18 August, 2022


China And Modi’s Relationship Building With Japan

By R Hariharan

 Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Japan probably achieved less than what India desired, it did achieve handsome results. Japan promised $ 34-billion investment in India in the next five years. Though the much awaited India-Japan civilian nuclear deal did not come through, the two leaders agreed to accelerate talks on a nuclear energy pact.[i] Both the countries have already agreed upon strengthening their strategic cooperation which would be intensified now.

But more than all these, Modi made a mark in Japan more strongly than any of his predecessors had done. It went well beyond the warm personal equation he enjoys with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He put through a well orchestrated programme to appeal to all sections of Japanese society.  Overall, the visit was a success as it has paved way for speeding up multifaceted cooperation between the two Asian powers. and it was uncannily timed before China’s President Xi Jinping‘s visit to India.

Even though Indian TV scribes were debating Modi’s 100 days performance rather than analysing the strategic implications of  his visit to Japan, China was paying close attention to it. And they had every reason to be concerned if we go by the outpouring of articles on the visit in China’s media.

 China’s ‘scant comfort’ with Modi-Abe bonhomie seen during the visit probably led the Global Times’s to call its editorial as “Modi-Abe intimacy brings scant comfort.”[ii] The Communist Party web magazine’s editorial apparently tried to read between the lines in Modi’s call on both the countries to strengthen strategic cooperation to promote peace and prosperity in Asia and counter an expansionist mind-set.

However, the trigger for the Communist Party magazine’s irritation was perhaps Modi’s remarks while addressing the business leaders in Tokyo. Modi had said: “Everywhere around us, we see an 18th century expansionist mind-set: encroaching on another country, intruding in others’ waters, invading other countries and capturing territory.”

Referring to the remarks the editorial added: “Japanese and Western public opinion views his remarks as a clear reference to China, although he did not mention China by name. This interpretation made some sense because Modi is more intimate to Tokyo emotionally. Therefore it is perhaps a fact that he embraces some nationalist sentiments against China.” And probably this is what makes China very uncomfortable with Modi.

The Global Times tried to rationalise the advantage of India’s relations with China by saying, “The increasing intimacy between Tokyo and New Delhi will bring at most psychological comfort to the two countries. What is involved in China-India relations denotes much more than the display of the blossoming personal friendship between Modi and Abe. After all, Japan is located far from India. Abe’s harangue on the Indo-Pacific concept makes Indians comfortable.”

It reminded that it was South Asia “where New Delhi has to make its presence felt. However, China is a neighbour it can’t move away from. Sino-Indian ties can in no way be counterbalanced by the Japan-India friendship….Both as new emerging countries and members of BRICS, China and India have plenty of interests in common. Geopolitical competition is not the most important thing for the two countries, at least at present (emphasis added).”

Such comments in the op-ed showed China’s difficulty in coming to terms with Modi’s readiness to improve India’s relations with China to do business while showing equal keenness to improve strategic cooperation with Japan. This is compounded by Modi inviting Japanese investments in infrastructure, particularly railways, and manufacturing industries many of which would be in direct competition with China’s trade and investment interests in India. And more than these, Japan’s readiness to ease export restrictions to allow Japanese defence firms to participate in India’s huge weapons market is an offer that China cannot match.

The irony of Prime Minister Modi’s trip to Japan was it coincided with the 69th anniversary of Japanese surrender celebrated with all pomp and show in China. Even as Modi was completing his five-day visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping addressing symposium on the occasion urged Japan “to admit and reflect on its history of militarist aggression.” At the same time he sounded an ominous warning to Japan: “With the utmost resolution and effort, we will join with people all over the world to safeguard the victory in the Chinese Peoples’ War of Resistance against Japanese aggression and the world war against fascism.”

With the battle lines drawn between China and Japan, both Prime Minister Modi and  President Xi will be a little cautious while discussing each other’s strategic concerns when they meet for formal talks for the first time in the next few days. While Modi has to keep in mind the fractious Sino-Japanese relations, Xi will have the more difficult task to soft sell China’s rapidly escalating involvement in strategic cooperation with Pakistan.

