Shinzo Abe’s world power-projection tour seems to be hitting its stride. Consider Japan’s firm-up this week of strategic ties with India. The two regional allies — Asia’s largest democracies and second- and third-biggest economies — have launched new economic relations and strengthened those that were already in place. As the salesman he has become Abe is handpicking associates to build its stout rivalry with China: in the month of January alone he visited three African nations, gave a headliner speech at the World Economic Forum, and hosted Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Meanwhile the economy back home is being rejuvenated — which is attracting the attention of global elites.
Abe came as the guest of honor for India’s Republic Day parade on January 26 (which commemorates the day its constitution came into force in 1950), invited by India’s President Pranab Mukherjee and its Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A look at the trade numbers will demonstrate the healthy relations between both countries. In 2012, bilateral trade reached $18.43 billion, up from $13.72 billion the previous year. China does not worry about these numbers, which are relatively low in the absolute, but is wary of the fact that their pace of increase is heating up — bilateral trade was only $6.54 billion in 2006. Beijing knows that a solidified bilateral relation will hamper its own position. For that reason it will keep its eyes peeled on how close the two countries reach the the trade target set for this year between New Delhi and Tokyo: $25 billion. Japan and India both have ongoing territorial disputes with China, which gives their shoring-up of bilateral relations the appearance (and likely reality) of being at least partially aimed at their bigger neighbor.
Manmohan Singh is searching for economic and strategic partners to solidify India’s growth, which has recently stalled, and craves infrastructure investment. Thus, Singh and Abe agreed to enrich the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between both countries, in force since 2010, the biggest trade agreement India has with any country. This all came together when they announced 200 billion yen (circa $1.95 billion) in loans for the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor project, seen as key for reversing India’s industrial decline, and also fresh cash for the for the extension of the Delhi Metro and two other projects. Nuclear energy negotiations are also advancing, despite coming from different stances . On hold since the Fukushima nuclear accident, they recurred throughout the visit. Tokyo is especially pushing for a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India as a way to grow its exports; many analysts expect a deal to be sealed in the upcoming months.
The improved New Delhi-Tokyo partnership is just another phase of a relationship growing deeper and stronger over the years – and as Singh said: “Japan is at the heart of India’s Look East Policy.” The Hindustan Times newspaper put it clear: It is cherry blossom time in India-Japan relations. Since 1991, when India embarked upon substantial economic reforms, Japan has played a minimal role in India’s economy regional ascendancy. Today, their partnership contains a strong element of resistance to China’s ever-growing global aspirations will just cement it further. China, after all, is not making a retreat on any global stage, be it political or economic, anytime soon.