Through the Indo-Japani Gate

Those who have lived in Calcutta, it is likely they ran into red and yellow mini-buses declaring “Indo-Japani Gate” as one of their destinations. I have never seen the gate and am not even sure where it is, but it was a landmark well known to most in the city.

India and Japan have been spent much of the past decade grappling with how to bring their respective economies, polities and finally foreign policies into alignment. It is very much a work in progress and there is no guarantee of success. In fact, it is hard to find any tangible evidence that relations have actually taken off yet.

The Japanese want to help build up India by investing in it and giving India a globally competitive manufacturing sector. This is partly economic: China is becoming difficult for them to work in and Thailand is going off a cliff. But it is also underpinned in recent times by strategic considerations, namely that a stronger India would provide ballast against a rising China. There is a vision of the two sides collaborating on defence manufacturing, nuclear tech and so on if the two countries can get past the first few years.

The Japanese, who in effect are building the infrastructure in India that would allow their factories to come here, find India and Indians baffling and difficult. No one believes in deadlines, one Japanese executive incredulously told a newspaper.

Indian officials complain that trying to get an agreement from the Japanese is a tortuous process. The Japanese, a nation that has become extremely risk averse, are prone to adding conditionalities and help clauses to all agreements that they infuriate the Indian side.

The Japanese find India’s endless delays and ever changing thicket of regulations mind-numbing. Japanese firms have repeatedly been taken for a ride by Indian gold diggers.

At the heart of this is simply that neither India nor Japan are strategic powers. Both have limited foreign policies and have not really thought strategically for decades. Japan because it outsourced all of that to Washington. India because its minimalist state lacks resources and its foreign policy structure is all about crisis management, not the long wave future.

Great powers learn, normally through wars and so on, how to focus on big pictures and then suborn everything else to maintaining the big picture. “We have larger interests, make sure the normal petty things that nations bicker over don’t get in the way of those larger interests,” is the line that comes from upon high.

But neither India nor Japan have really got this sort of a culture. Arguably, it’s worse in Japan then it is in India. The result has so far been negotiations on things like a civil nuclear deal have become bogged down in endless minutiae and fine print.

This is why it is really upto Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe to exert the political pressure to get their bureaucracies to get things done. I, for one, would see a September summit between the two as less than successful if a civil nuclear agreement is not finalised. It wouldn’t be the end, but it would indicate how much of a slog building a new Indo-Japani Gate will be.

Copyright © 2014 the Hindustan Times

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