well as technical assistance. Japan, after being defeated by China in competing for the Indonesia high-speed railway project, needs to expand the market for its bullet train and also nuclear energy that has been enormously frustrated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. The India deals have been widely hailed by Japanese nuclear companies.
As Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said last week pending India’s bullet train deal with Japan, “All countries have the right to make their own decisions about who they want to cooperate with and how.” Unlike Japan, India is a rising power with an independent foreign policy and would not blindly join Japan and the US merely for some economic pacts.
China and India have plenty of cooperation opportunities. Despite their often strained ties due to historical and territorial disputes, China and Japan are seeking to improve bilateral ties. In this context, magnifying the China-countering part of the relationship between Japan and India to complicate the three countries’ ties will only overshadow security in Asia-Pacific region and do no good for regional stability.