Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s visit to India at the end of last month brought about several positive developments. Yet although relations seem to be warming as the two nations attempt to build strong bilateral ties, the visit also highlighted an important issue: the lack of understanding among average Indians and Japanese about how important bilateral ties are.
This was evident from the coverage in the Indian media, both print and electronic, of Noda’s visit. Had the U.S. or Chinese presidents been calling on New Delhi, the Indian media would have been all over the visit. Instead, there was little interest.
Although India and Japan have forged ahead on their push toward a global strategic partnership over the past five years, the two countries’ citizens seem to have little awareness of the significance of relations between Asia’s number two and three economies.
This is unfortunate. With the rise of China, and with the United States pivoting back to the Asia-Pacific, relations between India and Japan are taking on particular significance. And with Noda’s India visit taking place less than two weeks after the first-ever India-Japan-U.S. Trilateral Dialogue in Washington DC, there’s clearly a broader geostrategic issue at play.
Meanwhile, on December 28, Indian Minister for Commerce, Industry and Textiles Anand Sharma, in his address to a business delegation led by Nado in New Delhi, said Indo-Japan bilateral trade would double to reach an impressive $25 billion by 2014. During the visit, the Japanese government also committed $4.5 billion to the implementation of the $100 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project. Sharma described 2011 as “a watershed year” in Indo-Japan relations, during which the two countries signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Japan, meanwhile, also pledged to help boost the plunging Indian rupee through a $15 billion currency swap deal.
Still, it wasn’t all plain sailing. For example, the Japanese didn’t take a step towards the civilian nuclear energy cooperation deal that India has long been seeking. The Japanese are well aware that this step would take the strategic partnership to a new level, but with the events surrounding Japan’s nuclear accident last year, it appears the Japanese government’s hands are tied.
Before the two Asian powers intensify their bilateral relationship further, it would be advisable for them to invest in more people-to-people contacts so that the two countries can develop a better understanding of each other. Both countries also need to do a better job of explaining to their citizens why improving ties is so important.