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Game of Thrones
India's PM-in-Waiting Warns China, Cozies Up to Japan

Narendra Modi and Japan’s businessmen are old friends. The economic relationship between the Indian state of Gujarat, where Modi has been Chief Minister for more than a decade, and Japanese companies and investment consortiums has proven highly profitable for both sides for years. As Modi gets closer to becoming India’s next Prime Minister, this relationship is taking on even greater importance.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is himself a right-wing pro-business leader, sees eye to eye with Modi on a host of issues. Both Abe and Modi like to talk tough to China. Both are focused on reviving their respective countries’ economies. Both want to build stronger militaries, especially navies and coast guards. Both vehemently resist China’s position on territorial disputes. The importance of this alliance for Asia’s grand geopolitical competition (what the AI calls the “Game of Thrones”) shouldn’t be underestimated.

This past weekend, Modi’s speeches at two rallies in northeast India, close to the border with China, cast his nationalistic and anti-China stance into sharp relief. China “will have to leave behind its mind-set of expansion,” he told a crowd in Pashigat, a town in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing considers part of China. Modi paid tribute to a former BJP Prime Minister who oversaw India’s nuclear weapons program and sought to portray himself as a strong leader who would never give in to India’s northern neighbor. “No power on earth can snatch away Arunachal Pradesh from India.” India and China fought a brief border war over the region in 1962, and New Delhi accuses Chinese soldiers of occasionally venturing into Indian-claimed territory.

Who could better support Modi’s efforts to stand up to China than Shinzo Abe’s government in Japan? Modi is unusually close to the Japanese Prime Minister. Breaking protocol, he called Abe to congratulate him on his election win in December 2012. Japanese companies like Suzuki have invested billions of dollars to build factories and infrastructure in Modi’s Gujarat; JETRO, a trade and investment agency overseen by the Japanese government, partnered with Modi’s administration to launch “Vibrant Gujarat,” a mega trade exposition.

India and Japan’s deepening friendship extends beyond Modi. Abe and the Japanese Emperor both recently made a high-profile visits to India. Abe was heralded as “chief guest” during India’s Republic Day celebration, and he vowed that the two countries would further expand their strategic partnership. India is also soon expected to become the first country since World War II to buy military aircraft from Japan.

All this makes it look more and more as if Abe and Modi are singing from the same songbook. A flood of Japanese investment and much closer strategic collaboration could follow if Modi wins the upcoming election. Deeper India-Japan cooperation seems to be in the cards, and with right-of-center nationalists in power in both countries, the alliance would aim both to check China and to keep U.S. influence from being overpowering. Neither Indian nor Japanese nationalists look forward to being wards of the United States. Both believe they can emerge as global powers. Increasingly, nationalists in both countries think they can do it together better than they can do it alone.

China, we are guessing, is hoping Modi doesn’t win.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Where’s the incompetent “lead from behind” Obama? American should be right in the middle of this alliance, building economic and military ties, and taking advantage of Chinese belligerence for as long as it lasts (not for much longer).

  • Jagneel

    India has malnutrition, exploitation, poverty, corruption,..the only thing missing was a leader who is complicit in mass murders. In few months, you can check that box too.

    • Dr.Raj

      keep shouting lies, no one in the world is going to listen. NaMo will be the PM from 2014 may.

    • Bharath

      hahaha…here also…you guys will never change

  • Bharath

    i dont know much abt abe…but china have to be careful with india as long as Modi lives in india…from tea seller to Prime minister….an indian tea seller is enough to reply the chinese

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