India and Japan have the stated goal of working together for peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the world. In many ways, it flows from the “confluence of the two seas”— referring to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Confluence of the Two Seas is the title of a 1655 book authored by the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, who was the son and heir-apparent of Emperor Shah Jahan, who fervently sought understanding with different communities and religions. This book title was emphasised by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his speech to Indian Parliament on 22 August, 2007.  That Dara Shikoh was assassinated by his brother Aurangzeb, a despotic religious fundamentalist, in order to seize power, is often not remembered.  Thus, development through peace, and by extension peace through strength, would be essential; not merely peace through good intentions and hope. The speech by PM Abe in his first term was not only eloquent rhetoric of a determined Prime Minister supported by an effective speechwriter; it was a vision statement that is coming to pass with the strong partnership built with India, begun by then PM Manmohan Singh and enhanced further by Prime Minister Modi, because that vision is a shared one and also the cascading events in Asia and indeed the world are facilitating those developments.


Travelling at over 300 kilometres per hour, the Japanese Shinkansen or Bullet Train, with 100% safety record of never having had a serious accident, is among the high-tech areas of collaboration between Japan and India. India has already acquired one Shinkansen line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and is likely to expand with one more.  The average speed of Indian trains being about 50 kmph, at the Shinkansen speed, the journey from Mumbai to Ahmedabad would be cut to two hours from the current seven hours. However, the new route would require 11 new tunnels, including an undersea tunnel near Mumbai, and therefore the total Japanese concessional loan is approximately $12 billion at 0.1% interest with a 50-year repayment period as well as a moratorium on payments for the first 15 years, while the route and train construction, training and allied development work is undertaken and passenger journeys get underway. 

Investment and Trade

Japan has become one of the largest investors in India.  The spectacular success of Maruti-Suzuki, where the Japanese company now sells more cars in India than in Japan, and has even been using India as a manufacturing base for exports to 125 countries, including the highly-competitive European markets — the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and UK — has inspired other Japanese companies, particular automobile companies, to invest heavily in manufacturing in India. India’s pharmaceutical industry, steel, life insurance and financial services are other sectors that have received Japanese foreign direct investment.

On trade, there is great room to grow because India’s trade with China and the US far outstrips trade with Japan. It is an astonishing fact that India-Japan trade boomed in the early 1900s, and raw materials that were sourced from India enabled Japan’s early industrialisation in the Meiji period beginning in 1868. By 1915, India was Japan’s main export market, and India’s exports to Japan were similar in value to its exports to European countries. A direct shipping route existed between Mumbai (then Bombay) and Kobe in 1883. Even centuries earlier, since 1638, trade flourished between India and Japan, indirectly, via the Dutch East India Company. However, after Indian Independence, the Cold War broadly damaged that trading relationship. It did, however, start to pick up again in the 1950s with Shrimp exports. Current hiccups on India-China trade present an impetus for India-Japan trade, investment, manufacturing (“Make in India”) and export/import. Japan has the technology and capital, and India has the trained/talented human resources and optimism for building the future. Additional infrastructure development will enable further ease of doing business. 

Disaster Management, Search and Rescue

The ShinMaywa amphibious search and rescue seaplane purchase, is a $1.5 billion deal to bolster India’s surveillance and disaster management capability as well as the prevention of piracy.  It is historic because post-War Japan has never before exported such equipment. The seaplane’s 4,500 km range and ability to land even on 3 metres high ocean waves, makes it the best aircraft of its category.  The seaplanes will be stationed on the Andaman and Nicobar islands that were occupied by Japan during the World War, and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who led the Indian National Army that was allied with Japan to liberate India from British control, visited Port Blair on 29 December 1943. Japan had offered to transfer control of the Andaman and Nicobar islands to Netaji’s Provisional Government-in-exile of Free India.

