The book “India: The Last Superpower” by Hiroshi Hirabayashi, the former Ambassador of Japan to India, places India at the centre of world politics and projects a picture of its growing global significance.
The former diplomat fully expects India to join the ranks of great powers such as the United States of America, Russia, and China, in the not too distant future. No other country is expected to attain this status in the foreseeable future. Thus, India will remain the ‘last’ superpower for many generations.
In the book, the author highlights the unique features of the country in which he served as a diplomat from 1998–2002, and also throws light on the history of friendship between India and Japan.
Read an excerpt from the book “India: The Last Superpower” below.
India’s importance for Japan
India is an extremely important country for Japan. There are a variety of reasons for it, but the main ones are as follows:
• India is a leading pro-Japan country.
• India is the largest democracy in the world and its basic values are commonly shared with Japan.
• India is a leader amongst the developing nations and at the same time has extremely good relations with America, Japan’s ally.
• India is an important country for Japan, geopolitically as well as strategically.
• India’s has huge economic potential and it is becoming increasingly important for the Japanese economy.
The Indian people place respect and faith in the Japanese people. The Indian government and Indian companies hold Japan in awe. Indians recognize Japan as a ‘brother country’ connected with spiritual bonds of Buddhism and basic values of democracy and freedom. As for the economy, India looks up to Japan as a mentor.
What is the source of India’s traditional pro-Japanese stance? I shall discuss about it in detail in Chapter 2, but let me briefly touch upon it here.
First of all, the bond of Buddhism is the foundation in this regard. Japan and India have historical and spiritual bonds based on Buddhism. Four heavenly kings or the eight legions such as Tathagata and Bodhisattva were originally Hindu divinities transmitted from India to Japan. This is evident if one visits Kofukuji National Treasure Hall in Nara or Toji and Sanjusangendo in Kyoto. Buddhist idols are displayed together with idols revered by Hindus in these famous Buddhist temples.
The biggest thing that Indians are grateful to Japan for is the latter’s support and contribution towards India’s independence movement.
The Japanese victory in the Russo–Japanese War (1904–05) inspired Indian freedom fighters. It was because Japan was the first Asian country to win against a mighty power, imperial Russia.
A small country, a dwarf, Japan, defeating a giant, Russia, not only enabled Japan to join the ranks of major powers, but this victory greatly impacted the rest of Asia. I had earlier talked to you about the excitement I had felt as a young man at the Japanese victories. This excitement was the same among all the men and women, young and old alike. A great European power had been defeated. Asia had scored a victory against Europe. Asian nationalism spread to the Eastern countries and cries of ‘Asia for the Asians’ were heard. A new Asian renaissance had begun, which showed hope for the future of Asia.
This was the essence of one of the letters Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, wrote to his daughter when he was imprisoned by the British colonial government. Nehru, who led the independence movement, is eloquently speaking here about how ecstatic he was at the Japanese victory in the Russo–Japanese War. These letters were later published under the title Glimpses of World History. The daughter was none other than Indira Gandhi who later went on to become prime minister of India.
Inspired by Japan’s victory, freedom fighters seeking India’s independence such as Rash Behari Bose came to Japan. Japanese volunteers extended willing support to them.
India’s drive for independence was also spurred by the British surrender to the Japanese Army in Singapore and the establishment of the Indian National Army as well as the creation of the Provisional Government of Free India or simply, Azad Hind, by Subhas Chandra Bose.
India’s relationship with post-war Japan
After the end of World War II, at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) in Tokyo, a dissenting judgement was written by an Indian judge, Radhabinod Pal, holding the trial invalid and exonerating the Japanese leaders of war crimes. The episode is well-known and it was not a mere coincidence. The main rationale behind it was the legal argument based on the principle of retrospective nonapplicability of the international law, especially the criminal law. At the root, though, was also the high appreciation for Japan’s support to India’s independence and sympathy for a nation that had lost a war.
India did not join the San Francisco Peace Conference held on 8 September 1951. Prime Minister Nehru did not like its form, that is, victorious nations imposing unfair conditions on the defeated nation. A year later, in 1952, India signed a separate peace treaty with independent Japan and renounced its claim to war reparations.
