The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Good relations with Japan boil down to India's growth rate

As a regular worshipper at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for military heroes, Junichiro Koizumi cannot have needed any reminding of India's lurking sympathy during the Second World War. Chandra Bose, as they called him, was a minor link. Jawaharlal Nehru's repudiation of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Conference, of which Manmohan Singh reminded his guest, may not have made much difference either. But given the importance the Japanese prime minister attaches to his Liberal Democratic Party's right wing, Radha Benode Pal's dissenting verdict at the Tokyo War Crimes trial might provide a human backdrop to the 'new Asian era' that inspires the two countries more than 50 years later.

No one looks for gratitude in diplomacy. National memory is evanescent. But for probably the first time since Pal's verdict and Nehru's refusal to sign a treaty that bore the insufferable John Foster Dulles's imprimatur, India is again in a position to render Japan a service. Even that hinges on continued economic progress in a country whose poverty prompted a Japanese consul-general to confess that he was overwhelmed by pity for Indians every month when he changed dollars into rupees for local expenses. But Koizumi's overture was reason enough for Singh, who first pledged his troth to a strategic partnership with the United States of America and then, only the other day, to China, to repeat the bigamous diplomacy of nonalignment by plunging into yet another alliance.

Pal was not just another of the 11 judges at what was formally known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. He was the only one with any exposure to international law. Asia's other representative, a Filipino jurist, was compromised for he had suffered as a prisoner of the Japanese. The bench's Australian chairman was implacably opposed to Japan. In this hostile ambience, Pal displayed judicial integrity or foolhardiness or Asian fervour ' I don't know which ' by dismissing the proceedings as 'victor's justice.' He alone found the 25 defendants ' all of whom are honoured today in the Yasukuni Shrine ' not guilty. He was also the only judge to invoke the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

They would not allow him to read out his 1,235-word dissenting verdict. Nor could it be published during Japan's seven years under the Americans. Pal paid again for his intrepidity when American displeasure ensured that he was not selected for a vacancy at the International Court of Justice. The choice was Pakistan's Sir Zafrullah Khan, to whom the US was already beholden. That past may be of some moment to a politician who has calculatedly endangered Japan's most valuable economic partnership to keep LDP xenophobes happy.

Fury over Pokhran II had nothing to do with the benign neglect that marked the relationship. India ranked low in Japan's priorities because socialist controls, bureaucratic inefficiency, and the so-called Hindu rate of growth promised no dividends. Once among the biggest importers of Indian coal, the Japanese would have liked to own mines here. Instead, they went to Australia. Hence the rare visits by Koizumi's predecessors though India's globetrotting leaders naturally visited them more often.

True, Japanese loans saved India from bankruptcy in the early Nineties when Singh was finance minister. Since then, India has outstripped China and Indonesia to become the biggest recipient of Japanese aid. But the most these acts of compassion indicated was that with an eye to the long term, Japan could not let a billion people in the world's largest democracy lapse into the ignominy of a failed state. Corrupt and squabbling politicians, corrupt and arrogant civil servants and a foreign policy based on delusions of grandeur did not encourage more substantive contact.

Annual trade has languished at a measly $4 billion since 1997. Investment is negligible. Japanese banks and manufacturers lag far behind the Indian operations of South Korean corporations like Samsung and Hyundai. A special luxury train to tour Buddhist sites fell short of Japanese tourists' standards. Explaining Japan's reluctance to admit India to the Asia-Pacific Economic Countries forum, a Tokyo diplomat claimed, only half jokingly, that his compatriots did not regard a country as Asian if imperial Japanese forces had not occupied it during World War II. Now, says Yasukuni Enoki, 'Japan is willing to recognize India as a major power in Asia.' The ambassador has spoken before of trilateral cooperation among Japan, China and India. He even cites (though without endorsing!) the Goldman-Sachs prediction that by 2050 India's gross domestic product will soar to $28 trillion while Japan's will dwindle to $7 trillion.

Why this change of attitude' The reasons are easily cited. India's economy is doing better. Though still the world's second biggest, Japan's own economy is less robust than before. The Japanese feel politically safe in India's company because, Cold War estrangement forgotten, India and the US, which remains Japan's strongest global anchor, are strategic partners.

Finally, the searing quarrel with China just when Japan was beginning to emerge from political isolation, and which could threaten its hopes of a higher Asian and global salience, necessitates a search for other partners.

The demand by Japan and India (together with Germany and Brazil) for full membership of the United Nations security council indicates an obvious congruence of interests. Pakistan objects to India's candidacy, China to Japan's. China and Pakistan are allies. Thus, Japan's dual strategy. Globally, four new full-fledged members will automatically diminish the consequence of the security council's existing Big Five, including China. Regionally, a functional rather than geographic east Asian community, including India, Australia and the US, will mean less clout for today's biggest kid on the Asian block, again China.

Of course, both countries are careful to stress that there is no question of ganging up on China. India probably means it too, as in the heyday of nonalignment when nothing was thought to be either pro or anti either superpower. But events and strategies have their own logic and convey their own message, despite the cover of a cumbrously titled 'India-Japan partnership in the new Asian era: Strategic orientation of India-Japan global partnership'. The verbiage is heady and the targets promise miracles.

Trade will blossom to $20 billion in just five years. Investment will boom. Nothing there about India's ramshackle infrastructure which now deters Japanese investors. Ironic in the wake of the tragic Amagasaki crash, the Japanese will build a $5 billion fully computerized railway signalling system in India. Even more ironic after Pokhran II, they will cooperate with India in proliferation control, in addition to maritime and energy security. A joint thrust for UN reform lies at the heart of all this euphoric waffling. The aim is perfectly tenable.

It is also historically respectable. Though entitled to attend the San Francisco conference (since India was technically one of the victorious wartime allies), concern for Asian dignity in the face of Western bullying prompted Nehru's rejection of peace terms that smacked of victor and vanquished. As Singh recalled, India also waived reparation claims and signed a separate treaty that Nehru thought would better respect Japan's honour and international prestige.

A similar concern inspires the quest for full membership of the security council. Maybe, it's a waste of time and resources chasing an empty symbol, but so long as there is an international high table, India and Japan can insist on a place at it. Maybe, too, the US doesn't care how many new members crowd the security council providing they don't have veto powers and the UN itself doesn't amount to much. But denial never made any demand less valid. What does bear stressing is that Japan would never have thought it worthwhile seeking India's cooperation ' nor would Koizumi have come to New Delhi ' if the economy had not shown promise. All politics being in the end local, good relations with Japan boil down to India's growth rate.

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