Japan was the first Asian nation in the 20th century to humble a power headquartered in Europe, when the Czarist fleet was despatched by Admiral Togo to the bottom of the Pacific in 1904. Less than four decades later, Tokyo humbled the Dutch, French and the British in South-East Asia, making short work of civil and military structures that were hitherto regarded as invincible. However, the Japanese advance into India was soon halted, and the Congress Party lost its bet that Japan would carry the day. In contrast, the Muslim League under M.A. Jinnah never faltered in its support of the Allies, and was rewarded with Pakistan soon after the war ended in 1945 and disaffection within the Indian Army made it inevitable that the British would quit India, five years after the Congress Party sought to expel them at the height of the Second World War. The poisoning of public opinion in Britain that was caused by the Congress Party’s neutrality in the war proved the turning point in the battle to keep India united. It was no surprise that the then Viceroy of India, Archibald Wavell, openly preferred the “loyal” League to the “treasonous” Congress. It was quite another matter that business groups such as the Birlas and the Tatas made their own — significant — contribution to the British war effort, and that neither corporate house was a supporter of Jinnah or his demand for Pakistan.
Those who visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo will see in a leafy corner a pillar dedicated to Radhabinod Pal, a jurist from India who, quite reasonably, was of the view that it was not merely the Japanese who had committed war crimes, but other powers as well, and that he could therefore not in conscience hold just Japan guilty of war crimes while exonerating France, Britain and the Netherlands. The Japanese are a reticent people, but they are a grateful nation too, and many still remember this refusal of Justice Pal to place just Tokyo in the dock prepared by the powers whose colonies in Asia had been overrun by Hideki Tojo’s troops, hence the elegant memorial to a distinguished judge whom his own country has forgotten. Because of the industry of the Japanese people, it was not long before the ruins of even Hiroshima and Nagasaki got replaced with new construction. By the 1960s, Japan was once again a major industrial power. By the 1980s, it had outstripped all of Asia and almost all the rest of the world in GDP. However, that period saw the beginning of a reckless expansion into Europe by Japanese businesses, rather than taking advantage of the green shoots of synergy springing up in Asia. Investors from Japan bought up properties in Europe and the US at extortionate prices, paving the way for the relative decline of the economy by the close of the 1990s, a deceleration which has yet to be halted. However, halted it most certainly can be, given that the Japanese are far and away the most proficient in Asia in advanced technology. However, to once again hit their stride the way they did during 1966-87 (when they were concentrating their manufacturing in Asia), the Japanese will need to find an Asian partner big enough to fit their needs.
That China was the scene of much brutality by the Japanese is as obvious as the Holocaust, which is why — in a fit of conscience — Japan lavished assistance to China on a scale no other country ever has. However, now that Beijing has become an even bigger colossus than Tokyo, attitudes towards its neighbour have soured. The consequence has been that Japanese investors need to locate another hub which they can use to manufacture products and anchor services in, and this can best be India. Its location is ideal both to ensure access to South-East as well as to West Asia, not to mention the huge bonus of the east coast of Africa, a continent whose time is assuredly coming. Geopolitically, there is much in common between Delhi and Tokyo, with both wary of China while aware that conflict with Asia’s Numero Uno would be a disaster for all sides. Japan can fill what is India’s most obvious gap, which is high technology. The exertions of the DRDO notwithstanding, this country is still a relative pygmy in fields such as aircraft manufacture and in other hi-tech applications. A robust India-Japan partnership would fill some of this gap, with the rest perhaps met by collaboration between India and the Nordic techno-states. It’s time for a tilt towards Tokyo.