Modi woos Japan and the US

India's prime minister Modi tries to develop relations with important countries: In Japan, he marketed India as a ‘low cost manufacturing hub’ and tries to inject new life to U.S.-India relations.

When Narendra Modi was sworn in as the new prime minister of India in May this  year, one of the criticisms leveled against him was his relative inexperience in the foreign policy domain. Modi, however, seized the initiative at the very beginning of his term by inviting the SAARC leaders to attend his swearing in ceremony and thereafter carried forward the momentum by making Bhutan and Nepal, two of India’s most important neighbours, as his first ports of call. By receiving the Chinese President Xi Jinping, and visiting Japan and the USA in recent months, Modi has indicated that one of the main goals of his government would be to expand and build stronger ties with countries with which India’s economy can benefit and flourish. Economic diplomacy seems to be the bulwark on which Modi’s foreign policy foundations are going to rest on.

Modi’s 3-Ds in Japan

The Prime Minister’s maiden bilateral visit outside the sub-continent, to Japan, was primarily targeted at wooing foreign investment in the infrastructural sector and gave a clear message that India has a new economic and trade partner. Referring to his ‘Make in India’ slogan, Modi marketed India as a ‘low cost manufacturing hub’ and upgraded Indo-Japan relations to the level of ‘Special Strategic Global Partnership’. Inviting Japanese investors to ‘Make in India’, Modi said that India offered the three essential ‘Ds’ for business to thrive viz: Democracy, Demography and Demand. Japan also promised to invest US dollars 35 billion through public and private funding over the next five years for various projects including building of smart cities and cleaning of the river Ganges. An article in The Diplomat says that,

“The maiden visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan has been touted as the crown jewel in India’s East Asia diplomacy this year. New Delhi not only secured unprecedented economic investment from Tokyo but also found a partner for economic growth. India’s need for a financial boost for its economy cannot be overstated and the trip has clearly bolstered bilateral ties.”[1]

Modi’s visit was also seen by some experts as an attempt to counter balance the growing dominance of China by forging an alliance with Japan. Much was made of Modi's remarks in Tokyo, where he said, "everywhere around us, we see an 18th century expansionist mind-set: encroaching in other countries, intruding in others' waters, invading other countries and capturing territory", which were seen as a reference to China. Writing in, noted strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellany said Modi recognizes that New Delhi must strategically collaborate with Tokyo to prevent the rise of a Sino-centric Asia, or else India's world-power aspirations will be stymied for good.’[2]

Border standoff casts shadow over Xi Jinping’s visit

PM Modi’s visit to Japan was followed immediately by the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited India from September 17-19. In a departure from protocol, Modi received Xi in Ahmedabad. It was the first time an Indian PM was receiving a foreign head of state outside the national capital. Xi also became the first Chinese leader, after Zhou Enlai, to be feted at a civic reception. While the agenda of the visit was mainly trade and economics, the visit took place amidst incursions by the Chinese armed forces across the still undemarcated border between the two countries. An article in DNA India stated

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday held talks during which the Indian side conveyed its concerns over Chinese incursions as the two sides discussed all "substantive issues" having bearing on bilateral ties. Modi and Xi held talks in restricted format and then in delegation level during which the two leaders also focused on cooperation in key areas of trade and investment.”[3]

Similarly, the Times of India wrote “Prime Minister Modi bluntly told visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping that Beijing’s intransigence on the border might impact bilateral ties.” [4]

While China is India’s largest bilateral trade partner, with two way trade last year at $66 billion, the balance of trade is firmly in China’s favour as Chinese exports stand at $51 billion. With the focus of both these Asian giants on economic growth and development, the challenge for the new government would be to balance this complex relationship in the context of what many see as China’s hegemonistic designs in south east Asia and India’s own long standing unresolved boundary issue with China.

