Japan and India: Time to collaborate in Central Asia and on Nuclear Energy
by Ramtanu Maitra on 24 Aug 2015 0 Comment

An air of change is blowing across both Japan and India, but it has not yet helped to optimize benefits by raising bilateral relations to a higher level. There is a likelihood that even in the long run, this air of change may not be able to get these two major Asian nations to knuckle down and contribute to each other’s and the region’s economy unless they work out some sort of strategic economic cooperation in two major areas - joint participation in Central Asia’s economic development and full-fledged cooperation in advancing nuclear energy for power generation. In both of these areas, these two large Asian nations need each other, and interdependence would benefit both immensely.


Last year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a soft-shoe approach by going to Japan with the message for Prime Minister Shinjo Abe and his colleagues that bilateral nuclear cooperation would benefit both economically. He did not succeed because the Abe-led government continues to hold onto its impossible hope that India, a nation of 1.25 billion people and a nuclear weapon state, would either sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and/or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


Tokyo should realize that expecting India to sign those treaties is an impossible hope, indeed, one that has been created by a handful of nations with the sole intent to project permanent threats to other nations. Japan might note, too, that included among those handful of nations are such second-grade economic and military powers as the former colonial Britain and France.


An Air of Change in Japan


India recognizes that both the NPT and CTBT are utterly discriminatory. What’s more, over the years, particularly since India exploded its first set of nuclear devices in 1974, the West has used all possible measures to make India bend and sign the NPT. Yet it never happened, even though India was economically weak at the time. Tokyo knows this history; it is time to realize that holding on to this irrational demand will not only fail to develop a strong and meaningful India-Japan relationship for the benefit of both, but will also undermine Japan’s role as the technological powerhouse of Asia. In other words, Tokyo has kept the window closed on the issue, preventing the winds of change to bring in fresh hopes and ideas and, as a result, remain the “other power in Asia,” quite uncertain of its geopolitical status.


Nonetheless, an air of change is now blowing across Japan. After years of living under the United States’ shadow and embracing its worldview, Tokyo has now seemingly begun to take some policy steps independently. And that is good news for Asia. On July 16, Shinjo Abe’s Japan took a bold step forward by pressing hard to pass legislation permitting Japan to maintain a collective self-defense. The legislation still needs to be passed in the Upper House of the Japanese Diet; if it goes through there, it will come into force as early as Sept. 27 this year. If the entire Diet approves this legislation, it will be an extremely notable development for the region.


What the legislation means is that Japan is ready to overturn the almost-70-year-old Peace Constitution of 1947 and is now preparing to create a new permanent law to support international peace, which enables the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to be dispatched at any time under certain conditions. “The security bills revise 10 existing laws and expand the scope of the activities of Japan’s Self-Defense Force, enabling it, for example, to extend logistical support for militaries of other countries engaged in military operations, even when such actions are not directly linked to Japan’s security, and to come to the aid of an ally under attack,” reports Defense News of July 16.


Defense News analyst Paul Kallender-Umezu, in his July 16 article, cited Narushige Michishita, a Japan security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, saying: “Facing China, which is not anticipating a war scenario, the legislation gives Japan a better hand in how to play the game of peacetime competition. The name of the game is how to create a region-wide security partnership with India, Australia, Southeast Asian nations and Japan. Without limited rights of collective self-defense, the SDF simply can’t work closely with the armed forces of other countries. Japan has been severely limited in its ability to create strong partnerships. This legislation will make it possible for Japan to plug the SDF into stronger region-wide cooperative relationships.”


The new strategy developed by the Abe government is disliked by the opposition because they believe it will draw Japan into a war. The day the Diet’s House of Representatives passed the bill following a long debate, crowds numbering 60,000 to 100,000 reportedly thronged the Diet building in protest against the legislation. Japan had been in wars before and the last one ended with Japan surrendering after the United States dropped atomic bombs to annihilate two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


In defence of the legislation, the Abe administration points out that the legislation highlights the importance of proactive defense of its own interests in collaboration with others, instead of depending entirely on others to take care of Japan’s national security. Any which way one reads this document, it is evident that Japan has begun to shift slowly, but surely, away from the groove the United States had set Tokyo in following the total capitulation of Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.


