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Playing ‘catch up’: Japan’s foreign policy towards India – a case of delayed realism

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  • March 18, 2011
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Dr Rajaram Panda
    Discussants: Professor K V Kesavan and Professor Srabani Roy Choudhury

    The author tried to demonstrate Japan’s approach to India using the three characteristics that she perceived to be the central determinants of policy: 1) the international geopolitical structure, 2) elite perceptions and dominant norms, and 3) commercial and economic diplomacy. Through these variables one can see a ‘creeping realism’ in Japan’s India policy, which the paper demonstrated with two examples, economic policy and nuclear energy policy.

    Neoclassical realism best explains Japan’s external policy since it allows for a balance between the international structure and domestic variables as against classical realism which is centred on structure alone. Both anarchy as well as domestic considerations of anti-nuclearism have guided Japanese foreign policy.

    Policy determinants

    The Role of the US has been central in the post-WW II Japanese policy. Since US-Japan relations were strong in the Cold War days, India-Japan political relations remained weak. In the recent past, among other factors, the US’ endorsement of Indian nuclear policy through the nuclear deal has altered the Japanese policy. The changed Japanese approach to India was a by-product of the post 9/11 US policy in South Asia.

    Rise of China is the other important variable in the current Japanese policy. Japan partnered in the Chinese economy because it thought that this will help ameliorate bilateral political relations. However, recent instances have proved otherwise. Despite security assurances from the US, the Asian power shift has Japan worried and hence Japan is looking for stronger relations with democratic countries in Asia. Even the hefty increase in the recently announced Chinese defence budget has raised a few eyebrows in Japan.

    Japan’s Policy towards India

    a) Economic Interests: Japanese foreign policy has for many years been centred on economic diplomacy. It has served Japanese interests well and is the dominant determinant of Japan’s India policy. However, economic relations have been weak due to a lot of reasons and there is much scope to improve economic ties. Japan’s economic interest began to accelerate in the mid-2000s, following the 2003 BRIC report on India’s emerging power status. Sino-Japanese tensions at about the same time provided another impetus. The Japanese private sector for its part looked to diversify by engaging other economies and reducing its dependence on China.
    Among other factors, South Korea’s economic success in India following an early initiative might have also prodded Japan. The recently signed CEPA aims to accelerate India-Japan economic ties and pave the way for projects like DMRC.

    b) Nuclear Cooperation: In recent times, Japan has been forced to play ‘catch up’ so as not to miss out on India’s nuclear energy market. Anti-nuclearism has been an integral part of Japanese policy since it is the only victim of nuclear weapons. Therefore, Japan’s response to the 1998 tests was among the most severe. Strong domestic public opinion and domestic politics also guided Japanese policy. However, today, policymakers do acknowledge that their reaction might have been too harsh.

    Nonetheless, nuclear energy cooperation might be the next major development in India-Japan relations. Increasing crude prices and fears of global warming have revived the nuclear energy debate and thus Japan has been forced to rethink its approach to nuclear cooperation especially given that it has been internationalizing its nuclear industry. Also, the lucrative energy infrastructure markets abroad might help the revival of Japanese economy. South Korea’s success in this regard might again work as a push factor for Japan. The recent belief in Japan that India’s incorporation into the non-proliferation regime might help control India through further conditions and would allow Japan to monitor Indian policy by participation rather than by abstention might be the ultimate indicator of the policy shift in Japan. There is also an economic component in terms of revenues for participating Japanese companies. Japan was, however, likely to draw out negotiations in order to satisfy its domestic audience which is opposed to the deal due to India’s non-membership of NPT. Despite that, the author felt that the India-Japan nuclear energy deal could be inked as early as in the next two years. But she added the Fukushima crisis could have its impact on the process.

    In conclusion, the author argued that the above mentioned factors have contributed to the increasing realist Japanese stance towards India. CEPA and the civilian nuclear energy deal are the drivers of the new Japanese policy which aims at achieving congruence through the development of ‘shared interests’ if not ‘shared values’. Japan is slowly modifying its idealistic stance on nuclear issues in the wake of geopolitical changes. The rise of China is only one of the factors of the new Japanese policy and certainly not its central feature.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions:

    1. There is a mutual appreciation of each other’s role in the new Asian order that brings India and Japan closer.
    2. There is a need for some details about the history of India-Japan bilateral relations. Japan has followed an independent policy towards India and it has not necessarily been a consequence of the US policy.
    3. The author should also include a discussion on the Declaration on Security Cooperation and the subsequent Action Plan along with CEPA. The former will have a bigger impact on India Japan relations.
    4. The arguments can be substantiated using trade data. CEPA will open the door for smaller companies which have been absent in India Japan trade relations. However, how CEPA unfolds post Tsunami remains to be seen.
    5. Nuclear cooperation and competition for permanent UNSC seat are related, how they develop will be interesting.
    6. Neoclassical realism needs to be fully utilized as a framework. Domestic consumption can be considered as one important factor under this framework. Timeframe would validate the argument more succinctly.
    7. The author should clarify whether it’s delayed realism or reluctant realism on the part of Japan.
    8. There needs to be more focus on Indian writings on the subject.
    9. In 1998, Japan was hurt more because of the Indian tests because it had more expectations from India than from Pakistan.
    10. Bilateral maritime cooperation is equally important as nuclear cooperation, and the author needs to include some discussion on that.

    Report prepared by Avinash Godbole, RA, IDSA