Contributed to The Indian Express on 16 January 2014

January 16, 2014

In recent years, Japan and India have enjoyed a remarkable expansion in bilateral relations, and now define themselves as indispensable strategic and global partners. I wish to present my views on how Japan’s relations with India are expected to gain momentum not only for the benefit of our two countries, but also for the stability and prosperity of the region and the world.

Japan and India share the fundamental values of democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law. It is on the strength of these values and trust in each other that our economic relations flourish. In 2011, we concluded the Japan-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The agreement eliminates tariffs covering 94-percent of trade, and provides legal underpinnings to boost investments between our two countries. In the past 10 years, our trade has grown six-fold and Japan's direct investment to India, too, has reached unprecedented heights. More than 1,000 Japanese firms, mainly in manufacturing, have established a business presence in India. This will help the country transform into a robust production and export hub. We believe this is an important development because a strong and vibrant Indian economy is key to the future of Asia and the world.

Japan is keenly aware of its role and responsibility in the world economy. With “Abenomics” in full swing, the Japanese economy is now visibly growing. We will continue to be a source of economic vitality, creativity and innovation, which we hope will benefit the region and the world at large.

In the broader Asian context, it is widely recognised that East Asia and Southeast Asia’s unprecedented economic development over the decades was propelled, to a great extent, by key infrastructure development supported by public finance. Today, nobody would doubt that Japan’s official development assistance played a critical role in this regard. Japanese private-sector investment has also had an impact on the global supply chain, turning this part of the world into a major centre of industrial manufacturing of automobiles, electronics and machinery. The Japan - India partnership is predicated on following a similar path. Japan has been supporting key infrastructures, including public transport (such as the Metros in Delhi and other major cities), power and water. Building on this, Japan and India are working together on industrial cluster development, connectivity and urban development through the flagship projects of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor.

The undercurrent of these flourishing business activities was the conscious effort to develop rules to facilitate the movement of goods and services and improve the business environment within frameworks of regional economic cooperation. A salient example is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), of which Japan is one of the founding members. Alongside APEC, Japan commits to trade liberalisation and economic partnership in the region through the Japan-ASEAN FTA (already effective) and the Japan-China-Korea FTA (under negotiation). However, we believe Asian regional economic cooperation must encompass India as well. This is why Japan strongly supports the ASEAN-plus-six platform, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership , where Japan and India participate actively in trade facilitation and liberalisation efforts.

Japan also contributes to the stability of global financial markets, including those of the emerging economies. Japan took the initiative to strengthen Asia’s financial architecture through the Chiang Mai Initiative, which includes a network of currency swap arrangements, established after the region’s financial crisis in 1997 within the framework of ASEAN-plus-three (Japan, China and Korea). Over and above, Japan and India have promptly expanded the bilateral currency swap arrangement from $15 to 50 billion dollars in light of developments in India’s currency market since May last year.

On the political and security field, Japan and India will continue to strengthen their ties bilaterally --- the Japanese defence minister was in Delhi last week to meet with his Indian counterpart --- and through regional frameworks such as the East Asia Summit . Our collaboration does not target any particular country but is solely intended to strengthen peace and stability of the region as a whole.

Japan’s record since the end of World War II shows its firm commitment to peace and prosperity in the region and around the world, demonstrated, for example, by its significant role in Asia’s economic development as mentioned above, and by its substantial contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations. It is regrettable that Japan’s peace-embracing posture has been intentionally put to doubt recently through media campaigns by our neighbouring country.

Last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where approximately 2.5 million souls of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation since 1853 are enshrined, regardless of their rank or social standing. It is a misinterpretation to regard the visit to the Yasukuni Shrine as worshipping Class A war criminals or praising militarism. As Abe clearly stated in his “pledge for everlasting peace,” the intention of the visit was to pledge never to wage a war again. He stated,“This is my conviction based on the severe remorse for the past. I have renewed my determination before the souls of the war dead to firmly uphold the pledge never to wage a war again. I have also made a pledge that we must build an age which is free from the sufferings by the devastation of war; Japan must be a country which joins hands with friends in Asia and friends around the world to realise peace of the entire world.”

It is asserted that the prime minister’s visit is seen as proof of growing militarism, or a challenge to the post-war international order. His visit to the shrine and his administration’s national security policy are completely unrelated matters. The visit cannot be viewed as a sign of reviving militarism, nor a challenge to the postwar international order. Rather, it is the sober truth that Japan, as a peace-advocating nation, has devoted itself to development of Asia and the rest of the world in a consistent manner after World War II, as explained above. The path postwar Japan is taking as a peaceful nation will never change. This was illustrated in the recently published National Security Strategy.

Japan considers the Japan-China relationship as one of the most important. Although the relationship between the two countries has been strained in recent years due to a specific bilateral issue, Japan believes it is important not to let individual issues adversely affect the overall bilateral relationship. That is why Prime Minister Abe has been reiterating, since taking office in December 2012, that the door for dialogue with China is always open. Nevertheless, China has so far refused to accept. It is my sincere hope that China will come forward and engage in a constructive dialogue with Japan, not only for the sake of the two countries but for the sake of peace, stability and prosperity of the Asian region, including India.

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