The signing of the nuclear cooperation agreement with Tokyo during Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit is critical to India’s renewable energy plans
When India conducted its nuclear tests in 1998, Japan was the country that took it the hardest: it put all political exchanges with India on hold, froze aid and announced economic sanctions within hours. A thaw in ties didn’t come until 2001 when sanctions were lifted. And then, in 2009, the two countries began an annual strategic dialogue. This has now come to fruition with the signing of the nuclear cooperation agreement in Tokyo during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. The deal is critical to India’s renewable energy plans. Japanese companies that produce cutting-edge reactor technology were previously not allowed to supply parts to India. In addition, Japanese companies have significant holdings in their U.S. and French partners negotiating for nuclear reactors now, and that would have held up the deals. This is Japan’s first nuclear deal with a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it recognizes India’s exemplary record in nuclear prudence. It is indeed a much-needed moral boost as New Delhi strives for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The move will boost the meager, and dipping, bilateral trade of $15 billion, and lift the strategic military and defense relationship.
There are several riders to this rosy prognosis, however. First, the nuclear deal has to be approved by Japan’s Parliament. This will not be aided by unhelpful references such as those made recently by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, about revisiting India’s no-first-use nuclear weapons policy. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may face criticism that he extracted too few assurances from India on a nuclear test ban. In India, Mr. Modi may be criticized for giving in too much, as a note slipped into the agreement now accepts an emergency suspension of the deal if India tests a weapon.
The clock is ticking, and Mr. Abe must bring the deal to Parliament in early 2017 to ensure that the commercial agreement for Westinghouse’s six reactors in Andhra Pradesh that is due in June 2017 comes through. This will also coincide with the next plenary of the NSG. Both New Delhi and Tokyo must also be wary of the impact on Beijing of this new stage in their ties. China has been hedging against deeper Japan-India ties in Asia by investing in its relationship with Russia and Pakistan. As the two Asian rivals to China, India and Japan might need the partnership even more in the days to come, as the U.S. President-elect has indicated a lower level of interest in “playing policeman” in the region.