Responding to Abe’s resignation announcement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Pained to hear about your ill health, my dear friend @AbeShinzo. In recent years, with your wise leadership and personal commitment, the India-Japan partnership has become deeper and stronger than ever before. I wish and pray for your speedy recovery.”
Pained to hear about your ill health, my dear friend @AbeShinzo. In recent years, with your wise leadership and per… https://t.co/Jb9fHr2XTz
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) 1598619306000
Abe’s successor could be a while coming, given the volatile nature of Japanese politics. But whether it is Taro Aso, Taro Kono or Yoshihide Suga, there is now a set momentum in India-Japan relations. And it’s largely because Abe broke the template within his own system, for India.
Modi and Abe struck up a close personal relationship even before Modi became PM. In fact, as chief minister of Gujarat, the first G-8 (then) country Modi visited was Japan. But it wasn’t just Modi. Former PM Manmohan Singh and Abe too enjoyed a close relationship. In fact, it was during his last summit with Singh in 2013 that Japan began its investments in India’s northeast, the first country to do so, in a sign that Japan and India were cementing their converging global outlook in the face of a rising China. “Abe was a diamond for India,” said Sujan Chinoy, former ambassador to Tokyo.
When he took office in 2014, Modi pushed the idea of the high-speed train network, beginning from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, a project expected to start operations by 2023.
Modi may still have his next virtual summit with Abe in September, delayed after the Indian government cancelled a summit in Guwahati in December, during the anti-CAA riots. India and Japan are expected to sign the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), for logistics sharing, which would make all the Quad countries (US, India, Japan, Australia) bound by a shared strategic outlook.
In a sense, it will be a fitting send-off to Abe who is really the father of the Indo-Pacific. From the day Abe gave a speech on the “confluence of the two oceans” in the Indian parliament in 2007, he has pushed the idea of four key powers to work together in this geographical space.
Abe’s strategic push with India had more than one facet — he single-handedly turned the traditional Japanese antipathy towards a chaotic Indian system to embrace it. In his first term, Modi had deployed a single points person in the PMO to facilitate Japanese investments in India. Japan was also the only country to post a serving official in India’s commerce ministry.
But on a larger canvas, Abe used the India relationship to turn Japan around — by opening up defence exports, conducting military exercises with a country other than the US, by getting Indian support for his mission to “normalise” Japan, moving it out of its pacific past. India has consistently endorsed the idea of a “normal” Japan. Abe could not push through the constitution change he wanted, but Japan is getting more comfortable with its new security and defence posture.
India will need to work much harder to keep its relationship going in the post-Abe Japan, because the next prime minister may not keep India front and centre. That will matter as both countries face an aggressive China.