Follow @southasiaanalys

JAPAN: Visit of Indian Prime Minister- A Review


Paper 377                             19.12.2001

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

Indian Prime Minister’s Visit to Japan: The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Japan from December 7 to December 11, 2001. Symbolically, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit was significant in that it was nearly a decade’s interregnum that separated the two official visits of Indian Prime Ministers. The last official visit of an Indian Prime Minister was in 1992 when the Congress Party Prime Minister Narasimha Rao visited Japan.

Contextual Significance of the Visit: Contextually, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Japan is significant for both Japan and India for the following reasons:

* Japan and India have recognised that both nations have a predominant convergence of national interests. This supersedes any temporary irritant arising out of India’s nuclear tests of 1998.

* It was this convergence of interests that prompted former Japanese Prime Minister Mori to declare that Japan and India would be "global partners" and that Japan and India share a common perception and underscore their important responsibility in prompting their shared values of "defending and spreading the values of democracy and freedom".

* Post September 11, 2001 (New York and Washington bombings by Islamic Jehadis) and October 1, 2001(bombings attacks on J&K Legislative Assembly by Pakistan based and sponsored Islamic Jehadi Organisation), Japanese perceptions about terrorism challenges to India seems to have brought about a more realistic appreciation of India’s problems and the tremendous restraint being exercised.

* Post September 11, 2001, the strategic equations in Asia-Pacific stand changed, bringing into focus the emerging importance of countries like Japan and India, both of them acquiring a greater congruence with United States strategic interests and priorities in these vital regions.

* In the American strategic appreciation of the Asia-Pacific security environment, Japan and India would acquire an incremental strategic salience than China in East Asia and Pakistan in South Asia.

Indian Prime Minister’s Visit Reviewed: Reviewing the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Japan, the following observations could be made: (1) The visit was not intended to come out with any dramatic signals, results or announcements; (2) The visit was intended to be a progression on the process of building up of Japan-India relations; (3) The visit was intended to focus on attracting Japanese investments to India.

Dramatic announcements and declarations are not a part of the Japanese conduct of foreign policy. The Japanese address development of relationships in a serious, deliberate manner with long term views. The Japanese prefer an incremental approach. So there should be no disappointment in the absence of dramatic announcements.

The Indian Prime Minister's  visit to Japan can be termed as successful when viewed as a progression in the on-going process of build-up of Japan-India relations. Besides reciprocating the earlier visit of Japanese Prime Minister to New Delhi, the visit can be said to have helped India being in focus, domestically in Japan for a week or so. The Joint Declaration resulting from the inter-personal dialogue between the two Prime Ministers indicated that as a result of the visit, Japan had acquired a more realistic appreciation and was sensitive to India’s strategic and political concerns.

During the Indian Prime Minister’s visit a strong bid was made to attract Japanese investments in India. Both the Indian Prime Minister and particularly Minister for Disinvestment Arun Shourie highlighted both the economic and strategic imperatives for greater Japanese participation in the Indian economy. Mr. Arun Shourie was more forthright in pointing out that: "Japan can serve itself better by factoring the ambitious dragon in its investment decisions. You shouldn’t be feeding what, on your apprehensions, could be a security problem one day. You have to ask yourself while you are creating a potential problem." and with a more flourishing emphasis that "you are not strengthening a potential rival when you invest in India".

It is reported that the above was well-received by Japanese business leaders but they were equally forthright in voicing the impediments in doing business in India.

Overall, it can be said that this visit served a useful purpose of creating a greater awareness in Japan concerning India. Also it further paved the way for greater cooperation. However, it needs to be stated that any long term Japan-India relationship has to incorporate strategic components eventually. These therefore need to be reviewed.

Japan - India Emerging Relationship - Strategic Factor Would Determine Economic Relations: The Indian media’s coverage of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Japan tended to dwell heavily on the economic aspects only. It is also to be noted that except for one Indian newspaper (The Pioneer) the Indian media did not accord any emphasis to the Japan visit. Either it is because of ignorance about Japan or it is the fascination with the West.

Notwithstanding the above what needs to be taken into account by all is a fundamental premise of Japanese foreign policies, namely that Japan tends to place a high premium on security under-pinnings of its foreign and economic policies. It flows from this that if India wants to draw Japanese investments to India, in turn India should in the same way alleviate Japanese security concerns.

Japan’s expectations of India in the security field would tend to focus on whether India is ready to:

* Contribute to the security of sea-lanes emanating from the Red Sea and the straits of Hormuz to at least the Straits of Malacca.

* Complement and inter-act with United States efforts to protect these sea-lanes so vital for Japan’s survival.

* India is willing to be co-opted in any security architecture that Japan and the United States may like to devise for the Asia Pacific to meet 21st century challenges.

Imperatives for Strategic Co-operation Between Japan and India: The imperatives for strategic cooperation between Japan and India stand analysed in detail in a paper entitled "Japan-India Strategic Cooperation" (

Some of the major pints stressed in the above paper were:

* "Countries like Japan and India, aspiring for major international roles, would have to think of strategic and security matters on the global scale and context. Both countries have to break out of their regional security contexts if they wish to achieve the status they aspire for. Cold war mind sets would need discarding and extra-regional cooperation in the comprehensive security context explored".

* "Japan and India, are both poised at a historical stage in their political development, aided by contemporary strategic and security developments, both global and regional to reach out to each other in terms of strategic co-operation."

* Japan and India are rising power centres of Asia, democratic countries with free societies and many shared values. With no competing conflictual interests, it is desirable that both nations strategically cooperate for stability and peace both in the regional and global context.

Both in the Asia-Pacific and in South Asia, United State, policies show no signs of grasping the emerging realities. In Asia-Pacific, the American narcissistic obsession with China continues at the expense of Japan. In South Asia, the Americans are reluctant to give up their obsessive attachment to Pakistan.

It is therefore important that second rung countries like Japan and India recognise the strategic imperatives for getting together to contribute to regional and global security.

Conclusion: Japan and India are destined to be "natural allies" for Asian stability and security. Japan today is at the cross-roads in terms of mapping her strategic future and policies. It is the appropriate time for India to emphasise that in any Japanese conception of "comprehensive security" India can and is ready to be a partner.

However, for India to achieve credibility in this direction it needs to be more forthcoming in articulating her readiness. India must not shy away from the strategic commitments if it desires to achieve a major power status, globally.

Once the above is done it is assessed that both Japanese investments and Japanese participation in India’s economy would acquire a heightened salience.

(Dr. Subhash Kapila is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst.  He can be reached on e-mail for discussion at