Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan has been hailed as a success beyond expectation. He has in a sense accomplished what has been consistently advocated in these columns. He has exploited India’s enormous leverage that remained untapped till today. China and to a lesser extent Japan have huge reserve funds looking for profitable investment. Thanks to India’s propensity to spend less than is earned its economy is based on domestic savings with a consumer class having ability to spend. India provides a vast potential market and both China and Japan are looking for such a market. Not surprisingly therefore Mr. Modi returns from Japan after pocketing spectacular economic benefits. But beyond economics there are strategic aspects that need attention.
China and Japan have a history of traditional rivalry worsened by territorial and oceanic disputes between them. India has no such dispute with Japan. It does have a longstanding territorial dispute with China. It is therefore tempting to conclude that the emerging Indo-Japanese strategic alliance should be used to put China in its place. That is where this writer has a question. Which place? As a longstanding critic of Beijing’s expansionist, hegemonic and subversive policies he has consistently proposed measures to contain China. But wise policy lies in achieving containment without alienation. And foreign policy should be dictated by its end goal. What should be India’s eventual strategic vision?
This nation has always been a champion of international peace and harmony even though policies pursued by successive governments have in no significant way helped achieve that goal. What kind of world should India seek? Obviously it must be a world of peace and harmony, governed by liberal regimes and with nations engaged in healthy and peaceful competition. To create such a world India as a multi-religious, multi-lingual, democratic, third word nation is uniquely placed to play the most significant role. It can do that by becoming a peace maker in disputes between all nations. As a start it must of course defuse its own disputes with other nations. But that distant role should always be kept in mind when formulating policy.
That is why while welcoming Mr. Modi’s strategic success in Japan this writer is not entirely happy with his diplomatic performance. His rapport with his hosts would not have lessened had he refrained from making publicly adverse allusions to China. This might unnecessarily antagonize China. Beijing would justifiably consider this to be a stab in the back. For a decade Beijing wooed and helped Mr. Modi while the west shunned him. It helped achieve his political success. Now to be humiliated in this manner in a rival nation imparts loss of face about which the Chinese are extraordinarily sensitive. Were Mr. Modi’s allusions necessary? A reasonable formula is available to resolve Sino-Indian differences. To persuade Beijing to accept it would require diplomatic finesse. Mr. Modi’s remarks also damage India’s potential to mediate between Tokyo and Beijing.