India and Japan have come a long way since they decided to launch the annual bilateral summit. The 11 editions of the summit led by the respective prime ministers have enabled the two countries to expand their partnership beyond business and investment into hitherto unimaginable areas such as defence, nuclear power, joint projects in other nations, Indo-Pacific corridor and high-speed rail.
Establishing strategic partnership with Japan has been a success of Indian foreign policy with no hiccups since the first annual bilateral summit under the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Although Japan had played a significant role in India’s freedom movement, the two countries pursued different geopolitical goals during the Cold War period.
The end of the Cold War and changing dynamics in Asian power politics drew Japan and India closer except for a brief period when Japan imposed sanctions on India following the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. The damage was repaired and the Asian democracies launched a new era of partnership.
Japan is the second country after Russia with which India hosts annual summits in alternate years Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s participation as the chief guest at the 2014 Republic Day celebrations added further impetus to the strategic partnership and, subsequently, personal chemistry between Abe and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi opened new vistas of cooperation and a partnership to stabilise Asia amid China’s assertive foreign policy goals.
What was truly unimaginable for Japan, the only country in the world to have been hit by a nuclear bomb and later to have experienced the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, was a civil nuclear deal with India, a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet India’s track record and assurances convinced Japan, and the two countries are ready to embark on a new journey of civil nuclear technology. The 12th Indo-Japan Summit, being held outside New Delhi for the first time, will showcase significance of the partnership. Chinese aggression is a common challenge for both countries and Abe’s visit in the backdrop of India’s standoff with China over Doklam may speed up expansion of Indo-Japan strategic partnership.
Japan was the only country that publicly voiced concern over Chinese actions in Doklam, finding common cause in the backdrop of China’s attempts to change the status quo on the Senkaku Islands. Modi and Abe are expected to emphasise the need for countries to abide by international law and global norms amid growing threats from North Korea too.