For years, India actively sought closer ties with Japan, but Tokyo showed little interest. That is changing. Amid the shifting regional landscape and fortunes, Japanese leaders are now eager to expand the base of bilateral ties with New Delhi.
During a three-day official visit to Tokyo starting October 24, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart, Naoto Kan, issued a joint statement covering a wide range of issues. Among them were such laudable topics as expanding the East Asian Summit to include the United States and Russia, United Nations reform and bilateral economic dialogue at ministerial level to reflect the deepening security and economic ties between Japan and India.
For Japan, the enhancement of economic ties with India is the key to reducing its unwanted economic dependence on China.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Tokyo and New Delhi report that behind the commendable understandings the two leaders unveiled to the public, they also quietly discussed a three-part subtext as the real key to their future working relations:
1. Singh and Kan agreed that China, though conventionally viewed as an economic and military giant looming over Japan and India, had attained its peak and the next few years would witness the start of its decline – not just as a world power but in the regional context as well.
Just before his visit, the Indian prime minister received an advance intelligence briefing from Tokyo listing the arguments put forward by Japan's political, economic and military leaders for their assessment that China's demographic, political and economic structures will soon reduce it to an ex-superpower.
The Chinese population will soon be one of the oldest in the world. Its growth rate does not rise above 0.655 percent p.a. which is one of the world's slowest, and its long restriction of families to one child each has reduced the birth rate to no more than 14 per 1,000 people.
Singh and Kan agree to launch a new East Asian bloc
Singh was not entirely convinced. Before he left for Tokyo and after his return, he confided to his aides that while the Japanese data appeared to be accurate, he had reservations about their timeline which he considered too short since he did not foresee the Chinese decline being as rapid as predicted in Tokyo.
The Japanese prime minister laid the ground for his Indian colleague's visit by sending a stream of official lobbyists to New Delhi to bombard prominent Indian figures with sales talk on the importance of Japanese-Indian cooperation.
2. Japanese leaders are sure than in view of its approaching decline, China may no longer be counted a threat to America's Number One Superpower standing or, indeed, challenge US supremacy in any field, whether economic, political, military or technological.
Nato Kan therefore maintained that Tokyo must preserve its close nuclear and military coordination with Washington and urged Indian Prime Minister Singh to follow suit and enhance their bilateral ties on the strength of this shared premise.
3. The upshot of the above two premises was a decision by the Japanese and Indian prime ministers to launch what they called "The East Asia Initiative," which is a cover name for a new East Asian bloc bringing together Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Their combined populations are 1.6 billion people (compared to "only" 1.3 billion Chinese). This new bloc, hinging on the economic and military power of Japan and India, would overtake China in Asia's power stakes.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources, The Indian and Japanese leaders' evaluation of America's rising fortunes was long term. They shared the prediction that United States would begin to recover its influence and standing only after the Barack Obama presidency. The same applied to the world economy.
While Singh was more cautious and temperate in his view of the administration in Washington, Kan and his ministers were openly and bluntly critical. Japanese leaders went so far as to call the Obama presidency "a mishap" that did not bear repetition.