Rock star reception for Modi in US

A new phase appears to have begun in the Indo-US relations after Modi paid a visit to the United States of America. There was a general feeling that the India-US relationship had become comatose in recent years primarily due to a perception of policy paralysis in the Manmohan Singh government. Modi, therefore had to inject a new life into this relationship as well as to impart fresh dynamism. At their first bilateral meeting, Modi and Obama vowed to "deepen existing ties" and scaled up cooperation in substantive bilateral, regional and international issues including economy, trade, nuclear deal, climate change, the war against terror, combating the Middle East violence and regional security. The two countries agreed to resolve the issues plaguing the civil nuclear deal and step up defence ties by renewing the Framework Agreement for defence cooperation for a further 10 years.

India and the US also agreed to intensify their cooperation in the war against terror and improving coordination to help Afghanistan fight insurgency. Modi also invited American companies to participate in Indian defence manufacturing sector. A report in the Times of India states

“Bullish on opportunities in India, top US corporates, including Boeing, IBM and BlackRock on Monday expressed their keenness to strengthen engagements with the country during their meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who promised a friendlier business environment. They have expressed interest to participate in diverse initiatives including those related to smart cities.”[5]

According to an article in India Today,

“In a survey following Modi’s five day visit, the US-India Business Council (USIBC) found that $42 billion was willing to be committed over the next two-three years for investment by just 20 percent of the members surveyed, said government sources Saturday. If the rest of the USIBC members and the top US businesses had been surveyed, the figure would have exceeded $100 billion, the official added.”[6]

Modi and Obama also co-authored an editorial in the Washington Post in which the importance of Indo-US partnership was highlighted. It says that,

“While our shared efforts will benefit our own people, our partnership aspires to be larger than merely the sum of its parts. As nations, as people, we aspire to a better future for all; one in which our strategic partnership also produces benefits for the world at large. While India benefits from the growth generated by U.S. investment and technical partnerships, the United States benefits from a stronger, more prosperous India. In turn, the region and the world benefit from the greater stability and security that our friendship creates. We remain committed to the larger effort to integrate South Asia and connect it with markets and people in Central and Southeast Asia.”[7]

In an op-ed in the Hindustan Times, India’s former Foreign Secretary says that,

“If the media coverage in India of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit and the adulation with which the Indian-American community greeted him in New York were any yardstick, it can already be labeled a resounding success. No other Indian prime minister has connected so well with the Indian Americans. This signifies that the entrepreneurial, achievement-oriented, can-do Indian Americans, who want to derive pride from India’s success, see Modi as a savior.”[8]

Over the past few months the Indian PM has visited a few countries, including both neighboring and those with which economic ties can be built. These visits and efforts, put in by the new government to improve the existing Indian foreign policy, have got the thumbs up from experts. Writing in the Indian Express, foreign policy and strategic affairs expert C. Raja Mohan says that,

“Prime Minister Modi’s most impressive performance appears to be in the diplomatic realm. A change of government does not produce a change in foreign policy objectives for large countries like India. That happens only when the change is revolutionary. But new leaders have the freedom to bring fresh perspectives to foreign policy and organize new ways of doing business with the outside world.”[9]

Till now the government has made a healthy effort to develop a rapport and relationship with important countries. After the euphoria settles down, the main challenge ahead would be of maintaining and keeping the newly formed relationship.


[1] Swati Arun, “ No India Should Not Seek an Alliance with Japan”, The Diplomat, September 15th 2014

[2] Brahma Chellaney, “Why Modi’s Japan visit was a watershed”,, September 5, 2014

[3] DNA Sept 18, Narendra Modi urges to resolve border dispute as Chinese President's Xi Jinping invites Modi to China”

[4] Times of India, Sept 20, “Chinese incursion in Ladakh: A little toothache can paralyze entire body, Modi tells Xi Jinping”

[5] Times of India Sept 29, “PM Narendra Modi meets top US CEOs, many keen on India opportunities”

[6] India Today Oct 5, “Modi inspires investor confidence in US visit, $42 billion committed”

[7] Narendra Modi and Barack Obama, “A Renewed U.S.-India Partnership for the 21st Century”, The Washington Post, September 30th 2014

[8] Kanwal Sibal, “ Indo-US relations: Not Natural Partners at All”, The Hindustan Times, September 29th 2014

[9] C Raja Mohan, “ A New Panchsheel”, The Indian Express, October 9th 2014