Japan on the other hand can provide technology and financing to support India's development, Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu told The Diplomacy Show host and former Indian ambassador to the US Arun K Singh.
In the press and on television, you see the handshakes between and the big announcements by the leaders of countries. But what sort of preparation goes into these engagements, and what goes on behind the scenes?
You also hear the words and the phrases uttered by the leaders, but there is usually also a text and a context.
WION's The Diplomacy Show tries to unpack the meanings of those words and phrases, prise open the preparation that goes into these diplomatic engagements, and then break down their outcomes for you.
WION's first guest on the show was Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu. He was interviewed by former Indian ambassador to the US Arun K Singh.
Arun: Welcome to The Diplomacy Show.
In today's show we will focus on the India-Japan relationship. Both countries have described the relationship as a special, strategic and global partnership.
India has described the relationship as a cornerstone of its Act East Policy. Japan has described India as an important partner in the context of the Indo-Pacific
The bilateral relationship has strengthened considerably. Trade is at the level of about 16 billion dollars.
Annual Investments from Japan in India have waxed and waned but over the past two decades now amount to almost 30 billion dollars.
Japanese assistance to India is annually in the range of 3-4 billion dollars and Japan has now committed to support the high speed rail, the bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.
After the Second World War, Japan was a reluctant partner with any country in defence cooperation. But the two countries in 2008 did a joint declaration on security cooperation and after that they have had an annual ministerial dialogue.
India had its first two plus two dialogue of foreign and defence ministries at the level of top bureaucrats with Japan and now they are looking at defence supplies and cooperation in research and technology related to defence. In terms of regional and global issues, in terms of the Indo-Pacific, there is an assessment of cooperation.
Japan and India support each other's candidatures for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
On global issues such as climate change and terrorism, they have strong cooperation. So to understand all this, and the dimensions of India's relationship with Japan, we have a special guest in the studio today, Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu.
Welcome Ambassador Hiramatsu.
Kenji: Thank you very much for your invitation.
Arun: I saw in a message that you posted on the website of your embassy just this month, you referred to the Indian Prime Minister's visit to Japan in October this year — his third visit to Japan since he became Prime Minister in 2014 and his fifth summit with his counterpart since that time.
But you described this visit as the most historical and successful. What is the reason for that assessment?
Kenji: I saw a lot of substance in our discussions and we came up with a lot of concrete results, such as the agreement to have our Two-Plus-Two ministerial level dialogue.
And we came up with very important economic issues like the $75 billion bilateral currency swap agreement.
And also we committed to certain ODA (Official Development Assistance) projects.
We are very pleased to continue to support important projects such as the High Speed Railway Project in Mumbai- Ahmedabad.
So I saw many concrete results out of their discussion.
At the same time, Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Modi, enjoy a very deep strategic dialogue, reflecting their partnership and friendship.
Prime Minister Abe invited Prime Minister Modi to his private house, near the Mount Fuji area. He was the first foreign dignitary to be invited to his private house in Yamanashi. It demonstrates that Prime Minister Abe attaches great importance to his partnership and friendship with Prime Minister Modi and they have a very in-depth strategic dialogue.
It is very important to press ahead and promote a common goal, a 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific'.
Arun: Based on what you are saying, you are indicating that on economic issues, defence issues and a whole range of areas, tremendous progress was made during this visit.
But before I go further on that, I also wanted to recall for you, Prime Minister Abe’s visit to India a couple of years ago when you also visited Gujarat.
Arun: And you would have been present during that visit?
Arun: What were the impressions that you formed during that visit? About the welcome given to him, and how Prime Minister Abe himself relates to India and the India-Japan relationship?
Kenji: We still remember very vividly the very overwhelming welcome extended to Prime Minister Abe on his visit to Gujarat last year.
I think he has visited almost 50-60 countries, but it was the best visit he has made so far.
The welcome by the Gujarati people, the attention paid to Prime Minister Abe — it was overwhelming.
There was substance in our discussion.
So we were very pleased and overwhelmed by the huge welcome extended by him and we wanted to reciprocate this kind of a welcome to Prime Minister Modi this time.
It was difficult to have the same number of people receiving him on the streets. But we made a special arrangement that Prime Minister Modi would be received in his (Prime Minister Abe's) private house. So a personal touch is very important in their already strong friendship.