During Japan’s post-war reconstruction period, India was the first country to supply iron ore needed by Japan. India became the first recipient of Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA)in 1956 which was used for the construction of a port in India. There was then a hiatus in bilateral ties during the Cold War which saw the division of the world into two camps. During this period, while India advocated a policy of non-alignment, Japan was ensconced into the western camp. As a result of these ideological differences, both the countries drifted apart. When the Cold War ended in 1989 and the Soviet Union disintegrated thereafter, there was a dramatic turnaround. India was liberated from the Cold War mode of thinking and state-leading economy. With an emphasis to strengthen ties with the western nations as ordained by the market economy principle, its ties with Japan also gained a new momentum. In 1989, when Emperor Showa (Hirohito) of the Showa era passed away, India declared national mourning, which was considered an exceptional gesture.
Rare friendship transcending the nuclear tests
In the 1990s, along with altering its erstwhile stance and attaching importance to its relations with western countries, India launched its ‘Look East’ policy. As India began to strive for domestic reforms, thereby registering high economic growth with aspiration to reach great power status, the distance between India and Japan started diminishing.
When India conducted nuclear tests in May 1998, India– Japan ties temporarily cooled off. Japan’s reaction was quite sharp and one of disapproval. However, both countries soon made sincere efforts to improve bilateral relations. The author, who was the Japanese Ambassador to India at that time, requested the then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi to visit India to restore cordial relations. Prime Minister Obuchi agreed but passed away suddenly. Yoshiro Mori who succeeded Obuchi agreed to the author’s request to visit India.
Prime Minister Mori’s visit to India in August 2000, after a gap of ten years by an incumbent Japanese prime minister, was a turning point in the evolution of India–Japan relations in recent times. Mori and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, resolved to improve bilateral ties with all sincerity. Just after the summit meeting in New Delhi between the two prime ministers, ‘Japan– India Global Partnership’ was announced in order to clearly establish the global positioning of India and Japan that had moved to centre stage. It was upgraded to ‘Strategic Global Partnership’ in 2008 and further to ‘Special Strategic Global Partnership’ in 2014. Relationship in diverse areas such as foreign and security policy, economy, culture, science and technology, and personnel exchanges began to expand and strengthen subsequently.
This exceptional relationship is evidenced by the fact that the heads of governments of both countries not only meet in the global summits held across the world but the practice of visiting each other every alternate year has been established. Besides Russia, Japan is the only other country with which India has bilateral annual summits. This, in itself, is a rare relationship in the global context. For Japan, India is a trustworthy ally both politically and economically.
India enjoying high expectations from Japan
The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), a quasi-governmental organization of Japan, conducts an annual survey by sending questionnaires to manufacturing companies of Japan to find out which countries are promising destinations for foreign investment in the medium-term. India has continued to be foremost among the promising investment destinations for the last three years. In the 2016 survey, 230 of the 483 companies (47.6 per cent) surveyed, put India at No. 1, China at No. 2 (203 companies, 42 per cent), Indonesia at No. 3 (173 companies, 35.8 per cent), Vietnam at No. 4 followed by Thailand, Mexico, America, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Brazil ranked at No. 10.
In addition, in the questionnaire-based survey (August 2016) targeting the digital version subscribers of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (August 2016), known as the world’s largest financial newspaper, the maximum number (56.1 per cent) of respondents in reply to the question: ‘Which country in your opinion will grow the most in a few years?’ chose India among the G20 countries.
India is extremely important even in the geopolitical sense.
China has conflicts with Japan and Southeast Asia in the East China Sea and South China Sea respectively. It also has border conflicts with India in the Himalayan belt. In addition, China’s advancement in the Indian Ocean in recent years has become increasingly conspicuous.
To counter this, Japan’s cooperation and collaboration not only with leading nations of Southeast Asia such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia but also with India as a regional force, is indisputable. India too thinks along the same lines. The Indian Ocean is covered by the jurisdiction of the US Seventh Fleet with its headquarters in Hawaii. Along with the Indian Navy, it safeguards the sea lanes passing through the Indian Ocean. These sea lanes are of vital importance for Japan too. Japan is fortunate that peace and safety of the Indian Ocean is being guaranteed by the US, its ally, as well as India, a country friendly with Japan. In recent times, these three countries—India, the United States, and Japan—have conducted annual joint navy exercises to ensure peace for safe maritime commerce.