India fine-tunes quality of partnership with Japan

India fine-tunes quality of partnership with Japan
India fine-tunes quality of partnership with Japan

The synergy between India's Act East policy and Japan's Partnership for Quality Infrastructure will work as an effective counter-balance to China's One Belt One Road programme to connect various countries across Asia, the Pacific and parts of Europe. It was kept so low profile and understated that it escaped the attention of most media watchers and analysts and was largely ignored by the mainstream media. The joint statement issued by India and Japan at the end of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's meetings with his host Narendra Modi spoke of “the synergy between India's Act East policy and Japan's Partnership for Quality Infrastructure”. What is PQI and what is its relevance to India It is no secret that New Delhi is uncomfortable with China's One Belt One Road programme to connect various countries across Asia, the Pacific and parts of Europe via road, rail, pipeline and maritime links with China in a bid to integrate all these economies into a loose economic federation with Beijing at the Centre. India has watched helplessly as China made steady inroads into Nepal and Sri Lanka and committed almost $50 billion to build high quality infrastructure, including an economic corridor, through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to gain access to the Arabian Sea and the Gwadar Port in Pakistan. Apart from pushing China's economic and strategic agenda, this initiative has been increasingly boxing India into a corner even in its own backyard. The PQI, however, promises to even the balance somewhat. India can never, on its own, hope to match the resources and the global political heft China brings to the table. Its rival projects, such as Project Mausam and the Spice Route are poor substitutes for the gargantuan Chinese initiative and there is no guarantee that a future Indian government will not abandon these projects to please an increasingly aggressive Beijing, which bristles at any Indian strategic dalliance with Tokyo or Washington or any steps to counter Chinese influence in the region. In this context, the following lines from the joint statement offer Indian economic and strategic planners some hope: “... the two prime ministers decided to develop and strengthen reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructures that augment connectivity within India and between India and other countries in the region”. With a $110-billion commitment from Japan and, conceivably, some additional amounts from India, New Delhi will get some leeway to increase economics linkages with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the countries in the Indian Ocean Rim and Pacific Rim. Of course, it will not get the benefit of the full some of money and projects will be chosen by Japan based on its own interests, but given the increasingly close strategic alignment between Tokyo and New Delhi, it will be reasonable to expect projects such as the now-on-now-off India-Bangladesh gas pipeline, the waterway project through Bangladesh connecting the Indian mainland with the North East and the proposed road link between India and the Asean through Myanmar, among many other projects will be considered sympathetically by the Abe government and its successors. Then, India will also be able to leverage Japan's decades-long expertise in using foreign assistance to build industry and infrastructure in distant lands. Tokyo was a major contributor to the Chinese economic miracle. It poured in hundreds of billions of dollars into China's eastern seaboard, helping transform the poor underdeveloped region into the world's factory zone. Shanghai, Shenzhen and other awe-inspiring Chinese cities owe a large part of their rise to Japanese investments and expertise. If New Delhi plays its cards right and gets its act together on legislation and basic infrastructure, it can hope, over the next two decades, to replicate, at least partly, China's manufacturing transformation. The key: PQI. In doing so, it will also, almost as a by-product, achieve all the ambitious goals its has set for the Prime Minister's flagship initiatives such as Make in India, Digital India, Swacch Bharat and Skill India. The PQI and the Modi-Abe chemistry can, thus, not only transform India but the entire Asian paradigm in ways that cannot entirely be envisaged right now.

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