Review: Beyond Complementarity and Cooperation in India-Japan Relations

The countries are far beyond poised for partnership as matters stand today. Perhaps a more apt title could have been Poised for Alliance, which would be eye-opening and more forward-looking.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit: Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit: Reuters

Poised for Partnership: Deepening India–Japan Relations in the Asian Century, edited by Rohan Mukherjee and Anthony Yazaki, is the latest attempt to analyse contemporary bilateral relations between India and Japan, from the 1990s onwards.

The book comprises four parts: first, economic cooperation; second, energy and climate change; third, security and defence; and fourth, global governance. Furthermore, each part includes two articles written by two Japanese contributors and two Indian contributors. These four parts are the main areas that exemplify and illustrate the close contemporary India-Japan ties. The main aspects that are addressed can be summarised as ‘complementarity’ in the first two parts and ‘cooperation’ in the latter two parts.


The Japanese economy is faced with severe difficulties related to its ageing and shrinking population, with the result that Japan is having difficulty achieving favourable growth, whereas India, although poised for rapid economic growth, lacks adequate infrastructure and financial resources. By implementing mutually beneficial policies, the two countries are expected to be able to anticipate the realisation of win–win situations.

To be sure, Japan’s investment to India and bilateral economic cooperation show a gradual increment since the 2000s. This tendency has been expected to accelerate greatly along with the introduction of the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), effective from August 2011. CEPA has been anticipated as a game-changer in the slow development of bilateral economic relations, particularly with the advent of the governments of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe, who share a close personal relationship.

Chhaya Goswami Poised for Partnership: Penguin, 2016.

Rohan Mukherjee and Anthony Yazaki ed.
Poised for Partnership: Deepening India–Japan Relations in the Asian Century
Oxford University Press, 2016.

Five years have passed since the CEPA came into force, without substantial achievements. This could perhaps be because Japan’s economy has not been in a good shape. The negative state of the global economy could also be a cause.

The first chapter should have discussed how the unfavourable investment environment in India – attributable in part to the land acquisition law, the new exit policy, and the goods and services tax – is perceived by Japanese investors. In fact, India’s jobless growth has, and is, undermining its ability to reap its demographic dividend. Recent caste-based protests in Gujarat and Haryana for quota symbolise the ground reality of India’s economic development.

In terms of complementarity, two articles on energy and climate change in the second part of Poised for Partnership discuss how these two areas, although fundamentally contradictory in their nature, would be excellent targets of mutually beneficial cooperation between India and Japan, both of whom need to ensure the supply of energy meets the domestic demand. The third chapter advocates a joint credit mechanism to short-term initiatives such as the re-indexation of Asian natural gas prices and the longer-term goals of the creation of a regional energy security forum by involving China. Furthermore, the subsequent chapter emphasises the importance of the bilateral cooperation of energy efficiency, solar energy and clean coal technologies.

Although two chapters argue the importance of energy cooperation, they do not explore in detail the cooperation between the two countries in the field of global climate change. Another deficiency of this part of the book is the issue of nuclear energy. While the two articles make occasional references to the severe energy situation in the post-Fukushima period in Japan, these mentions are rather opaque and are not definitive with respect to the utilisation of nuclear energy in the two countries. It is disappointing to note that nuclear cooperation between the two countries is not discussed much, despite it likely forming the nexus of renewed efforts at providing energy and mitigating climate change.


The third part of Poised for Partnership deals with security and defence, underscoring the necessity of close cooperation between India and Japan to cope with a rising and increasingly assertive China. In my view, security vis-à-vis China is the primary factor pushing the two countries closer, rather than their economic complementarity. China’s rapid rise has taken place since the mid-2000s, when many countries started to pay keen attention to China. The India-Japan strategic partnership was declared in 2006. Since then, the two countries have initiated their intensive and regular consultations and joint exercises. Such collaborations are distinctive in contrast to lagging progress in economic affairs.

The fifth chapter in the book emphasises the different perceptions, priorities and strategies observed by the two countries, such as nuclear weapons and the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Furthermore, the following chapter points out several constraints for bilateral security cooperation, such as military isolationism in India and pacifism in Japan, and the different perceptions of American primacy.

Two chapters commonly point out the crucial aspect of coping with China through close bilateral cooperation. At the same time, the chapters acknowledge China might view such cooperation as an offensive measure. Their concerns have led the authors of the two chapters in discussion to show wariness not to offend, and more importantly not to provoke China.

However, their concerns show commonality when it comes to concrete measures. There appears a kind of discrepancy, particularly with how to associate with the US. Fundamentally, Japan considers the US as their primary cooperator, whereas India might admit the necessity of US involvement but possibly to a lesser degree.

Chapter six discusses such aspects admirably with no sugar coating in the commentary. Furthermore, I have found that the authors assess India’s foreign policy in the 1970s and 1980s not from a perspective of non-alignment but from something like alliance (pages 190 and 196). This is the first time that I have seen such a frank assessment written by Indian experts.

