Between Abe and Abbott, Modi has his way
by Ashok B Sharma on 08 Sep 2014 10 Comments

Australia and Japan are two important players in the Indo-Pacific region, the main geo-political global theatre. Modi has won over Japan through his civilisational diplomacy and Australia through civil nuclear cooperation. The civil nuclear energy deal matters to an energy starved India. Though a deal of this nature could not be signed during the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan, a similar pact was waiting to be signed in the country on his return; thus the deal during the visit of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.


Australia will now be a long-term uranium supplier to India. Australia will also cooperate in the production of radio isotopes and nuclear safety. Before signing the accord Mr Abbott said, “In a sign of the mutual trust and confidence that our two countries have in each other, Prime Minister Modi and I will today sign a nuclear cooperation agreement that will, finally, allow Australian uranium sales to India.”  He said he “trusts” India to doing the right thing in this area.


Nuclear apartheid on India ended after the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement on July 18, 2005; subsequently India separated her defence and civil nuclear establishments. India’s first nuclear reactor was set up in Rajasthan with Canadian assistance. After India conducted her first nuclear test in 1974 and then in 1998, the world powers withheld civil nuclear cooperation and demanded that India sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India refused, calling the treaty discriminatory and unequal.


India has signed bilateral deals on civilian nuclear energy technology cooperation with several countries, including France, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and South Korea. She has uranium supply agreements with Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Namibia. An Indian private company won a uranium exploration contract in Niger.


India has low deposits of uranium and needs deals with uranium suppliers. The question arises why a deal could not fructify with Japan during Mr Modi’s five-day visit there. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated that negotiations are at an advanced stage and are expected to be finalised soon. He commended India’s efforts in non-proliferation, including the affirmation that goods and technologies transferred from Japan would not be used for delivery system for WMD. Japan has removed six of India’s space and defence-related entities from its foreign end user list. Both Japan and Australia support India’s full membership to four international export control regimes – Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Agreement and Australia Group.


Mr Modi won over Mr Abe with Buddha diplomacy and successfully raised the relationship between the two countries to the level of Special Strategic and Global Partnership. This is a signal to China that if it can have “all-weather” friendship with Pakistan to checkmate India, the latter can have a significant relationship with its island neighbour. Mr Modi has said that adding “special” is not just a “play of words”; it signifies Japan’s increasing role in India’s economic development, increased political dialogue and a renewed push to defence cooperation.


The references to “expansionist” mind-set of the 18th century, some countries “encroaching” upon others, some “entering the seas” and some “capturing the territory of a country” have perplexed, if not annoyed, the Chinese leadership. Mr Modi’s remarks came when Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit India in the third week of September. Reacting to the same, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said, “I want to stress that China and India are major countries. We both advocate and practice the five principles of peaceful coexistence”. But the official Chinese media accused Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of dividing China and India and termed the attempt as “crazy fantasy”.


India and China has a longstanding border dispute. China has occupied thousands of sq km of Indian territory in the western and eastern sector and continues to claim other parts of Indian territory. China also possesses parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir gifted by its “all-weather” friend. This had prompted Mr Modi to say during an election rally in Arunachal Pradesh (claimed by China), “China should shed its expansionist policy and forge bilateral ties with India for peace, progress and prosperity of both the nations.”


Mr Modi’s words sounded like music to Mr Abe as China continues to claim Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. It remains to be seen how Mr Modi deals with President Xi Jinping when he arrives in New Delhi. Will he insist on the Johnson Line and MacMahon Line fixed by the British as the boundary between India and China and represented by the official map of the country; or will he try to resolve the dispute over Indian presence in the South China Sea?


Mr Modi has promised to work together with all South Asian (SAARC) countries. The presence of SAARC leaders at his swearing-in ceremony was a symbolic gesture. He wanted to reopen dialogue with Pakistan, but increased ceasefire violations at the border and dialogue with Kashmiri separatists resulted in the scheduled talks at foreign secretary level being called off. The Modi government is of the view that dialogue should be on the basis of Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration with peace at the border. India, however, remains confident that the situation would improve.


The tilt in India’s foreign policy under Mr Modi government is visible. The trump card is Buddha diplomacy. The Prime Minister’s first foreign tour was to Bhutan and then to Nepal (both South Asia), with Japan the first visit outside South Asia. This was the first time an Indian Prime Minister stayed in an Asian country for five days.


Buddha diplomacy is being extended to many south-east Asian countries. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent visits to Singapore, Vietnam and to Myanmar for the 21st ASEAN Regional Forum Meeting and 4th East Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting has set the tone for the NDA’s future interaction with east Asian countries.


India and Japan have agreed to take forward the India-Japan-US trilateral process to the level of foreign ministers and continue with joint naval exercises. But Australia is unwilling to join in as yet. Australia currently holds the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and is eager to cooperate with India. South Korea too, is unwilling to join the trilateral as it has problems with Japan. But both Australia and South Korea have bilateral arrangements with India.


On the economic front, Mr Modi’s visit saw Japan rolling out of 3.5 trillion yen public and private investment and financing within a span of five years. Prime Minister Abe also pledged ODA loan of 50 billion yen to India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd for a public-private partnership infrastructure projects in India. Cooperation between Varanasi and Kyoto was inked for the development of India’s holy city. Japan is a major investor in the project to revive the ancient Nalanda University, along with other south-east Asian and east Asian countries. The development of the Buddhist Tourist Circuit in India has drawn Japan’s attention. Feasibility study on Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train with Japanese assistance is at an advanced stage.


India and Japan have also agreed to work jointly for the development of Africa. This effort would check the growing Chinese influence in this continent. All in all, Mr Modi’s visit gives hope that India will play a major strategic role in South-east Asia and eaSt Asia and check China’s ambition to dominate the entire Indo-Pacific region, including South Asia, South-East Asia and East Asia.  

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