Why Japan is the new “Russia” for India on the economic and strategic front

In my opinion, if all our rich and educated men once go and see Japan, their eyes will be opened.

— Swami Vivekananda,

Japan, the only country which has suffered the most tragic disaster in the world, ie. nuclear attack. Even after so many wars, disasters and frequent earthquakes, this country survived and became one of the highly developed and industrialised nations of the world. Crime rates are very low and people are so disciplined, that police have got very less work to do. Although, Japan has carried some controversial history with itself, no one can deny its contribution of the movement, “Asia for Asians” which helped India too, getting rid of British Colonial empire. Some historians argue that Japan too had imperial ambitions and it was Japan’s fault of attacking pearl Harbour which compelled USA doing the unthinkable, nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was the last time Japan showed aggression.

After the Incident, Japan followed the path of peace and focussed entirely on technological and economic advancement. Even though Japan was a poor nation in 1960, it started Bullet train project and we all know what happened next. The advancements made by Japan in the field of medicines, automobiles, IT, Sophisticated technologies, defence is commendable. In fact, China’s advancement can also be attributed to Japanese companies. Due to rising labour cost in Japan, companies started shifting their manufacturing bases to China, which later followed technology transfer and R&D advancements. Some of the Japanese inventions like DVDs, Video camera, Digital camera, Walkman, CD, karaoke, Video Tape Recorder, Electronic Calculator, Electric rice cooker, Bullet Train etc changed the way we live our life. Even Chinese bullet train technology was borrowed from Japan.



Japan and India share a very old cultural history. Buddhism has been practiced in Japan since its official introduction in 552 CE. The Indian monk “Bodhisena” arrived in Japan in 736 to spread Buddhism and performed eye-opening of the Great Buddha built-in Todai-ji, and would remain in Japan until his death in 760. Buddhism and the intrinsically linked Indian culture had a great impact on Japanese culture, still felt today, and resulted in a natural sense of amiability between the two nations. As a result of the link of Buddhism between India and Japan, monks and scholars often embarked on voyages between the two nations. Ancient records from the now-destroyed library at Nalanda University in India describe scholars and pupils who attended the school from Japan.

The cultural exchanges between the two countries created many parallels in their folklore. Modern popular culture based upon this folklore, such as works of fantasy fiction in manga and anime, sometimes bear references to common deities (deva), demons (asura) and philosophical concepts. The Indian goddess Saraswati for example, is known as “Benzaiten” in Japan. Brahma, known as ‘Bonten’, and Yama, known as ‘Enma’, are also part of the traditional Japanese Buddhist pantheon. In addition to the common Buddhist influence on the two societies, Shintoism, being an animist religion, is similar to the animist strands of Hinduism, in contrast to the religions present in the rest of the world, which are monotheistic. Sanskrit, a classical language used in Buddhism and Hinduism, is still used by some ancient Chinese priests who immigrated to Japan, and the Siddhaṃ script is still written to this day, despite having passed out of usage in India. It is also thought that the distinctive torii gateways at temples in Japan, may be related to the torana gateways used in Indian temples.

There has been ups and downs in bilateral relation since then, but our cultural exchanges and people to people contact have grown day by day. Political relations and exchange began only in the Meiji era(1868-1912), when Japan embarked on the process of modernisation. Japan-India association was founded in 1903. Further cultural exchanges grew after the rise of Asian Cinema in 20th century. Indian films by Satyajeet Ray and Gurudutt was influential in Japan, while Japanese films by Akira Kurosawa, Yasujir Ozu and Takashi Shimizu have likewise been influential in India.

Modern India-Japan relations

At the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Indian Justice Radhabinod Pal became famous for his dissenting judgement in favour of Japan. The judgement of Justice Radhabinod Pal is remembered even today in Japan. This became a symbol of the close ties between India and Japan.


India refused to attend the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1951 due to its concerns over limitations imposed upon Japanese sovereignty and national independence. After the restoration of Japan’s sovereignty, Japan and India signed a peace treaty, establishing official diplomatic relations on 28 April 1952, in which India waived all reparation claims against Japan. This treaty was one of the first treaties Japan signed after World War II. Diplomatic, trade, economic, and technical relations between India and Japan were well established. India’s iron ore helped Japan’s recovery from World War II devastation, and following Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi’s visit to India in 1957, Japan started providing yen loans to India in 1958, as the first yen loan aid extended by Japanese government. Relations between the two nations were constrained, however, by Cold War politics. Japan, as a result of World War II reconstruction, was a U.S. ally, whereas India pursued a non-aligned foreign policy, often leaning towards the Soviet Union. Since the 1980s, however, efforts were made to strengthen bilateral ties. India’s ‘Look East’ policy posited Japan as a key partner. Since 1986, Japan has become India’s largest aid donor, and remains so.

Relations became sour and Japan imposed sanctions on India after Pokharan-II, an Indian nuclear weapon test in 1998. Japan stopped all economic aids to India, but later our relations started normalizing to the point where Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe was the Chief guest at India’s 2014 Republic Day Celebration. The current depth of our bilateral relations can be understood by the nuclear deal India recently signed with Japan even though India is not a signatory of Nuclear non proliferation Treaty. The deal took six years to negotiate, delayed in part by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. This is the first time that Japan signed such deal with a non-signatory of Non-Proliferation Treaty. The deal gives Japan the right to supply nuclear reactors, fuel and technology, to India. This deal aimed to help India build the six nuclear reactors planned in Delhi, to be completed by 2032.

Major Projects in India where Japan is involved

Japan International cooperation agency (JICA), the government agency of Japan in charge of all of its overseas development assistance, is the biggest bilateral donor body in India.