Arun: Absolutely. In fact before the visit had taken place we had seen reports indicating that Prime Minister Abe would make some special gesture in response to the experience he had during his visit to India and perhaps him inviting our Prime Minister to Lake Yamanaka and the House in Yamanashi Prefecture was a response to that.
I recall that in 2007, when Prime Minister Abe had visited India, he had spoken to the Indian parliament and clearly the relationship between the two countries has evolved considerably.
I had the privilege of serving in Japan from 1985 to 1988, that was some time ago, and at that time, one had the sense that Japan was not really focused on India.
It had other relationships, it was very preoccupied with the Japan-U.S relationship. It was looking closely at what was happening in terms of economic effort in China and there was a lot of focus there.
But since then, clearly things have changed.
The Japanese prime minister, speaking at the Indian parliament, spoke about the ‘confluence of the two seas’, and I think that was the first time anybody had articulated at that level how cooperation was necessary in the context of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
And today the Indo-Pacific has become like a buzzword.
Arun: Everybody is talking about it.
Arun: So in the context of the Indo-Pacific and given the vision that Prime Minister Abe himself has articulated way back in 2007, how do you see the relationship with India in that area?
Kenji: I think Prime Minister (Abe) had started this kind of a notion of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ when he made a speech in the Indian Parliament in 2007.
He was very much convinced that India and Japan should work together for prosperity and peace in this region. The two oceans are really connected, so we have to take this very huge body of water, and figure how to make it peaceful and more stable — based on the international legal regime, and also to have a more prosperous region, to have our connectivity project, to connect every part of this ocean. So he started this vision when he made a speech in the Indian parliament.
He has developed this notion and he has announced this new strategy called a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision’. Two years ago, he announced it in Kenya where he attended a meeting of Asian African conference and TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) .
So it was development of his idea which was announced in 2007 and he had a lot of discussions after that with various leaders in these regions including the Indian leader. How to develop this vision, how to make it more concrete. So in that way, he announced this vision two years back and it is becoming very well received and Prime Minister Modi in his speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue, I think half a year ago…
Arun: Yes. On 1st of June.
Kenji: June, right. So he really articulated his vision with regard to Indo-Pacific vision. So we think that the vision of a free Indo-Pacific and Prime Minister's vision is very-very similar and there is a lot of synergy between the two visions. So based on that, we would like to have more cooperation, we would like to have more joint implementation of some projects. So this is really the basis for our bilateral relationship. This is not something that happened very recently. His idea was already expressed in 2007. So he's just elaborating his idea together with some conversation, discussion with various leaders.
Arun: Well, I recall Prime Minister Abe himself in 2014 speaking at the same Shangri-La Dialogue had said that in the context of the Indo-Pacific, that Japan believes in rule of law, Asia believes in rule of law and the rule of law for all of us. So, it's a vision very similar to what Prime Minister Modi articulated
Kenji: I drafted this speech.
Arun: Well, I must congratulate you for that.
Kenji: It’s about how the region will be dominated by the idea of rule of law and this idea of how this rule of law and freedom of navigation and what's right will prevail in this region. Thus it is really fundamental for securing peace and stability in this region.
So I think India really shares this vision.
Arun: So in the context of the Indo-Pacific, of course India and Japan also have the trilateral cooperation involving the U.S, and now the recent quadrilateral dialogue where Australia also comes in, and then there is the Malabar series of naval exercises involving India, Japan and the U.S, increasing in complexity and depth.
So in that framework, India and Japan have also looked at joint projects in the Indo-Pacific region. Countries mentioned are Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Africa. There is the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor to which the two have committed about 40 million dollars.
How has that progressed? And do you see that also as a response to China's effort through the 'One Belt-One Road' initiative, where there are some concerns related to debt sustainability, transparency of the projects. Where is theIndia-Japan effort in this area?
Kenji: I think that connectivity in this region is very important. Based on the basic values, basic principles, like as you mentioned, that sound debt-financing practices and also economic viability and environmental and social considerations and so on. So we like to promote the idea of quality infrastructure in this region in which you can have a very good and very reliable and resilient infrastructure.
In that way we can have better connectivity in this region. So we are hoping that this kind of a notion of a sustainable and resilient connectivity project would be implemented in this region and of course the basic idea of freedom in navigation and rule-based order in this region and that kind of a basic principle would be shared by all countries in this region.
Arun: Has that made progress? Is there implementation happening on the ground, or are only discussions going on right now?
