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An Indo-Japanese strategic alliance

April 26, 2005

The visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to India, slated for April 28, promises to be far more useful than the recent visits of China's and Pakistan's dictators. But because the Indian English-language media has a perverted sense of priorities, the diplomatic theater presented by Wen Jiabao and by Pervez Musharraf has received far more, and far more ecstatic, coverage than the Koizumi visit will. This is unfortunate.

The Japanese premier's visit will have substance. Even though India acquiesced to Koizumi's making a visit to Pakistan on the same trip, (thus reinforcing the India-Pak-equal-equal fiction assiduously cultivated especially by China) there are the glimmerings of a new beginning between India and Japan. I have long been a supporter of stronger Indo-Japanese partnerships, for a variety of reasons, and this may be the time for such a relationship to really blossom.

There are three areas to concentrate on: strategy, culture and commerce.

Both India and Japan are engaged in rather pathetic attempts to get into the UN Security Council as veto-holding members, and no prizes for guessing which country is opposing both nations' candidacies: China, of course, which clearly sees itself as the natural hegemon of Asia.

China has come out against Japan's candidacy, claiming, amusingly, that Japan has not atoned for its World War II sins. It is interesting to note that China has been beating Japan with this same stick for over fifty years. Whenever they want to gain an advantage over Japan, they start shouting, 'The rape of Nanjing,' and the Japanese obligingly reach into their pockets. China has extorted at least $10 billion from Japan through guilt-inducement and blackmail.

The China-Japan row

It is interesting that the incident in Nanjing, even in the most extravagant Chinese claims, counts not more than 250,000 to 300,000 Chinese killed by Japanese invaders, as well as 20,000 women forced into military prostitution, known as comfort women. Compare this to the at least 1 million Tibetans killed by China's ill-named People's Liberation Army, and the thousands of Tibetan women forced to have abortions and sterilised as part of the attempt to destroy the next generation of Tibetans: this is truly cultural and racial genocide.

Where is the atonement for this from China's leaders? Where are the billions of dollars in reparations given to the Tibetans? The answer of course is that there is none of the above. The Chinese, in their own minds, are free to perform the crimes they accuse others of.

The Chinese are the ones most insistent that India should not get a Security Council seat either, so here's one issue on which Japan and India can relate to each other.

Japan has seemingly decided to stop being bullied by China, period. This is reflected in several recent events. The US and Japan made some recent statements about Taiwan's defence, which got China to squawk loudly. Japan has now parceled out oil-drilling rights in the East China Sea in areas that China claims as its exclusive territory. Most of all, Japan is demanding an apology from China for damage to the Japanese embassy and commercial property in the recent, apparently state-orchestrated demonstrations all over China.

Clearly, the Chinese have gone too far. The Japanese depend on several principles of honour and etiquette that they hold most dear. One is wa, harmony, and a preservation of good relationships despite differences of opinion; another is kao, or loss of face, which must be avoided at all costs; and a third is omiyori , empathy, and the ability to imagine another's feelings and to create trust and mutual loyalty.

On all three of these counts, the Chinese have overstepped their boundaries, and I can only assume they did this because of their imperial hubris about how they are going to be masters of the universe any day now. They have destroyed harmony, caused severe embarrassment to Japan, and have not empathised with Japan's position. After all, with the world's second-largest economy, it is not unreasonable for Japan to expect to have a say in how the world runs itself, via a seat at the Security Council high table.

In terms of long-term strategy, there is the laughable fiction of the 'peaceful rise of China.' This is just marketing hype, we all know that China is not going to the peaceful, because they have throughout their history been an imperialist nation. Furthermore, they have the need to kill off 30 million young men who will never find wives because there are that many 'missing women' from the one-child policy, and they are therefore are likely to be delinquents. The best way to manage their excess energy would be to go to war to ensure a large number of them get killed and cause no further trouble.

China is expanding its military, building up a blue-water navy, and enhancing its proliferation activities in missiles and nuclear technology. All this adds up to a formidable challenge. It is likely that the Chinese will attack Russian Siberia for its oil and gas, attack Taiwan to capture it, and attack Japan either directly or through its proxy North Korea, to cripple its economy. The American nuclear and other security umbrella that Japan currently enjoys may become more toothless over time. The clear implication is that Japan will cease sooner of later to be pacifist, and build up its armed forces.

There is definitely a need for Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, India and others threatened by China's ravenous appetite for lebensraum, resources and hegemonism to get together and 'contain' China. This is a context in which Japan and India could cooperate. For instance, if necessary, India should proliferate its nuclear and missile technology to Japan. After all, China has been kind enough to do that for all of India's enemies.

