Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was in Tokyo this weekend, and his message was clear – New Delhi has an eye on closer relations with Japan.
During a meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Koichiro Gemba, the two Asian powers appeared to agree on a couple of key points. One is that the United States will be joining Japan and India in a structured, trilateral partnership. But perhaps more interesting than this was the suggestion of greater military co-operation between Asia’s second and third largest economies.
The details of the latter, which will include joint training exercises between Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Indian Navy, will be thrashed out in the near future, including during Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony’s visit to Japan this week. But even though the specifics aren’t yet clear, these meetings are likely to be viewed with some trepidation by policy makers in Beijing.
Yet there was more to the Krishna-Gemba talks than the tantalizing prospect of closer military co-operation. The two sides have also agreed to work together on developing the rare earth metals vital to Japan’s high tech industries, a resource India possesses in abundance. This agreement will be particularly welcome by the Japanese, as it offers the prospect of being less dependent on China, which demonstrated through its halting of rare earth exports last year that it isn’t afraid to use the metals as a diplomatic tool.
The Japanese government has reportedly removed seven Indian entities, including Indian Rare Earths Limited, from its list of banned entities for high tech co-operation. This will not only eventually result in substantial supplies of rare earths being shipped from India to Japan, but is likely to foster the rapid growth in high tech trade between the two nations.
The other issue big issue is a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement that India and Japan have been negotiating since last year. Straws in the wind suggest that the proposed Japan-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement has been derailed by events at Fukushima in March, and although the issue came up between Krishna and Gemba, there was no breakthrough.
“I also discussed with Foreign Minister Gemba the status of civil nuclear cooperation between our countries. As you are aware, we have had three rounds of negotiations on this subject,” the Hindu reported Krishna as telling reporters. “After my discussions today, I am optimistic on this score.”
Gemba, for his part, said the two sides had agreed to push forward the nuclear deal negotiations, although he added, “I also asked for his (Krishna’s) understanding about the strong feelings held by Japan on nuclear arms reduction and nonproliferation because of its experience as a victim of atomic bombing.”