Saturday 1 June 2013

Shinzo Abe bets on India (PO)

M D Nalapat

Friday, May 31, 2013 - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan has never hidden his affinity for India, a country visited by his grandfather in 1957. Nobusuke Kishi, then Prime Minister of a country battered by World War II, found that the people of India did not share the hatred for Japan that was present across most other parts of South-east and East Asia. In fact, the early military successes of the Japanese forces as they made mincemeat of British, Dutch and French colonial troops in Singapore, Malaya, Myanmar and other locations resulted in a powerful egment of the freedom movement turning to Tokyo as the means of deliverance from London.

The mistake that Japan made was to invade and occupy China rather than move into Siberia during the 1930s. Under the brilliant and visionary Sun Yat-Sen, post-Imperial China was firmly in the Asian nationalist camp, and was posing a challenge to the European desire to perpetuate the subjugation of Asia. The consequence of the attack on China was the coming to power in 1949 of the Chinese Communist Party and the realisation, at least in East and Southeast Asia, that Japan was not truly a believer in Asian nationalism, but simply wanted to replace European overlordism with its own. The behaviour of Japanese occupiers in China during the 1930s and until Tokyo’s surrender to the US in 1945 was even more vicious than that of British, French and Dutch occupiers of Asian territories. Any visitor to the Nanjing Museum would be able to see the depths to which a human being can hurt another in the name of ethnicity. The events of that period have stained the China-Japan relationship so deeply that its embers still burst into flame, as for example during recent anti-Japan demonstrations in China, a country that since the 1980s has been the reciepient of huge amounts of investment and assistance from Tokyo.

The history of the world would have been different if Japanese forces had moved into Siberia rather than China and had subsequently assisted countries colonized by European powers to regain their freedom, rather that itself seek to enslave a country that possesses a civilization and a tradition equal to that of any other However, even as Bose and others openly received help from Japan, except for a few parts of Assam, the Japanese were too exhausted by their conflict with the US and the tying up of their forces in China to take over territory in India the way they had elsewhere. As a consequence, Japan retained the goodwill of the people of India, and is a much-admired country there. Even after World War II, it was Radha Binod Pal, the only Indian judge on the War Crimes Tribunal sentencing Japanese war leaders who declared that the guilt of Jaoan had to be shared by the European powers as well, as they too had been guilty of appalling abuses of human rights. To Winston Churchill and others of his view, non-Europeans were subhuman and therefore outside the ambit of the “battle for liberty” being waged by the Allies against the Axis. To this day, there is a memorial honouring Justice Pal in Tokyo, inside the Yasukuni War Memorial. Just as the Chinese do not forget their friends - witness the courtesy call paid by Prime Minister Li Keqiang two weeks ago to the family of Dr Kotnis, who in the 1920s and 1930s gave medical assistance to the PLA - neither do the Japanese. In that respect,both represent Asian values, which is why the history of conflict between them is so unfortunate.

Despite its 1945 surrender and its being pummelled by bombing, including nuclear weapons used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan remained the top power in Asia the way it had since Tsushima. However, the 21st century has seen China overtake Japan as the pre-eminent power in Asia, relegating Tokyo to the third position in the growth table,behind Washington and Beijing. It is this fall from the top that has been the motivation behind the political rebirth of Shinzo Abe, a brilliant and decisive leader who does not share the reflex of most other politicians in Japan, which is to roll over and act the poodle when confronted with a demand from the US.

The goal of Shinzo Abe is to regain for Japan the top spot in Asia, and he is prepared to change Japanese economic and strategic policy on its head in order to reach this goal. Just as the Chinese people overall sense that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to make China the top power in the world, and therefore in the broad gives support to the CCP, so too does the population of Japan accept that Prime Minister Abe seeks to once again make Japan the top economic power in Asia, and are therefore backing him in a manner that they have not done with other politicians. His India strategy is among the key elements of Shinzo Abe’s plan, for he believes that a fusion of Japanese technology with India’s abundant reserves of skilled manpower and resources will cause a leapfrogging of growth rates in both countries. Abe is therefore asking Japanese business to move away from its earlier concentration on China, and shift to India, pointing to the success of companies such as Suzuki in what is certainly a difficult country to operate from Apart from economics, Abe is also looking to defense. The view in Tokyo is that the PLA is becoming far more assertive than during the period when Deng Xiaoping Thought was paramount in China, and when the military was kept in check. These days, there is increased activity by the PLA in theatres spanning the borders of India, Myanmar and Vietnam, and the sealanes surrounding the Philippines and Indonesia. The perception in Japan is that such a rise in assertion of the Chinese view on regional disputes could escalate into war, unless the PLA be made to face a situation where it no longer holds the commanding heights in matters military. Strengthening India’s defenses and forging a partnership between Delhi and Tokyo ( with Washington in the background) will,in the view of the strategists advising Shinzo Abe, deter the PLA from converting a war of words into a hot war.

The glow behind Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo has been significantly enhanced by the gesture of the Emperor of Japan and his gracious spouse to welcome the Indian PM and his wife to the Imperial Palace for a meal.The Emperor and Empress will themselves visit India in November, thereby giving a royal seal of approval to the moves by both Delhi and Tokyo to forge - in Manmohan Singh’s words - “an indispensable partnership” for the 21st century.

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