How Abe left an indelible imprint on Japan-India relations

Excerpt from a collection of essays by experts on Japan’s longest-serving PM and his unparalleled contribution to Japan-India relations

GN Bureau | August 4, 2023


#Diplomacy   #Shinzo Abe   #Japan   #Security   #Defence   #S. Jaishankar   #Sanjaya Baru  
Dr. Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, on May 29, 2013. (Photo: PIB)
Dr. Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, on May 29, 2013. (Photo: PIB)

The Importance of Shinzo Abe: India, Japan and the Indo-Pacific
Edited By Sanjaya Baru
HarperCollins, 284 pages, Rs 699

Shinzo Abe, who was tragically assassinated on July 8, 2022, is widely regarded as the most influential prime minister of post-war Japan. Not only was he Japan’s longest-serving PM, but he is also credited with giving a new direction to the country’s economic, foreign and national-security policies.

Abe left an indelible imprint on Japan-India relations, establishing close ties with two successive Indian PMs and signing up to a new global and strategic partnership between Asia’s major democracies. He enabled a radical shift in Asian security architecture and India’s external security environment by promoting the concept of the Indo-Pacific. Building on the ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ in his historic address to the Indian parliament in August 2007, Abe became the architect of the Quadrilateral Security Initiative, known as the Quad.

‘The Importance of Shinzo Abe’ brings together experts from diverse backgrounds to evaluate Abe’s unparalleled contribution to global security and the future of Asia and Japan-India relations. Insightful and absorbing, these definitive essays celebrate the statesman as much as the geopolitical strategist.

The collection of essays is edited by Sanjaya Baru, a public policy analyst and a former newspaper editor who was the media adviser to prime minister Manmohan Singh. The book has a foreword by S. Jaishankar, external affairs minister of India.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

Abe and the Evolution of India-Japan Relations
By Sanjaya Baru

Partnership
In December 1998, six months into the diplomatic impasse between Japan and India, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee authorized a non-official outreach. National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra tasked the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) to lead a ‘track two’ delegation to Tokyo with the aim of connecting with influential Japanese officials and foreign affairs analysts to explain India’s decision to conduct nuclear weapons tests.

K. Subrahmanyam, the chairman of the Nuclear Security Advisory Board (NSAB), led the delegation comprising IDSA Director-general Jasjit Singh, former Defence Secretary N.N. Vohra, former Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit and a distinguished former Indian ambassador to Japan, Arjun Asrani, as well as this writer—who was then a professor at the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations
(ICRIER) and a member of the NSAB, and became the delegation’s youngest member. Our task was to secure our Japanese interlocutors’ ‘appreciation’ for India’s decision on nuclear weapons.

Our host was the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) and the Japanese delegation was led by JIIA’s eminent chairman and distinguished Japanese diplomat, Ambassador Nobuo Matsunaga. After a day’s deliberation, the two sides were deadlocked on one word when attempting to draft a joint statement. We wanted Japan to ‘appreciate’ our decision and the reasons for it. Ambassador Matsunaga insisted that while the Japanese side ‘understood’ the Indian decision, it was not willing to ‘appreciate’ it. In the interests of resuming a relationship through dialogue, we agreed to the word the Japanese side preferred.

Diplomatic exchanges resumed after these deliberations, although it took another three years for Japan to resume bilateral aid to India. In August 2000, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori visited New Delhi for a summit meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee. The two leaders agreed that Japan and India would establish a ‘Global Partnership in the Twenty-First Century’. The joint statement issued by the two was as follows:

Prime Minister Mori reaffirmed Japan’s commitment to working with India toward the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons and to cooperate with India to ensure that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) will go into force as soon as possible. Prime Minister Vajpayee said that India had conducted nuclear tests for defensive purposes but had decided of its own accord not to conduct any further tests and guaranteed that India would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict.

The Mori–Vajpayee meeting was followed up by a summit meeting between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in April 2005. In many ways it can be said that this meeting constituted the decisive turning point in the bilateral relationship. The two leaders issued a joint statement as follows:

As partners in the new Asian era and with this new strategic orientation of their partnership, India and Japan, as two responsible and major players in Asia, and as nations sharing common values and principles, will expand their traditional bilateral cooperation to cooperation in Asia and beyond. With this new focus, India and Japan will be partners in peace, with a common interest in and complementary responsibility for promoting the security, stability and prosperity of Asia as well as in advancing international peace and equitable development.

The two leaders agreed that the India–Japan relationship would graduate from being just a bilateral relationship to include regional and global cooperation. The wide-ranging nature of this statement reflected the maturing of the relationship and a recognition that the two Asian democracies should elevate their relationship to a wider strategic level. It is interesting, perhaps significant, that Koizumi’s chief cabinet secretary at the time was none other than Shinzo Abe.

Some months later, Abe was on a visit to India and I facilitated a private meeting between him and Manmohan Singh. This was after the external affairs minister S. Jaishankar—who had served in Japan in the late 1990s—had told me that Abe was tipped to succeed Koizumi as Prime Minister. In December 2006, Prime Minister Abe hosted a summit meeting in Tokyo with Singh and the two had agreed that their strategic and global partnership would include a Special Economic Partnership Initiative (SEPI). Affirming the strength of their bilateral relationship within a regional and global context, the two leaders issued a joint statement as follows:

India and Japan are natural partners as the largest and most developed democracies of Asia, with a mutual stake in each other’s progress and prosperity. Indeed, a strong, prosperous and dynamic India is in the interest of Japan, and likewise, a strong, prosperous and dynamic Japan is in the interest of India.

It was clear that the regional and global context that both were alluding to was defined by the rise of China, a common neighbour. It was also clear that after half a century of maintaining a relationship comprising mainly aid and trade, the two countries were now willing to recognize the larger potential of their bilateral relationship. This harked back to the early post-WWII and post-Independence years, when Kishi and Nehru sought to build a new equation between the two nations—but whose intentions were foiled by the Cold War.

Prime Minister Abe’s historic address to the Indian Parliament in August 2007 and his subsequent shaping of the bilateral relationship during his second term in office were defined both by this intrinsic bilateral basis and the evolving regional and global context. It would be limiting to view Abe’s ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ address as being crafted purely by the ‘China threat’ and considerations pertaining to regional security. Unlike most of his predecessors, and like Mori and Koizumi, Abe sought a firmer foundation for the bilateral relationship going beyond the shared concern about a rising China.

While Abe’s remarks in his address on the Indo-Pacific and shared security challenges continue to attract global attention and have been commented upon by scholars and officials, his remarks on the bilateral relationship between India and Japan are equally important. In fact, the 2007 Parliament address devotes considerable space to a recount of the historical association between the two countries, including the bond between Nehru and Kishi and the significance of the post-WWII bilateral relationship. Abe summed up his thoughts by saying, ‘The friendship that unites India and Japan will no doubt touch the deepest soul of the people of our two countries; of this I am convinced.’

[The excerpt reproduced with the permission of the publishers.]

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