Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in India today for a three-day trip, during which two defense pacts are expected to be finalized: one on defense technology transfer and another on the sharing of military information. Indian officials said the broad parameters of the agreements were already in place, and that it was only a matter of ironing out details. The first tangible outcome of any agreement would be the sale of two Japanese seaplanes to India, which would be the first major arms deal for Japan since Abe lifted a 50-year old ban on weapons exports. India would then proceed to build ten more of the planes in Indian factories, furthering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plans for bolstering India’s domestic defense industry.
Abe, on his third trip to Delhi since he became Prime Minister, has high hopes for the burgeoning alliance: “In order to maintain an open, free and peaceful sea, it becomes important more and more for there to be collaboration between Japan and India, as well as the international community including the U.S.,” he wrote in an op-ed ahead of his trip.
The United States is very happy to see India and Japan deepen their ties. To confront China, Tokyo and New Delhi must become strong allies and there are lots of opportunities for the two countries to strengthen their economic relationship beyond defense. Japan just won the contract for India’s first high-speed rail line. Japan has an aging population with manufacturing and high-tech expertise. India has a young, inexperienced population hungry for middle class jobs. And given that both countries have a strong interest in seeing the other become wealthier and more powerful, there are geopolitical incentives to expand trade and investment.
Of course, there are also reasons Japan hasn’t moved all its manufacturing to India. Some of them have to do with Japan’s own inefficient version of the blue model, and some have to do with India’s substantial barriers to foreign investment and the country’s corruption problems. Abe can visit Modi once a week, but if the two leaders don’t reform their own economies, taking a partnership to the next level will be difficult. And Modi and Abe have both so far struggled to push real domestic reform through their legislatures. So, although the India-Japan relationship has immense potential, realizing that potential fully doesn’t appear in the cards at the moment.