Japan and India in Central Asia


It also means that Japan is now garnering the necessary muscle to formulate its own foreign policy for the perceived benefit of the country’s present and future national security and also to broaden the width and breadth of its economy by seeking new partners. This was perhaps reflected in Tokyo’s late-July announcement of Prime Minister Abe’s plan to visit five Central Asian “stan” countries - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - in October. Abe will be the first Japanese prime minister to visit the area since 2006, when Junichiro Koizumi visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan but accomplished virtually nothing.


Following the announcement of Abe’s October trip, Japanese government officials said his visit will strengthen Japan’s economic relations with oil- and gas-rich Central Asian countries. The Japanese news agency, Kyodo, put its own spin on the news: “The visit could also counter China’s growing clout in the region, as well as boost leverage with Russia, according to the officials. They noted Moscow is concerned by Beijing’s surging influence in Central Asia, which Russia hopes to keep within its sphere of influence” (“Abe Looking to Visit Five Central Asia Nations in October,” Kyodo, July 24).


Putting aside Kyodo’s spin as mere paranoia about, or even an instigation against, China, it should be noted that Japan imports every last bit of the oil and gas it consumes from abroad and that Central Asia is rich in those natural reserves. It is therefore high time that Japan assert its presence in Central Asia. It is for the same reasons that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was recently in Central Asia, virtually running through five “stan” nations. His Central Asian itinerary was one short sprint, as follows: Uzbekistan (July 6-7), Kazakhstan (July 7-8), Turkmenistan (July 10-11), Kyrgyzstan (July 11-12) and Tajikistan (July12-13).


North-South International Transport Corridor


Modi’s trip in these countries centered on enhancing security, procuring uranium from Kazakhstan to fuel India’s planned nuclear power generation program and urging the Central Asian nations to become a part of the North-South International Transport Corridor now under construction. India, along with Iran, is in the process of developing a sea-land transport corridor that will move freight from the Indian coastal areas to Iran’s Chahbahar port and then north through Afghanistan and some Central Asian nations to Russia and Europe. This project is of great importance for India and Iran, and could be a very important transport route for other Asian nations, such as Japan, trading with Europe, Russia and Central Asia, cutting down transport time and cost.


The difficulty in accomplishing this task is money. Iran wants India to invest heavily and quickly to build up the Chahbahar port. India agrees, but does not have the necessary surplus finance to do so. India itself needs a trillion dollars of investment in its infrastructure over a four-year time span to make the country a manufacturing hub and bring to fruition Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” campaign. India’s shortfall in infrastructure has kept, and will continue to keep, large investors away. Modi’s prime concern is how to infuse cash in developing India’s infrastructure. He has not yet found a way. As a result, the development of the North-South International Transport Corridor, in which the development of Chahbahar port is a key ingredient, will continue to be delayed to the chagrin of Iran.


In addition, of course, Central Asia needs the infusion of large-scale foreign investment to build its economic infrastructure. China is in the process of building its land-based railroad connectivity with Central Asia, and it is a foregone conclusion that Beijing, flush with cash, will also invest in these countries to ensure its access to the region’s many natural reserves. However, that does not prevent either India or Japan, or both, from doing the same. India-Japan collaboration in developing the Chahbahar port at a fast pace could set the ball rolling.


Rich with natural gas and other mineral reserves, Central Asia could be a major center of fertilizer production, for instance. Central Asia needs power generation. In these ventures, India and Japan could collaborate effectively. Japan has the technology and money, while India, with manpower and some engineering capabilities, enjoys goodwill in these Central Asian nations. Together, they could accomplish more than China may; but, more importantly, it would provide both India and Japan with gas and oil they need in addition to broadening their trade with a region that has remained virtually ignored and as a pawn in the geopolitical power game. The presence of Japan and India, in addition to China and Russia, would also ensure the region’s security, and that itself is an important aspect for the future development of a much-larger Eurasian landmass.


The Nuclear Energy Fit


The second area of needed collaboration between India and Japan is in developing close working relations in generating civil nuclear power. Electrical power-starved India needs to add a large number of nuclear power plants in the coming decades. India has its own Pressurized Heavy water Reactors (PHWR) and is working toward inducting the indigenously developed Thorium-fueled Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWR) commercially in the coming decade.


