Treading Tokyo Trail
Marked by three sets of documents and fifteen agreements, the 12th India-Japan annual bilateral summit has definitely broadened the horizon of strategic, global, and economic partnership between the two countries. The development that is sure to have a range of consequences domestically, and which also garnered much public and media attention, is laying the foundation stone of the glamorous Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project in Gujarat. Opinions pertaining to this ambitious undertaking reveal some crucial aspects - beginning with the most obvious query: Is this grand project rightly timed when the existing system of Indian Railways is in dire need of reform and restoration?
The Shinkansen-inspired means of rapid transport is a fantastic idea per se, but it must be asserted that this innovation does not subsist entirely on its own. This magnificent mark of excellence rests on the pillars of impeccable management and efficacious coordination, and most importantly, on accountability of unmatched standard (even a one minute delay in schedule incurs explanation). Given the magnitude of qualitative difference between the existing Railways system and this new development, suffice it to say that perhaps, there is no comparison between the two because this upcoming project will serve to tide over the snag-infested methods in existence and eventually replace it entirely. This shift from colonial relic to state-of-the-art modernity is a desirable long-term goal. But in terms of immediate impact, the debate surrounding this is likely to prevent establishing any balanced conclusion. Just because an existing system is in need of major repair, there is no good reason to withhold any (scope of) innovation and development. The matter about bullet trains is ultimately a matter of decision and the decision has been made.
Another very crucial area of development covered in the bilateral agreement pertains to collaboration in the field of disaster risk management and sharing policies on disaster prevention. There are manifold dimensions to this. Besides ensuring safe keeping of bullet trains, it may be expected that novel methods that will come with this enterprise will help restore in significant ways the ailing Railways sector. Japan has suffered some of the worst disasters in modern times and yet it has bounced back with grace. Fukushima, Hiroshima, Nagasaki are examples of Japanese resilience. Unlike many accidents in India that happen due to negligence and human errors, Japan has had natural disasters aggravate its crisis. In the Fukushima incident (March 2011), it turned out ultimately that inadequate risk management and miscalculating a range of risks caused the major nuclear incident after Chernobyl (in April 1986). Nonetheless, the lesson from this is to elevate the level of preparedness when faced with a crisis; and India, with its increasing incidences of natural calamities and growing research in the area of nuclear potency, absolutely needs to have in place effective disaster prevention and management methods and policies.
With regard to strategic affairs, the promising India-Japan diplomatic proximity can substantially check China's expansionist tendencies in the South China Sea. Invigorating the Democratic Security Diamond, a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the US state of Hawaii enclose and safeguard the maritime stretch from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific, is a fitting counter to China's One Belt One Road and String of Pearls strategies. Coming together to take on a belligerent China is necessary so as to prevent any Dokalam-like situation it might orchestrate to bolster its ego at the expense of other countries. Signing an agreement for India Japan Act East Forum is a much-needed initiative to bring closer and integrate the Northeast by enhancing connectivity and executing developmental projects in the region. Further economic and industrial ties will facilitate and accelerate Japanese investment in India.
The framework for multidimensional development seems to have been decided more substantively with the promotion of institutional cooperation between India's Research and Information System (a think tank) and Japan's Institute of Developing Economies and Japan External Trade Organization (IDE-JETRO) and formalising the understanding to strengthen the capacity of research and effectiveness of dissemination of research findings. This is a very important deal as it does not put India in a position of subservience for technology before Japan, but instead, allows room for India to enhance and augment its own research and development. Japanese efforts in the fields of clean and sustainable energy are particularly of major significance to India. The technology for bullet trains, despite its debatable relevance, is a developmental move in keeping with the internationalised concern about environment and clean fuel.
It must be acknowledged that the cornerstone of Japan's formidable stature beneath its culture, heritage, R&D, clean energy sector, and general cleanliness and orderliness is collective conscience of its society, the citizenry and their work ethics - precisely the elements that keep a nation resilient and rising. Japan's strength is its remarkable ethos and attitude that do not equate development and modernisation with Westernisation. Its exemplary blend of traditions with dynamic modernity has marked this country bright on the globe. Japan is truly a great state and a great nation in many regards. May India tread along.
(The author is Editorial Consultant and Senior Copy Editor with MPost. Views expressed are strictly personal.)