India and Japan are together embarking upon multiple infrastructure projects across Africa, Iran, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia in what could be viewed as pushback against China’s massive, unilateral infrastructure initiatives under the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project connecting it with Europe and Africa.
India has conspicuously stayed away from the so-called New Silk Road, launched with much fanfare by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday, because of strategic and security concerns.
While in East Africa, Delhi and Tokyo are planning to fund infrastructure and capacity building projects, Japan is expected to join the Indian foray into the expansion of Iran’s Chabahar port and the adjoining special economic zone. In eastern Sri Lanka, the two countries are expected to jointly expand the strategically located Trincomalee port. They are also likely to join hands to develop Dawei port along the Thai-Myanmar border.
India and Japan are holding a separate session on May 24 with stakeholders from Africa on the sidelines of the Africa Development Bank meeting in Ahmedabad to discuss joint projects on capacity building and infrastructure.
Japan’s state minister of finance will lead the country’s delegation at the meet.
The India-Japanese initiatives are part of the Freedom Corridor that stretches from the Asia-Pacific to Africa.
It is aimed at stabilising the region amid Chinese designs on it that have led to discomfiture in certain capitals, noted an expert on the issue of international connectivity projects.
The corridor was announced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during counterpart Narendra Modi’s trip to Tokyo last November for the annual summit of the two nations. The issue of collaborations also figured in discussions that finance minister Arun Jaitley had during his recent trip to Japan.
India and Japan have launched their own infrastructure development projects to balance China’s influence in the region. The central features of this are Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI) besides collaborations in northeast India and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. PQI is an initiative for advancing Japan’s expertise in infrastructure development, especially against the backdrop of increasing competition to build economic corridors. The initiative was launched by Abe in May 2015.
“India and Japan’s deepening economic partnership has been prompted by a recognition of China’s efforts to enhance its influence by funding development projects in its neighborhood,” Darshana Baruah of Carnegie India wrote in a recent paper. “China plans to build a corridor of infrastructure projects across both land and sea routes connecting Southeast Asia to Europe… As China extends its influence and reach throughout Asia, Japan and India naturally are seeking to do the same. The recent upturn in economic engagement between India and Japan is founded on the twin pillars of development assistance and infrastructure development to enhance domestic and regional connectivity.”
Both the continental and maritime routes of OBOR are of strategic concern for India and therefore there are security-related reasons for New Delhi to pursue closer cooperation with Tokyo in response to Beijing’s expansionary moves.
“Japan’s use of official development assistance as a tool of economic statecraft seems to be directed toward reinforcing its dominance as an aid donor while counterbalancing China’s expansion,” Baruah further explained in her paper entitled Toward Strategic Economic Cooperation between India and Japan.
“China’s increasing military and political assertiveness in Japan’s immediate security environment is a key driver of this change.”
By expanding their bilateral relationship to include joint infrastructure development across Asia and Africa, Abe and Modi are looking to leverage Japan’s economic and India’s strategic outreach beyond South Asia to the broader Indian-Pacific Ocean region.
“Africa is the next big destination. India-Japan partnership will unlock Africa’s true economic potential,” said Prabir De, India’s foremost connectivity expert and chair of the India-Asean Centre in noted thinktank RIS. “Mekong-India Economic Corridor (MIEC) connecting Kenya-Tanzania-Mozambique (KTM) growth zone through Jawaharlal Nehru and Kochi ports will open up new vistas of Africa-Asia connectivity.”
Strengthen Indo-Japan Partnership
New Delhi must seriously pursue and give shape to its partnership with Tokyo to implement a slew of infrastructure projects across Africa and parts of Asia. Unlike China’s mercantilist approach, Japan has focused on building partnerships, and in the recent past this has also been India’s approach.
Building on their strengths, India and Japan can provide an alternative approach to development. This would serve as a check on China and offer a pathway to development that is inclusive and mutually beneficial.
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