Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda makes an important visit to India this week as part of the annual India-Japan summits institutionalized since 2005. Noda’s visit comes at a time when bilateral ties have not only stabilized, but also significantly expanded to include a wide range of economic and strategic issues. Indeed, despite the triple disaster that engulfed Japan in March, the two nations have appeared to stay focused on keeping the partnership on a steady trajectory.
First and foremost, both countries have signed a long-pending comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) that came into effect on August 1 following ratification by the Japanese Diet. The CEPA has prompted high expectations in both countries of a fresh boost to bilateral trade and investments. In addition, the participation of Indian contingents in the relief and reconstruction efforts in disaster affected regions of Japan following the earthquake and tsunami has undoubtedly made a favorable impact on the Japanese people and their leaders.
Such developments have been bolstered by an obvious political commitment to engagement on the part of the new Japanese premier, who shortly after coming to office had a chance to meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when both were attending U.N. General Assembly sessions in September. The brief meeting enabled them to exchange views on several bilateral and global issues, and both underlined the importance of annual summit meetings for enhancing bilateral relations. They also stressed the importance of the safety of sea lanes in the Indian Ocean, and agreed to carry forward their discussions on security matters.
According to reports, Singh also raised the issue of India’s interest in signing a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan. Noda responded that Japan would move forward on the matter once it had managed to bring the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor under control and had carried out a full-scale investigation and circulated the full information to other countries.
But the progress has gone beyond the two leaders. Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Tokyo in the last week of October, as part of a regular security dialogue, is also worth noting. Evaluating the importance of such dialogue, Krishna’s Japanese counterpart, Koichiro Gemba, said that stability and development in India were in the best interests of Japan, as well as the Asian region as a whole. In particular, the two noted how their two countries could cooperate more in the sphere of maritime security, including counter piracy operations. In addition, they stressed the need for cooperation in areas such as the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, joint development of rare earth minerals and the evolution of the East Asian Summit into an effective forum in regional affairs.
Krishna’s visit was soon followed by that of Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony, who travelled to Tokyo on November 2 to 3 to participate in the Japan-India Defense Ministerial meeting. Both Antony and Yasuo Ichikawa exchanged in-depth views on regional and international security, as well as defense cooperation between the two countries. More recently, the first trilateral dialogue between India, Japan and the United States was held in Washington, on December 19. It provided an opportunity for the three countries to understand their respective perspectives on regional and global issues.