The second linkage is cultural. Many Japanese view India as the Holy Land of their Buddhist religion. In particular, Zen Buddhism was created by the venerated preceptor Daruma, who was in fact the monk Bodhidharma who went from Kodungalloor in Kerala (some say from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu). There are also innumerable cultural similarities, for instance between Kabuki and Kathakali classical dances, that could be expanded upon.

I have traveled extensively in Japan, and I have found the people there to have generally positive feelings about India as a culture and a civilisation. Increasing numbers of young Japanese come to India, for instance the 28-year-old woman I met in Hampi a while ago, who had spent most of the previous year backpacking in India. It is true that there are practical difficulties: Japanese are highly sensitive to dirt and disease and squalor; furthermore they prefer to eat Japanese food and entertain Japanese-style, and all these are problems in India. But with more expatriates living in India, things will improve.

The interesting thing is that Japanese don't appear to hold the same kind of racism towards Indians that Chinese do (although the Chinese and Koreans constantly complain about Japanese racism). In any Chinese-dominated place, such as Singapore, Hong Kong or mainland China, racism against Indians is quite palpable. Not so in Japan. By the way, Indian restaurants are popular (I remember Kerala in Kyoto, Moti in Tokyo's Akasaka precinct, and Nair-san's on the Ginza) and one of the favorite fast foods is kari-raisu which bears little resemblance to Indian curry, although Japanese imagine that it does.

Culturally, I think it is not difficult, strange though it may seem, for Indians and Japanese to get along well. There has never been any direct interaction between the two cultures, or conflict, so there is no baggage. Even the interaction between the Japanese and the Indian National Army in World War II was fairly positive.

In terms of business, Japan-China political friction will only magnify the kinds of commercial problems they have had. So far as I know, Japanese investments in China have seldom provided a good rate of return, and they have found their intellectual property ripped off by the Chinese. For instance, Matsushita, one of the earliest investors in China, is yet to show a proper profit after 20 years, as their local partners siphon off all the value. The situation is similar with many other Japanese investments.

In the meantime, Japanese investments in India have slowly picked up steam. The experiences of Honda, Toyota, Suzuki and Sony have not been too bad in India. Since they have now had sufficient time to evaluate the results of moderately large investments, this may be the time the consensus-based Japanese establishment may be induced to suggest to major Japanese companies that India is a good destination.

One of the favourable factors for India is the demographic time-bomb in Japan, as its population ages rapidly; and since they are not prone to import immigrants, it is likely that they will outsource work. Estimates are that there is a shortage of 300,000 technical workers in Japan, which accounts for 20 per cent of the world's total IT market at about $270 billion. This is clearly an area in which India can engage Japan.

In general, Japanese are much more honorable commercial partners than the Chinese are, and they will ensure that their contractual commitments are met to the letter. Indian firms need to be prepared for this: Japanese expect you to meet your commitments to the letter as well, which may amount to culture shock for Indians used to bending the rules a little. If this tendency can be curbed, Indians will find that the Japanese make fantastically loyal partners for the long-term (unlike Americans who are short-term focused).

Thus, the stars seem to be aligned for an Asia-Pacific alliance between India and Japan that can have significant benefits for India, including positioning India as the growth market with no negative political feelings about Japan, unlike antagonistic China.

This is the best time in years to strike wide-ranging agreements with Japan and wean the latter away from over-dependence on a hostile China. I do hope the mandarins in South Block are up to the challenge.

Comments can be posted on my blog

Rajeev Srinivasan

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Number of User Comments: 29

Sub: read this-Rajeev's illusions will go away-Indo japan Bhai bhai

Japan has refused visas to 11 Indian scientists since 1998 when the country conducted nuclear tests, sources said. The visa rejections began in 1998 when ...

Posted by Pramod Arikal

Sub: Please don't generalize

Hi Rajeev, Is it your money which allows you to force your article on rediff ? You tend to generalise things too much. If Japan ...

Posted by niti

Sub: very interesting article

Hi Perfect thinking .....we need people like you holding decision making positions in India to envision direction for the country.... Give a thought to it ...

Posted by dee

Sub: Indo-Japanese strategic alliance

An excellent article. Japan has already apologised 21 times for its wartime atrocities. Yet China is flogging it in pueauits of its own political agenda. ...

Posted by s subramanyan

Sub: Your hatred distorted your mind

Rajeev: Your article is full of hatred and lies towards to China. I have read a few your articles before. They were all same tune, ...

Posted by David


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