Kenji: In terms of Japan-India relationship, we have agreed to implement some of the concrete projects. The Bangladesh road project, Sri Lanka LNG project and also some construction in Myanmar's Rakhine State-we have already agreed to implement some of these projects. So we have started some discussions and in this particular discussion between the two leaders. So this is not just talk, but we are already seeing some concert projects which will be implemented in the near future. Very happy to see that.
Arun: I'm glad to hear that. Ambassador Hiramatsu, I wanted to take your attention a little to the economic relationship between India and Japan, because in any partnership, the economic partnership provides really the substance, the base for other dimensions. Now the India-Japan trade seems to have stagnated at 16 billion dollars and although both countries had set a vision for 50 billion dollars by 2022, it's unlikely to be realised. Japan's trade with China, which is at about 350 billion dollars, compared with investments (in India) of about 28 billion dollars, certainly very good but more could be done.
Again when I was serving in Japan at that time I saw the first major cooperation project between India and Japan starting - the Maruti Suzuki project.
Starting from that, we have reached another level of cooperationin industrial partnership. But what are the difficulties and the obstacles that have prevented us from advancing even more?
Kenji: I think our investment to India has been increasing in a very steady manner and our trade is growing, even though it is not as big as we hoped. But our level of trade between countries is steadily growing, and I'm very happy to to see that.
At the same time I would like to see more investment, for example from Japan to India in various areas. We are concentrating on manufacturing sectors like automobile industry and big road construction and so on.
But I would like to diversify our investment in this country, which include, for example the retail industry, service industries and some environment-related industry, food industry. So we are trying to do that, and I see a lot of enthusiasm on the part of Japanese business leaders to do more business in this country based on the very huge potential India has, in terms of economic development and also very talented young people in this country. Japan can offer technology and also financing to support your development.
But India can provide us, for example, the very talented people for our development.
So this is a mutually beneficial relationship. So I am encouraging Japanese business leaders to look into India in a more positive manner. Medium and long-term perspective is needed for that, and I think the government of India is making an effort to facilitate investment in this country and the ease of doing business rankings is now going up. We are very happy to see that. But infrastructure should be improved even more and some kind of regulation (is needed).
Japanese companies are facing some difficulties. I am talking with the Indian people, some government officials, to make sure that the Japanese companies will be more ready to invest. This country is providing an investment-friendly atmosphere in all parts of India. So I think your effort is now bearing some fruit.
Arun: Alright, so what you're saying is a lot has happened, more needs to be done.
And of course, I noticed that Japan has been involved in supporting the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project, the Western Freight Corridor project, you have also set up a startup hub in Bengaluru, and Nasscom has set up an IT corridor in Hiroshima Prefecture and there is also talk of easing visas for Indians as part of skilled contributions in the Japanese technology sectors.
These would create a new opportunity, but moving away from the economic to defence cooperation, because very often in many partnerships the defence cooperation 'dimension' is seen as something reflecting a heightened level of confidence in the relationship, that's the kind of technology that we don't easily share with others. Now with Japan, as you mentioned, the first country that we have had the Two-plus-Two dialogue at the bureaucratic level, and now elevated to the ministerial level, and only the second country with which India has that dialogue.
We have a whole series of exchanges at different levels.
There is now Japanese supply to India of defence equipment that is being looked at, and also technology collaboration for unmanned ground vehicles for artificial intelligence.
So how are you assessing the level of cooperation in defence, and is there still some reluctance in Japan or are things changing?
Kenji: I don't see any kind of reluctance on the part of the Japanese defence people. They are very keen to have more collaboration with Indian counterparts. As you mentioned, a lot of concrete actions have taken place in these two or three years. When I was posted here, a level of action in the defence and security sphere was lagging behind from this very robust economic relationship. But in these two-three years, things are really happening with regard to the level of joint exercises. Malabar is one big example, this is a Japan-India-United States trilateral exercise.
It is happening every year. The level in the probability, the level in the participation size has been increasing every time they have this kind of exercise. We have exercises, Army to Army level, Air Force to Air Force level, so all forces, all services we have same kind of joint exercises. So as you mentioned, we are very keen to transfer our equipment and technology to India, for example as you mentioned, this unmanned vehicle and robotics, we have started joint research activities, we are very happy to expand more participation in the private sectors with regard to our defence equipment corporation (or cooperation?).
So many things are now happening, it demonstrates that this strategic dialogue is really bearing fruits. So that's very nice to see that. This is not only an economic relationship, but our relationship is really based on this dual understanding.
