It is a truth universally acknowledged that India and Japan are, indeed, civilizational brothers. India gave Japan the Zen-Buddhism through China. Even prior to that Shinto religion had coopted a number of important deities from Sanatana Dharma. River goddess Benten or Benzaiten is mother Saraswati reincarnated. The worship of Ganesha or Vinayaka or Kangiten, as he is popularly called in Japan, is a distinguishing feature of Japanese Buddhism. There are hundreds of temples and shrines dedicated to the goddess Benten in Tokyo. A 12th-century temple of Ganesha in Asakusa suburb of Tokyo has been declared a national treasure of Japan.
In more recent times, a monument to a learned and wise Indian was erected in the Yasukuni shrine in Japan. Most of the Indians have forgotten this wise man but the Japanese still revere him profusely. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during a visit to India in 2007 paid tribute to him in a speech to the Indian Parliament in New Delhi and then traveled to Kolkata to meet the learned man’s then 81-year-old son Prasanta. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian judge, was the only one out of 11 Allied justices who handed down a not guilty verdict for Japan’s top wartime leaders at the post-World War II International Military Tribunal for the Far East, or the so-called Tokyo trials. Justice Pal had courageously described the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States as the worst atrocities of the World War II, comparable with Nazi crimes.
No wonder, last week during his second visit to India as the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe was perfectly at home participating in Ganga Aarti with Narendra Modi on the Dashashwamedha ghat of Varanasi (Kashi). How beautifully India’s soft power and cultural diplomacy was at display for the entire world! For the hard-core pragmatist, going back to ancient past does not serve current strategic interests. This has been a monumental failure and a Himalayan blunder of Indian diplomacy and foreign policy establishment in the post-1947 era.
Recently independent India with a Fabian socialist Prime Minister and penchant for so-called non-alignment forgot the cultural roots and regional influences and Japan after having been subjugated in World War II and having been occupied by the US had no independent foreign policy voice for decades. Both nations are now emerging from the dark clouds of the colonial past and rediscovering the unspoken bond they share! Election of nationalist politicians as Prime Ministers in both countries has helped cement the relationship. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Junichiro Koizumi shared a very cordial and close relationship. And now both Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe do not have to carry that unwanted burden imposed on their nations by history! A new economic and strategic relationship has emerged between the two nations after the just concluded three-day visit of Shinzo Abe.
Not only Japan has decided to participate in the “Make in India” campaign in a major way, it has become one of the most sought after investor in India’s infra-structure growth with soft loans under multiple mechanisms. India will, no longer, be bullied by China in dis-inviting Japan for the annual Malabar Naval exercises. Japan will keep its anti-nuclear rhetoric at bay and finally agreed to sign a civil nuclear energy deal with India. Both countries are harmonizing their approach to the issues of transnational terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, freedom of navigation and overflights, access to sea-lanes for trade and commerce in international waters, peaceful resolution of disputes without use or threat of force, participation in regional economic and security forums and enlargement of the UNSC.
Interestingly, India has started to export Maruti-Suzuki cars back to Japan. There is a lot more scope for Japanese tourists to visit India for religious pilgrimage if India’s tourism infrastructure can be upgraded. India has already announced visa-on arrival facility for Japanese citizens from March 1st 2016.
Looking at the seven page long joint statement that was released, the relationship has indeed matured. The relationship has become indeed multi-dimensional with strategic, economic, technological, educational, academic, healthcare cooperation. In near term India will need all the help and unequivocal support it can from Japan for India’s entry into the four international export control regimes, mainly Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia group with the aim of strengthening the international non-proliferation efforts. India also needs Japan’s help becoming a member of the APEC. Both Indian and Japan need each other’s help for expansion of the UN Security Council. Japan is a member of the newly proposed Trans-pacific partnership. Perhaps, it is too early for India to consider TPP membership but when the time comes, Japan’s assistance would be needed.
India will continue to need massive infusion of Japanese investment into infra-structure. It is unlikely that China or US will be able to provide for investment. Japan is willing to pitch in with soft yen loans for such projects. Both countries should aim for co-production of military hardware in India with Japan for domestic needs and also for third country export markets. India and Japan can be the joint providers of security and strategic stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Both nations have already cooperated in the field of disaster relief during the Asian Tsunami. Since both nations have agreed to sign a civil nuclear energy deal, both could jointly supply nuclear reactors to other Asian countries under IAEA safe-guards.
Japan has demographic challenges and its population is rapidly aging. Japan needs more workers to sustain its industrial economy. Shinzo Abe is incentivizing entry of Japanese women and retired persons back into the workforce. However, Japan’s need for more workers can be easily fulfilled by India by government to government import of labor and services. Aging Japanese population needs more healthcare providers which Japan is getting from Indonesia and Philippines. Indian healthcare professionals can easily fulfill that role despite language issues. Japanese universities do not have Indian students owing to language barrier. Compared to the US, UK, or Australia, university education may be cheaper in Japan for Indian students. A three month intensive Japanese language course for students and professionals may eliminate the linguistic barrier!
It is just the dawn of a new beginning. History has not been written yet. India and Japan together can change the future history of the Asia, nay, of entire world. It a win-win-win proposition!