Modi fires up diplomacy engine

Civil nuclear energy deal is one that matters to an energy starved country like India. Though a deal of this nature could not be signed during the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi to Japan, a similar pact was waiting to be signed in the country on his return. An agreement for cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear deal was signed during the visit of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Australia will now be a long-term uranium supplier to India. Australia will also cooperate in production of radio isotopes and nuclear safety. Before the signing of the accord Abbott had said, ‘In a sign of the mutual trust and confidence that our two countries have in each other, Prime Minister Modi and I will today sign a nuclear cooperation agreement that will, finally, allow Australian uranium sales to India.’ 
He said that he ‘trusts’ India for doing the right thing in this area.

Nuclear apartheid on India ended after the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement in July 18, 2005 and subsequently India separating its defence and civil nuclear establishments. India’s first nuclear reactor was set up in Rajasthan with Canadian assistance. After India conducted the first nuclear test in 1974 and the second in 1998, the world powers withheld civil nuclear cooperation with India and asserted that that the country should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India termed the treaty as discriminatory and unequal between parties.

India has signed bilateral deals on civilian nuclear energy technology cooperation with several other countries, including France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and South Korea. India has also uranium supply agreements with Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Namibia.

The former Australian PM Howard initially favoured a civil nuclear cooperation with India and after intense negotiations, the deal was struck by the Abbott government.

India has low deposits of uranium. Deals with uranium suppliers are necessary. Why did not such a deal with Japan get finalised when Modi was on a five-day visit to that country? The negotiations are at an advanced stage and are expected to be finalised soon as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated. He has commended India’s efforts in the fields of non-proliferation including the affirmation that goods and technologies transferred from Japan would not be used for delivery system for WMD. Japan has removed six of India’s space and defence-related entities from its foreign end user list.  Both Abe and Abbott are supportive of India’s full membership of four international export control regimes – Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Agreement and Australia Group.

However, Modi has won over Abe through his Buddha diplomacy and was successful in raising the relationship between the two countries to the level of Special Strategic and Global Partnership. This is enough to signal to China that if it can afford to have ‘all-weather’ friendship with Pakistan in an attempt to checkmate and antagonise India, the latter can have more significant relationship with its immediate island neighbour. Modi has said that adding ‘special’ is not just a ‘play of words’ it signifies Japan’s increasing role in India’s economic development, increased political dialogue and a renewed push to defence cooperation.

More so, Modi’s utterances of ‘expansionist’ mind-set of the 18th century are still visible in the world with some countries ‘encroaching ‘ upon others, while some ‘entering the seas’ and some ‘capturing the territory of a country’ have perplexed the Chinese leadership, if not annoyed them. Incidentally Modi’s remarks came when the Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit India in the third week of this month. Reacting to Modi’s utterances in Japan the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Qin Gang said, ‘I want to stress that China and India are major countries. We both advocate and practice the five principles of peaceful coexistence.’ But the official Chinese media accused the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe for dividing China and India and termed the attempt as ‘crazy fantasy’.

Modi’s words have sounded as music to Abe’s ears as China continues to claim Senkaku Islands in East China Sea. But it is noteworthy to see how Modi deals with the Chinese President Xi Jinping when he arrives here for talks. Will Modi insist upon the Johnson Line and the MacMahon Line fixed by the British as the boundary between India and China and which is represented by the official map of the country? Will he try to resolve the dispute over Indian presence in South China Sea?

Modi had assured to work together with all South Asian (SAARC) countries. The participation by SAARC leaders in his swearing in ceremony was a symbolic gesture. He also wanted to reopen dialogue with Pakistan, but as the latter increased ceasefire violations at the border and talked to the Kashmiri separatists, the scheduled talks at foreign secretaries level was called off. Modi government is of the view that the dialogue process should be on the basis of Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration with peace at the border. India is, however, of the view that the situation would improve for a dialogue.

The tilt in India’s foreign policy under Modi government is quite visible. Instead of waiting situation, time is ripe for a sub-regional cooperation in South Asia and then extending it to south-east Asia and east Asia. Buddha diplomacy is the trump card. Modi’s first foreign tour in South Asia was to Bhutan and then to Nepal. Japan is his first visit outside South Asia and this is the first time an Indian PM  has stayed in an Asian country for five days.

Budhha diplomacy also holds good for roping in many south-east Asian countries. External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent visits to Singapore, Vietnam and Myanmar for the 21st ASEAN Regional Forum Meeting and the 4th East Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting has already set tone for Modi government’s future interaction with east Asian countries.

India and Japan have agreed to take forward the India-Japan-US trilateral process to the level of foreign ministers and continue with joint naval exercises. But Australia is unwilling to join in making it a quadrilateral with whom it has a flourishing bilateral trade of $150 billion. 

But Australia which currently holds the chair of Indian Ocean Rim Association is eager to cooperate with India. Similarly South Korea is unwilling to join the trilateral as it has problems with Japan. But India has such bilateral arrangement with Australia and South Korea. 
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