By M D Nalapat
After talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hosting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 28 and 29.
Will Japan do the same as the US?
Washington would like Delhi to be as committed as Tokyo to its strategic objectives, but Modi, who like his predecessor Manmohan Singh favors close links with the US, understands that there are many more geopolitical differences between India and the US than the US and Japan.
For example, Iran, a country that President Trump would like India to cease all oil purchases and other transactions from. However, Teheran has long been a regional partner of Delhi, and while private oil companies in India have stopped purchasing Iranian oil, state enterprises continue to do so, ignoring US commands and threats of sanctions.
In Syria, the US sides with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Qatar in seeking the defeat of the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. To try and bring this about, they are spending hundreds of millions of US dollars assisting fanatic groups that are linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS.
However, India continues to recognize and support the Assad government. As for DPRK, a country that India has recognized from the beginning, it is unlikely that India will join the US and Japan in seeking to punish Pyongyang for developing nuclear devices, although anodyne statements concerning nuclear proliferation may be made during the October 28-29 visit.
Shinzo Abe will not be able to persuade Modi to change such policies when even Donald Trump has not succeeded. However, there is likely to be agreement on several bilateral issues.
India is looking for major financial commitments from Japan to fund infrastructure projects, as also easier entry even of highly trained Indian citizens to Japan. At present, getting a Japanese visa is a vexatious matter.
In order to attend an India-Japan-US conference in Tokyo on October 28 and 29, this writer applied for a Japan visa on October 10, but even his single-entry 15-day visa took twelve days to arrive.
Clearly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo does not share Prime Minister Abe's enthusiasm for India and treat citizens of the world's largest democracy as being just individuals from a Third World country.
Medical cooperation, a focus of Modi's visit
Medical service is a sector where Japan and India could cooperate. Japanese companies have begun making investments in pharmaceutical companies in India.
Despite its low per capita income, India has tens of thousands of world-class medical personnel, and it may be beneficial for Japan to welcome Indian doctors and nurses the way the US and the UK have.
Should joint ventures get started in India, high-quality medical facilities could be set up in selected Indian cities that could serve the medical needs of Japanese "medical tourists" at a much lower cost than gets incurred at home.
India is known across the world for medical tourism. Each year, several thousand patients come for treatment, including from Europe and North America. There are fields in which India has an advantage in technique and others where Japan is far ahead, and collaboration would be helpful to both countries.
Japan has developed high-quality Buddhist pilgrim circuits in India, and could with ease set up Japanese-oriented medical treatment circuits, including chartered flights bringing patients to cities in India where such facilities get set up. Thus far, Japan has looked almost entirely to Europe and the US for enhancement of its technologies.
While the US has several research facilities in India, China has begun doing the same. For example, Huawei in Bangalore. But Japanese, on the other hand, has yet to take advantage of the abundant reserves of skilled human power that is present in a country with 1.27 billion people, nearly three-fourths of whom are below the age of 35.
Defense cooperation also on the agenda
Finally, there is likely to be a discussion on defense cooperation. Japan, the US, Australia, and India form the Quad or quadrilateral alliance and talks on how to deepen this understanding are likely to take place. Another item on the agenda will be India's connectivity projects in South-east Asia, where Japan may partner.
Tokyo is unlikely to join projects such as the Chabahar port and highway in Iran, for fear of US reaction. However, there could be a joint activity in Afghanistan, just as there is a joint activity between China and India in that country.
Overall, no breakthroughs are expected, but in the long run, steady progress is what will count, and this seems to be likely in Japan-India relations in the context of the October visit of Prime Minister Modi to Tokyo.