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Look East policy in focus now

Tuesday, 2 September 2014 - 7:05am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

From procuring armaments to securing investments or looking for the aid or shipments of wheat soon after the Independence, India over past 60 years has banked on the West. But now, with the fulcrum of economic gravity steadily shifting to Asia, the two-decade old 'Look East Policy' has gained currency.

Launched in the early 1990s coinciding with path-breaking economic reforms, India's 'Look East policy' was never institutionalised till prime minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced setting up a special Japan team in the Prime Minister's Office directly reporting to him. It is something similar to what former prime minister Manmohan Singh had created as a special US team under him, focused on the nuclear deal. From Japan alone, Modi hopes to net $85 billion market.

Those close to Modi say he had made his preferences in foreign policy clear, much before he arrived in Delhi. He has not forgotten the snub he received from the US, UK and other western countries when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. While he was being denied visa by the West, in 2007, he visited Japan and also undertook a week-long trip to China. Last year, he also met the South Korean envoy in Delhi. Looking towards East also makes both political and economic sense, since the West is coping with a bad economic situation.

On Monday, Modi also attempted to decrease dependence on the West for procuring armaments, when he and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe decided to upgrade and strengthen their defence cooperation. They asked officials to launch consultations to promote military equipment collaboration and accelerate discussions on modalities for the sale of Japanese US-2 amphibian aircraft. "The two prime ministers reaffirmed the importance of defence relations between India and Japan in their strategic partnership and decided to upgrade and strengthen them," a joint statement issued after the talks said. The two sides also decided to accelerate their discussions in the Joint Working Group on cooperation in US-2 amphibian aircraft and its technology.

Modi visit coincided with Japan releasing its annual white paper on defence which attempts to shift Japan's approach from being predominantly China-oriented towards a broader role in enhancing regional stability. The white paper evaluates Japan's strategic thoughts and takes stock of its military activities in the Asian region along with other military forces, both regional and extra regional.

The concerns on China looks similar for both countries. The white paper expresses concerns on China's increasing defence budget, strengthening its asymmetrical military capabilities, not clearly stating the purposes and goals of the military build up, transparency concerning its decision making process on military and security matters and rapidly expanding and intensification of its activities in the maritime and aerial domains in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Similar concerns as raised by Indian defence and foreign affairs establishment.

But what is a matter of concern in the ministry of external affairs here is that going overboard with Japan and other East Asian countries like Vietnam are bound to raise hackles in China, who is an immediate neighbour as well. India is already preparing to receive Chinese president Xi Jinping and had suggested dates around middle of September for the visit. But it is now understood that Chinese may now wait till president Pranabh Mukherjee concludes his visit to Vietnam second week of September, as he is likely to ink agreements with Vietnam to explore new oil and gas blocks in parts of the South China Sea, a move that could rile China.

Further, in order to keep Modi's Japan visit smooth the cancellation of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj's visit to Beijing for a tri-lateral ministerial meeting between Russia, China and India has also raised hackles. Both the Chinese and Russian diplomats in Delhi, though refusing to come on record are riled privately as they have no idea, if India is still keen to revive this tri-lateral process or taking a flight to join the Japan, US and Australia axis. But the officials at the ministry of external affairs are confident that they would manage a fine balance and deal with both China and Japan bilaterally independent of their disputes.

Highlights

Infrastructure
The Japanese side announced the launch of a feasibility study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency of a project for setting up of a 10 MW canal-top grid connected solar photovoltaic power plant in Gujarat as a model for next generation infrastructure.

Energy & Natural Resource
Signing of the loan agreement between the State Bank of India and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation for the super-critical coal-fired power project in Meja in Uttar Pradesh and the launch of a feasibility study by JICA of a potential yen loan project for Barauni super critical thermal power plant in Bihar.

Railways
Issuance of the interim report of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Railway. The joint feasibility study will be completed by July 2015. Both sides decided to cooperate on the Ahmedabad Metro Rail Project.

Civil Aviation
Acceleration of Preparatory Survey for New Dholera International Airport Development Project.

Skill Development
Japan to launch a new sub-project named Village Buddha, which aims at leadership development for self-help groups in rural areas, taking into account the important role played by women in such groups.

Connectivity
Japan announced a survey to identify possible cooperation including road connectivity projects in North-East states of India.

Maritime affairs
Both sides directed the Joint Working Group to accelerate progress in the discussions and preparations for a road map for the development of the Indian aircraft industry through US-2 amphibian aircraft cooperation including the transfer of the aircraft and its technology to India.




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