The final part of the book specifically addresses issues of global governance, such as nuclear issues, international financial institutions (FII), maritime security and reform of the UN Security Council (UNSC). It is noteworthy that in the discussions on nuclear issues and FII, divergent standpoints are revealed, although the latter two issues elicit almost identical views from the authors.

Perhaps, divergence might derive from the fundamental orientation of a status quo power (Japan) and a revisionist power (India). India would never give up its nuclear weapons and would not dare to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty so long as there is no global abolition of nuclear weapons. In stark contrast, Japan, under the US nuclear umbrella, encourages India to join the two treaties, although Japan would like to extend nuclear cooperation with India. FII such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is another typical case of dichotomy of status quoism vis-à-vis revisionism.

Regarding maritime security and UNSC membership, India and Japan see eye to eye. In the case of maritime security, basic rapprochement exists, as described in chapter three. Two articles in the chapter emphasise the importance of cooperation to achieve membership to the UNSC. Although India and Japan have persistently pursued membership, the prospects continue to look bleak because of Chinese opposition and resistance from the G4 countries, who remain dead-set against it. Yet, only some discussion is put forth about what Japan and India would do if they were to be granted membership to the UNSC.

Poised for alliance

Looking through the introduction written by Mukherjee and Yazaki, I came across some astonishing arguments on the second page. “In terms of book-length studies, barring a handful of edited volumes….rigorous policy-relevant scholarship on the India–Japan relationship is virtually absent. The record on the Japanese side is much thinner.” In fact, all contributors were purposely selected as discipline-wise experts from fields such as economics, energy, security and global governance, not as area specialists.

Such a basic policy of editing this book has given rise to two fundamental problems. First, the book has excluded academic works on Indo–Japan bilateral relations. Consequently, there is no citation or quotation of classics of study, so to say, on bilateral relations. For instance, P.A.N. Murthy’s book India and Japan (1993) was mentioned only once as a previous study. Similarly, there is no reference to the Yamazaki and Takahashi book Japan and India: History of Exchange (1993) with the Japanese title of Nihon to Indo Kouryu no Rekishi.

Because area specialists of the two countries have not participated, the most important historic facts have been overlooked. For example, India’s greatest contribution to Japan’s economic development after the second world war has entirely escaped note. Japan’s high economic growth started in the mid-1950s, centred on the steel industry that drew raw materials of iron ore as imports from India. In fact, during the mid-1960s, 57% of Japan’s imports from India were iron ore. A similar historic antecedent exists. When Japan started its industrial development in the 1860s, its principal sector was textiles, its looms and mills using raw cotton imported from India.

Consequently, looking back, Japan owes an enormous debt to India for its industrial development. It is therefore Japan’s turn to do something for India’s economic development. In the two classics described previously, such aspects have been discussed in detail. After all, any history of bilateral relations must be observant of the past. India’s historic contribution to the Japanese economy is fundamental common knowledge of area specialists of the two countries.

Another aspect of concern related to the book is that great accumulations of academic studies of India and Indo–Japan relations written in Japanese have been used sparingly even by Japanese contributors. In Japan, the Japanese Association for South Asian Studies was founded in 1988, and has been a nationally active academic body of modern and contemporary studies of India and South Asia covering international politics (including India-Japan relations).

Perhaps, for studies of contemporary India, English materials would be sufficient because almost all academic materials are written in English, of course depending on the fields of study. India’s case appears to be quite exceptional. Nevertheless, to delve into India-Japan bilateral relations, Japanese academic materials are the sine quo non, just as one would expect French materials to be indispensable for a discussion on India–France relations.

Finally, I must convey my astonishment at one particular point. When I received the book, I was surprised at the title: Poised for Partnership. Indeed, India and Japan are well beyond poised as matters stand today. The two countries declared a global partnership in 2000 during Yoshiro Mori’s visit to India and his meeting with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 2006, the two countries established a strategic and global partnership when Manmohan Singh visited Japan. The two countries have already sought and accepted each other as partners. Moreover, no definition of partnership that might challenge those realities is even given in the book. If the title were to be set as something like Poised for Alliance, although such relations are unlikely to happen soon, it would be eye-opening and more forward-looking, likely to draw huge interest towards the book and bring sales.

Having shared these points, I note that I highly evaluate the book, which has made a great contribution to the study of the contemporary bilateral relations. Eight chapters are written by some senior and junior contributors. It is a noteworthy attempt for the editors to stimulate younger generations for their further studies. When another occasion happens to highlight the study of bilateral relations, I do hope the contributors will include both researchers of various disciplines and more area specialists, attracting a broad base of interest to studies on bilateral relations.

Takenori Horimoto is co-editor with Lalima Varma of India-Japan Relations in Emerging Asia, Manohar, 2013.

  • Dinesh Dutta

    China’s evil intentions on the territory of its neighbors has forced India and Japan to work even more closely in an already historically delightful Indo-Japan relation.


    Japan has already has a major stake in Indian automobile market with Suzuki’s and Honda ruling large market share. With relations going sour, China has indirectly prompted Japanese to invest in the country in a big way.