  • Since 2007-2008, JICA has given soft loans of worth 1,50000 crores till date. Soft loans are loans carrying very small interest rates of 0.1-1.4% and having very long payback period of 30-50 years.
  • The loans have only one obligation that 30% of the project contracts by value must go to Japanese firms.
  • Loans are backed with a wider thrust on holistic change and mindset shift.
  • Very quietly JICA has surpassed even world bank and Asian Development bank in implementing large infrastructure projects in India.

Amid a job crisis and investment drought in the private sector, JICA backed big infrastructure projects are a breath of fresh air for India. With technology transfer and “Make in India” at the core of these projects, it will give local manufacturing and jobs a big push.

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Transport Projects (55%),

Total loans-73000 crores

  1. Metro rail– 400 Km network in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad.
  2. Western Dedicated Fright Corridor-  It will connect India’s capital, Delhi, and its economic hub, Mumbai. This corridor will cover a distance of 1483 km and would be electrified with double line operation.
  3. Roads,bridges and tunnels in north-east-As part of the strategy that is also being viewed as an attempt to contain China, an India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of North East is being set up to focus on strategic projects such as connectivity and road network development, electricity and disaster management.This new initiative, with representation from the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, comes in the backdrop of Chinese troops making repeated incursions into Indian territory.
  4. Port development : Indian ports are criticised for old infrastructure and time-consuming cargo handling experience. Hong kong, Singapore and Dubai ports can handle cargoes in hours and free the ships in a day, whereas in Indian case it sometimes take even weeks. Japan has agreed to help India in enhancing capacity and efficiency of cargo handling in Chennai and Visakhapatnam ports.
  5. 71 km of outer ring road in Hyderabad.

Japanese government has agreed to promote Japanese investment in India. Over 10 Japanese industrial townships are to be built in four states including Gujarat and Rajasthan. There are plans to set up Japan-India institute for manufacturing (JIMs) to train workers. 106 waterways are to be jointly developed.


Water Projects (16%)

  • Total 30000 crores across 29 projects
  • Help in creating infrastructure and capacity for utilities
  • improve access to water and sanitation for urban poor
  • use technology to curb water loss

Energy Projects (13%)

  • Total loans of 77500 crores with 11 projects under execution.
  • Facilitated construction of 9.3 GW of hydro and thermal power stations in India.
  • Helped beef up transmission and distribution network in Haryana, MP, West Bengal, Odissa, Maharashtra
  • Through IREDA, it has given new 3100 crore loans for new renewable energy generation projects
  • Helped fund rural electrification drive in Andhra, MP, Telangana and Maharashtra

Agriculture, forestry and others (16%)

  • Irrigation projects in MP, Andhra Pradesh, HP, Odissa, Mizoram among others to help cut dependence on rain
  • boost per acre yield for farmers in MP for soybeans and Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Telangana for Mulberry farmers.
  • Give help in crop diversification for farmers in Himachal Pradesh.
  • Sustainable forest resource management
  • capacity building and boosting livelihood in 13 states including Gujarat, Uttarakhand, UP and Sikkim.

Strategic Partnership

India is known to grant titles of “strategic partnership” very generously. The better part is that the pace of cooperation between the two countries is indeed impressive and therefore justifies the unique nomenclature. The rise of China and fast changing geopolitical relations has compelled Asia and Pacific nations create bonds and seek strategic interests. Creation of artificial islands and claiming of whole south China sea by China, has made Japan deepen its relations with India and form a trilateral group of India-USA-Japan to collectively counter China. There is also a growing fear among asian nations of USA completely pulling out of Asia. The vacuum created must be quickly filled by India-Japan alliance with own strategic interests in mind. After world war II, Japan has not emphasised on its military power and ambitions and leaving behind offensive approach, it went for defensive military structure. So, in a way, Japan and India both need each other.


Countering China’s OBOR

India and Japan are teaming up to build infrastructure and build connectivity as part of Asia Africa growth corridor. It has the potential to become a serious counterweight to China’s BRI. Unlike BRI, the AAGC promises to evolve a consultative mechanism towards identification and implementation of projects.

Civil Nuclear Deal

Cleared by Japanese parliament in June 2017, it will enable Japan Inc to partner, invest and augment capacity in nuclear power in India. This shows very deep strategic partnership as Japan was reluctant signing the deal  as India was not a signatory of NPT. Discussions on agreements and negotiation took 6 years to finalize and PM Modi and PM Abe played a big role in it.


India, Japan and USA conduct “Malabar exercise” every year. Defence participation and intelligence sharing is increasing every year. Recently Australia showed interest in joining Malabar drills but India resisted as it didn’t want to anger China. Seeing the recent confrontation at Dokalam, the days are not far when India will allow Australia too. Also, talks are on for sale of US-2 amphibious aircraft (each priced $109 million plus). Japan Inc is also in fray for $7.8 billion “Make in India” Submarine deal.


Some of the big projects like Delhi metro, Bullet train, North East Developmental Projects, Dedicated Freight corridors would not be easy for India without Japan’s technology and soft loans. Both being old democracies, roots in Hinduism-Buddhism, love for peace and harmony it is natural to be strategic partners. Japanese companies like Suzuki, Honda, Sony etc have created a good technological base and has provided jobs to millions in India. India and Japan both face threat from China and have no other option other than to counter together. Japan is facing problem of ageing population, whereas India  has demographic advantage. Japan has technology and India has cheap workforce. So, it’s a win-win situation for both the nations.

In past, Soviet Russia helped India develop its industries and also helped countering Pakistan and USA. Japan can’t help much in defence, but in Industrialisation and infrastructure development Japan is a “god sent” friend for India. It’s the new “Russia” for India at economic and strategic front. 


Article By : Gaurav Kumar 

Reference : The economic Times, The mint, The diplomat, Japan times, JICA report, Wikipedia.

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