Arun: You had in your earlier comments referred to ACSA, the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, can you tell us the significance of that agreement?
Kenji: This is important. For example, you have a joint exercise, you need to exchange your equipment in your service and also some supplies. So we already have agreed to this kind of arrangement with different countries like the U.S, Australia, U.K.
We are very happy to have this kind of arrangement to make sure that we have a more smooth operation when we have our joint exercise, when we participate in the same place, in PKO operations and also we can understand each other's equipment level, so in this way, we have a more operational level understanding between two countries which is very crucial to help this kind of arrangement. It will elevate our cooperation in defence level, defence sphere to the next level.
Arun: Clearly reflecting a higher level of cooperation and I also noticed that in the recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister, there was also agreement on space cooperation and an Annual Space Dialogue. Could you tell us about what are the areas of space cooperation that we are now looking at?
Kenji: We have already agreed upon the cooperation between JAXA and ISRO and we are happy to elevate this cooperation to the next level.
We are trying to work together to launch the rocket to the moon, so this is one area we have already agreed upon. There are many areas where we have already started to cooperate together with India.
Arun: Well, thank you Ambassador Hiramatsu for those very very detailed and sort of good explanations. So a little bit now on your personal experience in India. You've been here now for three years and I have seen that you've travelled to different parts of India several times including to the Northeast. So what has been your personal experience in India? How have you found your work here, your interaction with people?
Kenji: I see a lot of energy in this country, very dynamic country. So many things are happening. I see a very positive energy in this country. We (in Japan) feel the goodwill from India. So I'm very happy to work with Indian people and to promote and to create something very concrete. I am not only talking about Delhi. I've travelled to a lot of different parts of India to support the development of different parts of India. We have a special interest to support theNortheastern region. So this is a strategically important part of India and there is a lot of goodwill towards Japan.
Arun: Can you tell us about some of the projects that you're doing in the Northeast because there is also an India-Japan Act East Forum. So what what are the discussions and projects emerging from that?
Kenji: We have a lot of discussion about the kind of projects we are going to cooperate together on. We have already started some road improvement projects in Meghalaya and Mizoram. So we have agreed in the last summit meeting to expand our cooperation which includes the construction of a new bridge crossing Brahmaputra river.
That will be the longest bridge in India. So it will connect Bhutan-Assam border to Meghalaya-Bangladesh border. It will be a huge road project. So not only connectivity but we also like to support the effort, for example disaster risk management, and also some people-to-people exchange programs, and we are very happy to support everything they ask us to collaborate on, with this region. We feel a lot of sympathy, a lot of friendship from this region.
Arun: Some years ago, I noticed you had written an article where you had spoken of 'Mottainai', and I think you were talking about waste, also about the challenge of climate change. Japan had dealt with the problem of pollution many many years ago. So based on your experience, how are you seeing the problem in India, in Delhi and what is the way forward?
Kenji: We had a bad experience in the 60s and 70s. We have overcome this problem by making use of our technology, with a lot of collaboration between the government and the people. Education plays a very important role to support this endeavour. So we have a lot of experience and technology accumulated to overcome these problems of air pollution, river pollution, any environmental issues. So we have already engaged with the Indian government to support, for example, the 'Clean Ganga' initiative and we started a program called 'Blue Sky Initiative' to alleviate the pollution levels in big cities like Delhi.
For example, the waste management plays a very important role. We have a technology called 'waste to energy'. How to make use of solid waste to produce energy? This kind of technology is very well-used in Japan. So we like to transfer this technology to India to make sure that you can tackle this very huge problem of our environment and also air pollution issues, so we like to share our experience.
Arun: I want to thank you for all the work that you are doing to advance the India-Japan relationship and you have seen several of these annual summits during your tenure. You are also travelling to different parts of India, so wish you the best for the rest of your assignment here. As Ambassador Hiramatsu comments indicated, the India-Japan relationship has really strengthened and both countries and their diplomats are working to advance it further. Prime Minister Abe, in one of his comments in India, had quoted Swami Vivekananda and said that though 'different streams had different sources, their waters eventually mingled in the sea' and Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit to Japan had said that 'Japan provides the best amalgam of eastern and western cultures and values and the relationship extends from sea to space, from health to defence, from digital to cyber'.
So clearly a lot of depth, substance has been added to the relationship and there is potential to do much more.