Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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India’s Shinzo Abe

NEW DELHI – After a prolonged period of political drift and paralysis, India’s new government will be led by a man known for his decisiveness. Just as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s return to power in late 2012, after six years of political instability, reflected Japan’s determination to reinvent itself as a more competitive and confident country, Narendra Modi’s election victory reflects Indians’ desire for a dynamic, assertive leader to help revitalize their country’s economy and security.

Like Abe, Modi is expected to focus on reviving India’s economic fortunes while simultaneously bolstering its defenses and strengthening its strategic partnerships with likeminded states, thereby promoting regional stability and blocking the rise of a Sino-centric Asia. The charismatic Modi – a darling of business leaders at home and abroad – has promised to restore rapid economic growth, saying there should be “no red tape, only red carpet” for investors.

The 63-year-old Modi mirrors Abe’s soft nationalism, market-oriented economics, and new Asianism, seeking close ties with Asian democracies to create a web of interlocking strategic partnerships.

In a country where the gap between the average age of political leaders and citizens is one of the world’s widest, Modi will be the first prime minister born after India gained independence in 1947. This constitutes another parallel with Abe, who is Japan’s first prime minister born after World War II.

There is, however, an important difference in terms of the two leaders’ upbringing: While Modi rose from humble beginnings to lead the world’s largest democracy, Abe – the grandson and grandnephew of two former Japanese prime ministers and the son of a former foreign minister – boasts a distinguished political lineage. In fact, Modi rode to victory by crushing the dynastic aspirations of Rahul Gandhi, whose failure to articulate clear views or demonstrate leadership ran counter to the Indian electorate’s yearning for an era of decisive government.

Modi, like Abe, faces major foreign-policy challenges. India is home to more than one-sixth of the world’s population, yet it punches far below its weight. A 2013 essay in the journal Foreign Affairs, titled “India’s Feeble Foreign Policy,” focused on how the country is resisting its own rise, as if the political miasma in New Delhi had turned the country into its own worst enemy.

Many Indians want Modi to give a new direction to foreign relations at a time when the gap between India and China in terms of international stature has grown significantly. India’s influence in its own backyard – including Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives – has shrunk. Indeed, Bhutan remains India’s sole pocket of strategic clout in South Asia.

India also confronts the strengthening nexus between its two nuclear-armed regional adversaries, China and Pakistan, both of which have staked claims to substantial swaths of Indian territory and continue to collaborate on weapons of mass destruction. In dealing with these countries, Modi will face the same dilemma that has haunted previous Indian governments: the Chinese and Pakistani foreign ministries are weak actors. The Communist Party and the military shape Chinese foreign policy, while Pakistan relies on its army and intelligence services, which still use terror groups as proxies. The Modi government is unlikely to let another Mumbai-style terrorist attack staged from Pakistan go unpunished, employing at least non-military retaliatory options.

Restoring momentum to the relationship with the United States – damaged recently by grating diplomatic tensions and trade disputes – is another pressing challenge. But Modi’s commitment to pro-market economic policies and defense modernization is likely to yield new opportunities for US businesses and lift the bilateral relationship to a new level of engagement.

America’s strategic interests will be advanced by likely new defense cooperation and trade that boosts US arms sales and creates avenues for joint military coordination. The US already conducts more military exercises with India than with any other country.

Modi is the sort of leader who can help put US-India ties back on track and boost cooperation. Yet there is a risk that his relations with the US, at least initially, could be more businesslike than warm, owing to an American slight that is hard for him to forget. In 2005, the US government revoked his visa over unproven allegations that he connived in Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. Even after India’s Supreme Court found no evidence to link Modi to the violence, the US continued to ostracize him, reaching out to him only on the eve of the recent election.

With the US having expressed no regret for its revocation of his visa, Modi is unlikely to go out of his way to befriend the US by seeking a White House visit. Instead, he is expected to wait for US officials to come calling.

By contrast, Modi is likely to remember states, such as Japan and Israel, that courted him even as the US targeted him. Modi’s 2007 and 2012 visits to Japan opened new avenues for Japanese investment in business-friendly Gujarat.

Moreover, Modi has forged a special relationship with Japan and built personal rapport with Abe. When Abe returned to power, Modi congratulated him with a telephone call.

Modi’s victory is likely to turn Indo-Japanese ties – Asia’s fastest-developing bilateral relationship – into the main driver of India’s “Look East” strategy, which, with America’s blessing, seeks to strengthen economic and strategic cooperation with US allies and partners in East and Southeast Asia. Abe, who has sought to build security options for Japan beyond the current US-centric framework, has argued that his country’s ties with India hold “the greatest potential of any bilateral relationship anywhere in the world.”

A deeper Japan-India entente under Abe and Modi could potentially reshape the Asian strategic landscape. It is no surprise that Abe rooted for a Modi victory.