Chinese analyst Liu Zongyi writing in the Global Times aptly summed up Modi’s dilemma: “Modi’s biggest challenge is to kick start a lagging economy. India needs Japan’s investment and technology, but it also needs economic cooperation with China.” [iii]

And Global Times editorial advice: “Maintaining strategic independence is India’s diplomatic tradition. It’s also in the Indian interest to be a balancer in the international system,” is probably more apt for China. It is not exactly known for balancing its international relations with nuance.[iv]

One of the key objectives of President Xi’s talks with Modi will be to wean away India from the lure of Japan. So it is not surprising Beijing is holding out a carrot of $ 100 billion Chinese investment in India. And the huge delegation of leading lights of Chinese business and five major banks accompanying the Chinese President underscores President Xi’s serious efforts to win over Modi.[v]

But the reported Chinese troops’ intrusion into Indian territory in Ladakh (in Demchok sector) on September 11, even in the midst of all media hype on Xi’s visit, exposes the soft underbelly of India-China relations. And this is where Japan has an edge over China in dealing with India.

*Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia  is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: haridirect@gmail.com   Blog: http://col.hariharan.info]  


[i] PTI/BBC September 1, 2014, Abe’s gift to Modi: Japan pledges $33.8 bn for Indian infra projects, http://firstbiz.firstpost.com

[ii] Global Times, Editorial, Modi-Abe intimacy brings scant comfort, September 2, 2014 www.globaltimes.cn

[iii] Global Times September 1, 2014, Modi knows China relations more important in long run,www.globaltimes.cn

[iv] Global Time, Editorial ibid September 2, 2014 www.globaltimes.cn

[v] ‘China to invest $100 billion in India over 5 years’, September 13, 2014 Times of India, Mumbai http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com  

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Latest comments

  • 1

    India’s best potential ally is Pakistan. As long as India is incapable of forging closer ties with Pakistan, it will fail in the Asian front.

    Japan and India will never come together. Indians love the Japanese but the converse is not true.

  • 3


    Mr. Hariharan,

    It’s tooo late.

    For over 10 years Indians were under a ‘yes madam’ PM and their foreign policy was so weak that they lost all gained by Indira Gandhi.

    Today, China has become the worlds economic power, even US borrows from China.

    By bringing Srilankan island under their control, China has checkmate India.

    • 0

      Sri Lankan island is not a big deal. Both MR fellows and anti SL LTTE fellows over estimate that thinking it will help each other’s cause…

      SL is a small player in geo politics

  • 1

    Modi is a pragmatist. He understands that India needs to modernise its railways, industry and military in order to be respected by China as an equal and a worthy power on the world stage. Modi also understands well that a huge population alone does not make India a great power and feels the pain of humiliation Indians suffered at the hands of the Chinese military in 1961. India has made little progress in empowering its largely illiterate and impoverished population, whilst China has risen to superpower status outpacing India; be they military, railway, avionics, space exploration and importantly human development. Modi may loaf around the capitals; Washington, Tokyo, London but he knows India’s prosperity is dependent on good relations with Beijing. Unlike other Indian premiers of the past Modi will caste aside pride and will humble pie in Beijing for the sake of his coutrymen.China will show the way, and not Washington or London.

    • 1

      lal loo

      “whilst China has risen to superpower status outpacing India”

      China is a peace loving country,

      a piece from Pakistan

      a piece from Russia

      a piece from Kazakhstan

      a piece from Mongolia

      a piece from Myanmar

      a piece from Afghanistan

      a piece from Vietnam

      a piece from Laos

      a piece from Kyrgyzstan

      a piece from Nepal

      a piece from Tajikistan

      a piece from North Korea

      a piece from Bhutan

      a piece from Japan

      a large piece from India.

      Oh a large piece from Africa and South America as well

      It says something about Chinese intentions.

  • 2

    It is a good sign for future peace that Modi is meeting so many leaders. I read that he has invited all the African leaders to meet him as well. This bodes well for peace in the Indian Ocean region.

    I think there is a lot of unnecessary Sinophobia. The rise of China has brought a great deal of emancipation in the rest of the world, including making computers cheap enough that we can all contribute to democratic forums like CT. The Chinese are good at making computers, the Indians are good at using them. Could be a win-win situation for the Asian giants.

