Japan and India: Natural but Wary Allies: Rupakjyoti Borah Considers the Position of Japan and India in the Contemporary Asian Security Matrix

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Although India and Japan have been historically close, the two countries drifted apart after India's independence in 1947. However, the end of the Cold War and India's 'Look East Policy' put the relations back on track. In part, this is a response to the changing strategic situation in East Asia. Rising China's increasing assertiveness has affected Indo-Japanese security ties. So, too, has India's growing camaraderie with the United States. Japan's importance in India's 'Look East Policy' is manifest, as is the role of the Indian Navy in ensuring Japan's energy security. There are a number of avenues for India and Japan to collaborate in the contemporary Asian security matrix.


Japan and India have had historical ties dating back to the 7th century AD when Buddhism made inroads into Japan from its land of birth, India. The famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore had visited Japan in 1916, at the urging of a Japanese friend and came to admire the country's economic, industrial and scientific advances and its rich cultural and literary traditions. During India's freedom struggle, Japan helped Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army as it sought to evict the British from India.

The victory of Japan over Czarist Russia in 1904 gave a great impetus to nationalist movements in Asia against the colonial powers. (1) In his autobiography, India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, mentioned the impact of the news of the Japanese victory. While writing to his daughter Indira, Nehru noted that 'Japan's victory was seen to be due to her adoption of new industrial methods of the West. These so-called Western ideas and methods thus became more popular all over the East.' (2)

After the end of the Second World War, in 1949, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru donated two Indian elephants to the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo? This brought a glimmer of hope into the lives of the Japanese people, who had still not recovered from defeat in the war. Japan and India signed a peace treaty (separate from the Japanese Peace Treaty of 8 September 1951) and established diplomatic relations in June 1952. (4) India's iron ore played a big role in aiding Japan's recovery efforts. After Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi's path-breaking visit to India in 1957, it started providing yen loans to India.


During the Second World War, Indian troops fighting under the British flag had fought Japanese troops, while some Indians under the Indian National Army fought the British with Japanese support. After the end of the war, which ended with the defeat of Japan, Indian Justice Radha Binod Pal was the lone dissenting voice on the war crimes tribunal set up to try Japanese war criminals. India became independent in 1947 and expressed its support for Japanese interests. The Indian delegation at the Far Eastern Commission was sympathetic to Japanese concerns about rebuilding their nation and to encouraging Japanese industry and finance. In 1949, the Indian delegation decided to stop pressing the question in the commission regarding its share of reparations from Japan and proposed putting an end to reparations altogether, taking into consideration the fact that the burden of making such payments told heavily on the living standards of the Japanese people. (5)

Though the Japanese public responded favourably to India's stand, the positive perceptions of each other were not sufficient to prevent India and Japan joining the post-Second World War community of nations with diametrically opposite standpoints. Hence the two countries moved slowly and cautiously with respect to each other.

During this period, while India tended to dismiss Japan as a camp follower of the United States, the general opinion in Japan of India was that of a chaotic, dysfunctional, desperately poor country. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru paid a visit to Japan in 195Z India received its first overseas development assistance from Japan in 1958. …