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    1. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Mr. Brahma Chellaney, is Narendra Modi "India's Shinzo Abe"? Only time can tell! It is true that voters in India and Japan longed for a strong leadership after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis. The two countries share quite a bit in common. Both India and Japan embrace similar democratic values and have had unresolved border issues with China. In light of the territorial disputes between China and various Asian nations, India and Japan join forces to promote "regional stability" and block "the rise of a Sino-centric Asia". Moreover the two are also members of the Group of Four (G4), a body pushing for reforming the UN. Each is backing the other's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
      Mr. Chellaney, it's unclear if Modi's "Abe’s soft nationalism" would be translated into "new Asianism" , in the absence of unity and shared identity across Asia. The continent is culturally and ethnically much diverse. Prosperity and growth have in recent years fueled nationalism.
      Mr. Chellaney, if Modi still bears a grudge against the many governments, that treated him as a pariah, as a result of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, then he lacks statesmanship. Japan had not particularly "courted" Modi, when Shinzo Abe visted India in 2007. The then prime minister Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe wanted to improve their commercial relationship, since Tokyo imposed severe economic sanctions on Delhi following India's nuclear tests in 1998. As Japan saw growth potential in the Indian market, the two countries drew closer together. Japanese companies were excited by the opportunities there.
      Modi visited Japan in 2007 and 2012 as chief-minister of Gujarat and was opening new avenues for Japanese investment in his business-friendly home state. He had the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) to thank for forging "a special relationship with Japan" and building a "personal rapport with Abe". Japan was the main foreign financial backer of the $90bn DMIC - a project that created industrial parks and special economic zones across Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
      It' true that "Modi’s victory is likely to turn Indo-Japanese ties – Asia’s fastest-developing bilateral relationship". Japan is the largest foreign investor in improving India's poor infrastructure and Japanese firms have identified potential areas of investment around the corridor, which is the most populated and most industrialised regions in India. They are competing against each other, offering cheap skilled and unskilled labour.
      Modi had made Gujarat an economic powerhouse. If he plans to revive India's economy, he will have to improve the country's infrastructure. His government will have to invest at least $300 bn in the next five years. This will no doubt require a lot of foreign investment. Japan, which has already spent more than $46bn may still be willing to help.

    2. CommentedSantosh Limaye

      "Spot on" analysis without kowtowing to sensational labels such as "Hindu Nationalist!"

      It is not what Modi can do, but can the team he builds "deliver" the economic growth without corruption, and total and utter disregard for environmental issues (the limitation that can stem from non-technocratic OR insensitive team members focused solely on economic growth at any cost).

      BJP/Modi government may well be advised to consider to take a page from the book "Team of Rivals."

      Brilliant minds like Shashi Tharoor (Person of the Year of PETA) may want to reconsider their allegiances to Congress and contribute wholeheartedly to make India a vibrant, corruption free, environmentally sensible economic power that plays its appropriate role in the global citizenry without projecting and exercising religious fervor.


    3. Commentedhari naidu

      Like Jaswant Singh you have forgotten the strategic failure of India’s foreign policy to assert its national-interest and framework of policy under UPA coalition government. Dr. Singh/PM was never a foreign policy PM. While India was wasting its efforts on sundry national objectives of interest to US, mainland China was forging ahead with its strategic outlook towards Asian neighbors. And Obama’s just concluded state visit to Japan-S Korea-Malaysia and Philippines illustrates the declining influence of US foreign policy in Asia. Abe's Japan will not be a model for Modi/PM. American Exceptionalism is what constraints India-US relations as recent (NY) diplomatic spat illustrates. India is a sub-continental power and needs not to subjugate its national security interest in favor of any other country. Like mainland China, India must project its own independent framework of national strategic policy to near and abroad.

      1. Given the existing anti-India lobby inside US Congress, it’d be ill advised to put India’s Government’s policy framework in context of what suits US and its Beltway Think-Tanks.

      2. Modi is a known quantity (personality) to Chinese leadership, according to People’s Daily. In other words, mainland China seems to think Modi/PM will approach mainland China with specific projects - eg. Gujarat -to develop Indian infrastructure, energy, transport system, and potential trade free zones.

      3. With respect to global terrorism, both China and India have good objective reason to find ways and means to cooperate across their Himalayan boarders.

      4. Modi should release the Sino-Indian War (1962) Report and make a de jure settlement of the Himalayan boundary demarcation lines of control with mainland China based on principle of reciprocity and compromise by both sides.

      5. Current bilateral trade is developing at a significant rate (in favour of China) and there is room to find a common trading currency to enforce its further development.

      6. Putin may have (finally) awakened Beijing to find alternative strategy to its national security policy framework for peace and cooperation.

      7. Panchila must be invoked to re-ignite Sino-Indian relation for growth and regional security and development.

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