India’s refusal to accept post-War reparations from Japan is regarded, even today, as a gesture of high magnanimity. Therefore, Japan has always stepped up for India with loans and grants.


The fundamental basis of development is peace and stability. Japan should know because it rose from the ashes of the nuclear attacks of World War II, after previously having conquered much of the Asia-Pacific. In that gory military contest, Japan sought to expel European colonialists that appeared to be moving closer and closer to Japan after having colonized most of Asia. The post-World War years have largely been peaceful for Japan. Japan grew rapidly, fully utilizing the US military umbrella, while contributing financially to the maintenance of US forces in Japan, mostly on Okinawa—over 50,000 US troops—as well as purchasing advanced weaponry and manufacturing components, through sophisticated electronics and metallurgy.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Japan last week to stress a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”. France and Britain, through their colonial naval histories, have sovereignty over islands spread out all over the world and therefore must protect those corresponding 200 nautical miles radius per island Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) claimed by them under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In each EEZ, there are seabed mineral and gas deposits yet to be discovered. France has cumulatively the largest EEZ of the world, totalling 11,691,000 square kilometres. India’s EEZ is 2,305,143 sq km, the 18th largest.

The fall of Taiwan would pose existential risks to Japan. The closest Japanese inhabited island to Taiwan, Yonaguni, is only 110 km away. Japan has 6,852 islands within a claimed cumulative EEZ of 4,470,000 sq km. The Japanese Senkaku islands, that PRC disputes the sovereignty over, is another flashpoint. Japan and the US have ironclad collaborations ingrained in multiple security agreements including on nuclear weapons. Yet the Japanese Constitution, written post-War with heavy influence of US authors, is at odds with those security agreements. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution reads: “the Japanese people forever renounce war”. Japan and the US signed a defence treaty in 1960. If the US is attacked, it would be interpreted as affecting Japan’s survival, and therefore Japan will constitutionally be able and obligated to use lethal force. The US is committed to Taiwan’s defence, and so is Japan, as it would have to help the US when attacked in Asia. The US’ Taiwan Relations Act 1979 states “to maintain the capacity of the US to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan”. Further, from 1895 to 1945, when Japan surrendered following World War II, Taiwan was a dependency of Japan following the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki to end the China-Japan war of 1894-1895. The wording in the 1895 Treaty is, “China cedes to Japan in perpetuity and full sovereignty of the Formosa (Taiwan)”.

Billions of dollars of Japanese aid to PRC over decades did not change hearts or minds there. Similarly, Japanese economic outreach to Russia, which seized the four Japanese Kuril islands even after the US nuclear attack, has been a failure according to most observers. Even today, no peace treaty has been signed and Russia appears to be stridently unwilling to return the islands.

India’s refusal to accept post-War reparations from Japan is regarded, even today, as a gesture of high magnanimity—among India’s shining examples of exemplary diplomatic success. Therefore, Japan has always stepped up for India with loans and grants, becoming India’s largest humanitarian aid provider in the post-colonial era, and increasingly as a leading economic partner in recent times, beyond the historical and Buddhist bonds since the 6th century. Many Hindu gods and goddesses appear with Japanese names—Saraswati became Benzaiten in Japan. There have been grand commercial successes such as Maruti-Suzuki, now having over 50% share of India’s car market, and exported from Indian manufacturing sites to over 100 countries. But it took the visionary leadership of Osamu Suzuki, son-in-law of the founder of the company to save Suzuki from potential bankruptcy—at the time a flailing, small company unable to compete with the automobile giants of that era—by taking what was then regarded as a massive risk in the 1980s to launch headlong into India, then known for its sluggish economic growth and endless government bottlenecks.

In view of the rising tensions, parliamentary bills are in preparation by the Japanese government on oversight of foreign investment in critical industries. Already, Indian companies cannot easily avail of national security related contracts that are dedicated to allied countries. This could become an even more serious block in the future unless there are clear-cut efforts to see investment and trade as inseparable from strategic alliances. A case in point is that India is not part of Japan’s Trade White List, those countries now numbering 27 that are regarded as favoured from a national security point of view.

Japan and India have government to government processes to enhance collaboration, including the annual Prime Ministers’ visit to either country (at present interrupted due to Covid), an “Energy Dialogue”, and other interactions to plan joint projects. But partly because of the lethargy of Japanese industry on misreading India and focusing on current ability to pay rather than, as Suzuki envisioned, future potential, many possible mutually-beneficial projects have not taken off. It is beyond the scope of an Op-Ed to elaborate, but those who work on the minutiae of Japan-India do know.

Into the future are highlighted some of what can be accomplished in a vibrant India-Japan partnership:


India has sought to be a preferred partner on pharmaceuticals especially needed by Japan’s aging population. Cost, quality favour Indian pharma, but intermediates production was often outsourced to China, which would need to be reconfigured as supply chains are transforming. Far sighted actions are needed on capital, technology, process, quality control, infrastructure and logistics. Both India and Japan need to enhance the efficiency of service delivery in burgeoning and aging populations that no longer wish to rush to hospitals when alternatives are provided in the Covid era, and so digital health holds promise.


Although a project on lithium-ion batteries (LiB) with renewable power in telecom towers was built up a decade ago and implemented under the India-Japan Energy Dialogue and featured twice to PMs, there was no lasting follow-up by industry, until Suzuki recently embarked on a major factory to assemble LiB batteries for their planned electronic vehicle introduction in India. LiB batteries and components manufacturing in India and unearthing Lithium deposits are essential. India neglected thorium reactors in favour of imported uranium-fuelled power technology, even though the “thorium molten salt reactor” (TMSR) in which thorium that is plentiful in India is dissolved in liquid carrier salt was proposed and developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US in 1940 to 1960s. Pursuing that R&D could have provided safer, plentiful, inexpensive nuclear power since thorium is in the minerals-rich beach sands of Indian coastal states. China is on the verge of bringing online the world’s first prototype thorium nuclear reactor. Construction on the two-megawatt reactor is due to conclude shortly, and the first tests could begin in September. Japan and India have expertise and interest in pursuing joint endeavours in thorium R&D and commercialization, but having rock-solid strategic agreements as allies would help accelerate this sensitive area of nuclear power co-operation.

Further, one has to recall that many times inter-government discussions were held on creating economies of scale in aggregated purchasing of liquified natural gas (LNG) by Japan and India, two of the world’s largest LNG importers, but nothing seems to have panned out, again emphasizing the essentiality of involving private sector expertise.


Many times the fact that data is the new “crude oil” has been stated. However, there appears to be both in India and Japan, lack of clarity on precisely how to make use of data for development of applications, algorithms, and related IT infrastructural systems. With utmost alacrity, expertise should be deployed to create much greater awareness on what is data-kosher so that administrators in scientific institutions do not obstruct progress on data-intensive cooperative programs that potentially bring new products and services, capacity building, and revenue.

Further, language and other barriers have prevented India from fully accessing the Japanese IT market, among the world’s largest, in the same manner as exports to the US IT market to the current tune of $100 billion a year, starting from the tentative Y2K days when Indian IT first got its foothold in the US.

In a nutshell, India and Japan being natural and abiding partners have much to accomplish together and tectonic miles to go before they can rest on laurels.