    • 0

      It is true that China is very good at making cheap computers and also high-end & high quality IT products where as (south) India maintain big stake of IT service industry. But the game plan is already changing. I have seen that number of big US IT companies moving their 3rd level IT support & developments from South India to Shanghai China where they have lot of English speaking Chinese IT people.. And these Chinese people are proving they are better and especially more reliable & trust worthy than South East IT people…

  • 1

    Pity our friend , Col Hariharan failed to mention the importance of our Motherland here.

    Soon after Abe, President Xi is coming over to see our Presudent.

    Japan and China jointly helped to rescue Srilanka from the strangle hold of the Terrorists and their backers in the West.

    Now these two countries in tandem are helping to develop Srilanka to be the main shipping hub in the region with the inhabitants living as a upper Mid Income Nation.

    Chinese USD 100 Billion is for the labour intensive manufacturing which will be done by the poor Dalits in India.

    The finished goods will be shipped to our Southern Port for wharehousing and distribution world wide.

    Japan’s investments are mainly for Nuclear Energy in India.

    But the high tech manufacturing will move to Srilanka with our Southern port as the focal point and the distribution center.

    That will make Hambanthota a place of extreme imporatnce both commercially as wellas strategically to China as well as Japan.

    And Japan is working towards not only to prvide help to lift living standards,like mass trasport in our Capital but also to strengthen the maritime capabilities and naval security around Srilankan borders.

    • 1

      K.A Sumanasekera

      “Japan and China jointly helped to rescue Srilanka from the strangle hold of the Terrorists and their backers in the West.”

      We know you admire Irrathinavalli, Bandu, Nalin, Kamalika, Champika for their ability to revise ancient and medieval history without any new evidence.

      You have gone one step further. Keep up revisionism, one day you will have no history.

  • 2

    Both India and China are fishing in Sri Lanka’s troubled waters as their great Asian Game unfolds with Japan tweeking India..

    China through its support to the corrupt and criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa military dictatorship regime is trying to turn Sri Lanka into something like North Korea or Burma – a client state.

    The fact is India under Modi (unlike Manmohan) will have no qualms about dividing Lanka and taking over the northeast of the island from the rest of Lanka as the Russians did Crimea in the Ukraine.
    When this happens, India’s support to LTTE will look like chicken feed!

    At the same time the question regarding China’s investments in Sri Lanka is:

    1. Has an ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Assessment been done of the proposed Colombo port city? Where will the earth and soil necessary for such and unnecessary and dubious “development” be sourced?

    Will this result in erosion in other coastal areas given wave patterns and tides? Also, what of the global warming and sea level rising? Why has the environmental groups not demanded accountability from the corrupt and criminal Rajapaksa regime?

    2. If China become too visible in Sri Lanka, India will have NO qualms about doing what Russia did in Ukraine in Sri Lanka’s north east which will be annexed to India… This danger is clear and present and Sri Lanka will be divided between India and China, thanks to Rajapaksa’s greed and stupidity.

    Sri Lanka civil society needs to wake up and engage the Chinese State by protesting during Xi’s visit and submitting a letter demanding transparency and accountability and DISCLOSURE to the PEOPLE OF LANKA of Chinese “aid” to the Rajapaksa military dictator ship and all the white elephant infrastructure in Hambantota.

  • 0

    Atlast one pm from india independent of stupid external affairs ministry who made all wrong moves as per whims and fancies. Well done Modi..you mive in right direction.CC..contain china should be my policy

  • 0

    I think the real world is far different from what COl. Hariharan imagine and visualize.

  • 0

    The Chinese regime and its people have had a continued and traditional antipathy towards the Japanese, exacerbated during the 2nd World War. The recent visit by the Japanese Prime Minister perhaps is a pre-emptive strike that could have muddied the waters of the Sino- Sri Lankan relationship. China has been drawn too much into the quagmire of Sri Lankan relationship that may be difficult and too late to be extricated. It would be interesting to watch this development in the context of the newly found India- Sri Lankan “entente”. Bensen

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