However, India’s engineering manufacturing ability to produce these reactors is extremely limited. Over the years it has installed 21 reactors (3 of which were imported), with a total installed power generation capacity of about 5,300 MW - less than 2 percent of the country’s total installed power generating capacity.


For this reason New Delhi is now in the process of importing lightly enriched uranium-fueled (LeU) nuclear reactors from abroad. The first such reactor was supplied by Russia, and it went into operation last year in Koodankulam in the state of Tamil Nadu. Koodankulam 2 is expected to go on line by the end of this year. Each of these reactors has a generation capacity of 1000 MW, in contrast with the yet-to-be-installed largest Indian PHWR of 700 MW capacity.


According to recent media reports, India has finalized, or is about to finalize, sites for a number of imported nuclear reactor clusters. In Koodankulam, Russia will build a total of eight such reactors. Talks are afoot to provide Russia with another site for a nuclear reactor cluster in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The location and the number of reactors in this cluster has not been made public yet. What is to be noted is that these reactors will be supplied by Russia, which has the capability to produce only about 4-5 reactors annually. Since Moscow has also committed to supply reactors to a number of countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Jordqn, Iran and Egypt in the coming years, in addition to meeting its own requirements, India will be fortunate to get one reactor every two to three years from Russia.


Japan cannot play any role in the reactors that the Russians will supply to India. India is also in the process of contracting six 1,650 MW EPR reactors from France’s Areva for installation in a cluster in Jaitapur in the state of Maharashtra. EPR reactor vessels could be manufactured in Flamanville, France, or in Japan. Where these vessels will be forged depends on the time span over which these reactors will be supplied, providing the contract comes through.


Japan’s Heavy Engineering Superiority


In addition, however, India has given a contract to General Electric to set up six 1,600 MW Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) in the village of Kovvada in the coastal district of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. It has also been reported that Westinghouse is working out a contract with New Delhi to supply six AP 1000 Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) of about 1100 MW of net electrical output for the Chhaya Mithi Virdi nuclear power cluster in Gujarat.


It is to be noted that the Japanese manufacturer Toshiba owns about 87 percent of Westinghouse, while General Electric is now General Electric Hitachi, part-owned by the Japanese manufacturer, Hitachi. As a result, any nuclear reactor contracted for supply to India by Westinghouse or General Electric Hitachi will require Tokyo’s approval, and such approval will not be coming unless the Civil Nuclear Cooperation deal is signed between Tokyo and New Delhi.


Both Westinghouse’s and General Electric Hitachi’s core nuclear vessels are forged in Japan. The United States does not have the capability to manufacture the Generation III AP 1000 or the 1600 MW BWRs. Reports indicate that Westinghouse is now in the process of setting up a plant in the United States for manufacturing AP 1000 reactors, but when it may come on stream is not known.


The World Nuclear Association (WNA) website points to Japan’s leadership in this area. Japan now has the engineering capability to forge annually about 12 reactors of more than 1,000 MW power output capacity. Following the Fukushima disaster, it is expected that in the short- or mid-term, Japan will not be installing any new nuclear reactors. That means that this large manufacturing capacity will remain mostly idle, unless it allows Hitachi and Toshiba to supply the proposed nuclear reactors to India.


The largest and best-known supplier of heavy forgings in Japan is Japan Steel Works (JSW). WNA points out that JSW supplied the pressure vessels for the first two 1,650 MW Areva EPR plants in Finland and France. It has a 2008 contract with Dongfang Electric Corporation (DEC) of China to supply forged components, including reactor pressure vessels to Dongfang (Guangzhou) Heavy Machinery Company Limited in China. “JSW has been manufacturing forgings for nuclear plant components to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards since 1974, and around 130 JSW reactor pressure vessels are in service around the world,” WNA says.


In addition to JSW, Japan has a number of companies, such as the Japan Casting & Forging Corporation (JCFC), set up by Nippon Steel Corp and Mitsubishi Steel Manufacturing Co; Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Ltd. (MHPS); Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI); Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd.; IHI Corporation, formerly Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries and Kobe Steel, that are among the leading manufacturers of heavy equipment for large nuclear power plants.   

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