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GETTING CLOSER

The deepening of India-Japan ties is perhaps the best example of the success of Manmohan Singh’s Look East policy. Since 2005, when the Indian prime minister made it a major thrust of his foreign policy, New Delhi’s ties with Tokyo have strengthened remarkably. Japan has had several prime ministers during the past decade. India-Japan ties have not only survived political changes in Tokyo but have also made substantial progress. The visit by the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to India last week, is a continuation of that process. The visit adds a new dimension to energy, economic and strategic co-operation between the two countries. In addition to annual summit meetings between the two prime ministers, mechanisms have been put in place for strategic dialogues at different levels. It has now been decided that the head of Japan’s National Security Council will have regular consultations with India’s national security advisor. The joint exercise by the Indian Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force off Chennai last December marked increasing defence co-operation between the two countries. If things go according to current plans, India could become the first country since the Second World War to buy a military aircraft from Japan. That would mark the end of a ban on weapons exports that has kept Japanese defence contractors out of foreign markets.

However, it is the economic co-operation that leaves much to be desired. Japan has liberally aided several high-profile infrastructure projects in India in recent years, including the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. Tokyo has shown its interest in financing a similar project in the Chennai-Bangalore belt. During Mr Abe’s visit, India has reportedly offered to open up its sensitive north-eastern states for Japanese investment in infrastructure projects. Yet, bilateral trade between the two remains quite small. There is considerable scope for expanding the trade ties. One way of deepening the economic partnership is to collaborate on projects in other countries, especially in south-east Asia. India-Japan co-operation — in economic and strategic areas — needs to be developed irrespective of the two countries’ relations with China. It would be wrong to make China an issue in this process. Both India and Japan have territorial disputes with China. But stable ties with both Tokyo and Beijing are in India’s interest.