Civilian Nuclear Agreement

Japan with its history of being the only nation to have been bombed with nuclear weapons is ultra-sensitive when it comes to nuclear matters.  That, however, and puzzlingly, has not stopped it from constructing 54 nuclear-power reactors, which were all shut down after the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear facility following the horrific earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011. There have been attempts to re-start a handful of reactors, but almost all have remained shut since then. They were constructed at humungous cost.  Now, India is planning a plethora of nuclear power facilities with cooperation from multiple countries.  Companies of Japan and the US are allied to deploy their reactors, and the pressure of competition may have been responsible for relaxing the Japanese historical insistence that it can provide its nuclear technology only to those countries that have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Now, a civilian nuclear agreement was signed by Japan and India during Prime Minister Modi’s visit on 11 November. 

While the agreement is welcome, it is also worth taking to heart the shattering losses suffered by Japan in that it cannot use most of the nuclear reactors it built at tremendous cost. Therefore, a safety first culture would be essential, when emphasising electricity for all as the rationale for the plans to have a very large number of nuclear power facilities in India. 

As the experience of Fukushima has shown, even those facilities and cultures known for their attention to detail can slip up, and indeed the long-term costs are not even calculable. Because, the fishery and agriculture of the entire region surrounding the stricken nuclear plant have been devastated, causing untold suffering to the farmers, fishermen, and indeed other ordinary people.  With India’s high density of population, there ought to be much greater attention to risk management in the civilian nuclear sector of India. Regrettably, national security is often used as a blanket measure to prevent inquiry and oversight, and it should not be the case in India, given Japan’s tragic experience with Fukushima. 

Impact of US polls on Japan-India Defence ties

The US Occupation of Japan, the US’ scripting of the Japanese Constitution, and indeed the continued presence of 50,000 US servicemen and their 40,000 dependents, and an additional 5,500 civilians employed on the 85 US bases have often raised various types of concerns. Further, Okinawa makes up less than 1% of Japan’s land area, but around 62% of US bases in Japan are located in Okinawa.

Meanwhile, the US Armed Forces are also providing a security umbrella for Japan, and Japan has been paying about $2 billion a year. The realisation that massive rapid deployment is possible within 48 hours anywhere in the world of US military without having expensive facilities in so many locations abroad, and the desire of President-elect Donald Trump to think anew about all the ramifications and costs, have created new possibilities.  “They (Japan) have to protect themselves or they have to pay us,” said President-elect Trump a few months ago (presumably meaning the full cost of the US military umbrella and the deployment of US military and other personnel in Japan).  

One impact of this new doctrine can be the meeting of that realisation with the desire of people in Okinawa to have less US military facilities on their island. This may well set in motion enhanced collaboration on defence between India and -Japan, to safeguard the rule of law and potential oil and gas and minerals exploration in the South China Sea or East China Sea in international waters or in off-shore areas of friendly nations like Vietnam, amid the relative scaling down of US military forces with respect to Japan. 

The Indian armed forces, among the world’s largest, can likely provide a cost-effective option given the mutual interests between Japan and India. In a sign of continuously upgrading ties, India has also participated in joint naval and anti-terror training exercises, and sent a 35-member military marching band that took part in a Japan Self Defence Forces (JSDF) annual marching festival event this year, and it is important to remember that India sent its National Disaster Response Force to help after the tsunami and earthquake in Onagawa, Japan, whose service we honoured in a New Delhi function with the leadership of India’s National Disaster Management Authority.

Despite India’s need to focus on development, it is forced to acquire military hardware; however that is not inimical to its quest for peace. Similarly, Japan’s great desire (also PM Abe’s own cherished goal) to become a normal nation 71 years after the end of World War II is entirely understandable. Some Japanese lament that it lost the War, and therefore has to be less than a normal country.  However, this columnist has often pointed out that there is no nation on Earth that has not lost a war.


Both Prime Ministers Modi and Abe, acknowledged supremely self-assured, confident and decisive leaders, have nonetheless been over-reliant on bureaucracies in both countries. Until there can be broad-based innovation from small and medium companies and start-ups, especially IT-related, there is unlikely to be anything more than incremental change. When that happens, as it was in the early 1900s, history is very likely to repeat with India and Japan enjoying a new Spring of collaborative success.  

(Dr. Sunil Chacko, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia Universities and the Trivandrum Medical College, has been a faculty member in the US, Canada, Japan and India, and has advised on the Maharashtra-Wakayama MoU partnership. The views are personal.)