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India-Japan Relations: Mutually Beneficial for Both Countries?

 3 min read / 

Shinzo Abe’s coalition has won a two-thirds majority in the recently concluded Japanese elections. Abe successfully banked on the growing fruit of his painful reforms and growing concern about North Korea to cement his position as Japan’s premier politician. The margin of the victory allows Abe to rewrite Japan’s pacifist constitution and slowly militarise the country for the first time since the Second World War. Historical alliances aside, India is one country in Asia which should welcome this development.

A Positive Relationship

Abe and Indian Prime Minister Modi have long been kindred spirits. They developed a relationship which spans more than a decade since Modi was chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. Prior to the elections, Abe was in India to launch a bullet train using Japanese technology in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The development aided both men in pushing their political agenda in their respective countries with elections around the corner.

Politics aside, the personal chemistry between both the leaders has led to Indo-Japanese relations (which were historically warm and cordial) reaching new highs. With no term limits in either country, several political analysts are suggesting the Abe-Modi friendship might be the cornerstone of a new diplomatic and economic front – ranging from a permanent seat on the Security Council to Japanese firms moving manufacturing operations to India.

Facing a Common Threat

Friendly chemistry aside any Indo-Japanese bilateral talks cannot avoid the topic of China – with the overriding sentiment being that a rival’s adversary is a friend. With the gap between the Indian and Chinese militaries ever increasing, Japan’s militarisation opens up another front against China, easing the pressure on India who itself faces being outflanked by Pakistan to its west and China to its north. China is currently focused on the Korean peninsula. An aggressive Japan would keep Chinese attention in the region on a more permanent basis. This may further avoid a Doklam-like confrontation.

The Defense Sector

India’s defence industry is projected to reach $100bn by the end of this decade. India has been looking to branch out from its reliance on Russian equipment and its defense ties with South Korea – a country of similar technological ability to Japan has been growing steadily.

With research and development costs high in the defence sector, a new Japanese armament program allows India to get in on the ground floor at a fraction of the cost, in addition to getting a full transfer of technology, which the country has struggled to get with European suppliers. This is subject to Japan sharing its research initiatives – but with the Abe-Modi friendship, the odds appear to be high.

Iron Leaders Of Asia

The victory of Abe also highlights a growing trend with Asian countries voting or backing leaders with a strong personality and rewarding them for taking bold moves. These moves range from Abenomics in Japan, Duterte’s bloody war on drugs in the Philippines, Modi’s demonetisation and Xi Jinping‘s move to grant himself absolute power within the Chinese communist system.

These outcomes should not come as a surprise, based on a recently conducted survey by the Pew Research Centre on global attitudes towards democracy and representation. As per the survey, 55% of people in the world’s largest democracy, India, back autocratic rule. The opposition in three of the countries mentioned above, as well as the western media, should take note.

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