Modi`s Japan visit-Buddha diplomacy at work

  • By Ashok B Sharma
  • August 2014
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Marketing  Buddha has become the cornerstone of the Modi government’s foreign  policy in Southeast and East Asia. The policy holds good even for  sub-regional cooperation in South Asia. The first visit of Prime  Minister Narendra Modi to a South Asian country was to the  predominantly Buddhist neighbour Bhutan, and then to Nepal, where  Gautam Buddha was born. And now, Japan, his first visit to a country  of his choice outside South Asia, is significant.

Before  his departure, the Prime Minister said his “visit will write a new  chapter in the annals of the relations between Asia’s two oldest  democracies and take our Strategic and Global Partnerships to the  next higher level.” He has tweeted in Japanese saying he has very  warm memories of previous visits to Japan - twice as chief minister  of Gujarat - and that this time he intends to interact with all  sections of Japanese society from students, political leaders to  captains of industry. Japan is the only country that remained a  partner country for all the Vibrant Gujarat Summits.

To  understand Mr. Modi’s Buddha diplomacy, one needs to note that he  selected Kyoto in Japan as the first city he would land in as Prime  Minister and that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would come down  to meet him there. Kyoto is known for the confluence of Indian and  Japanese civilisational heritage through Buddhism. Mr. Modi’s visit  to the Toji temple again symbolises the confluence of Indian and  Japanese civilisation commonalities regarding Buddhism. Kyoto, in  Japanese lexicon, is known as a smart city which is environment  friendly and preserves its heritage along with cutting edge  technology. Mr Modi’s vision to develop 100 smart cities in India  prompts him to seek Japanese assistance.

Mr  Modi links Kyoto to his political constituency, the ancient city of  Varanasi, and feels that both cities should share their experiences.  He is interested in the stem cell research being carried out in Kyoto  University.

Buddha  diplomacy may bring India closer to Japan, particularly in defence  and civil nuclear cooperation. There have been recent changes in  Japan’s defence export policies and regulations and there are hopes  of a new era of cooperation in high-end defence technology and  equipment. Significant progress has been made in negotiations on  civil nuclear cooperation, purchase of US-2 amphibian aircraft and  feasibility study on Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train route. Malabar  2014 India-US-Japan trilateral naval drill was a success last month.  This trilateral cooperation is an issue which Mr Modi intends to take  up not only with Prime Minister Abe but also with US President Obama  when he meets him in Washington later next month.

Trade  and investment, development assistance, education and culture are  also on agenda for the India-Japan Summit talks in Tokyo.  Unfortunately, no Cabinet Minister is accompanying Mr Modi; the  Japanese side will be represented by its finance minister, foreign  minister, defence minister, economy, trade and industry minister,  land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister, and led by  Prime Minister Abe. Prime Minister Modi is, however, being  accompanied by National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval, Foreign  Secretary Sujatha Singh, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy  and Promotion, Amitabh Kant and Expenditure Secretary Ratan Watal.

Mr  Modi has found a unique opportunity to hard sell the concept of  Buddhist tourism in India. To give a fillip to attracting tourists,  plans are afoot to fast track development of the first phase of the  Buddhist Tourist Circuit in the country. The resurrection of the  ancient Nalanda University has invited participation by major  Buddhist countries. The first two schools of Nalanda University - the  School of Historical Studies and the School of Ecology and  Environment Studies – are slated to begin programmes from the  academic year September 2014. Among other Southeast Asian countries,  Singapore will be contributing towards the library of the university.

The  planned Buddhist Tourist Circuit encompasses and follows the  footsteps of Lord Buddha from the place of his birth in Lumbini in  Nepal to Piprahwa in Uttar Pradesh where he spent his childhood,  Bodhgaya in Bihar where he attained enlightenment, Sarnath in Uttar  Pradesh where he delivered his first sermon and Kushinagar in the  same state where he attained Mahaparinirvana. In the next phase, the  Buddhist Tourist Circuit will cover 17 states, including Madhya  Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha.

Mr  Modi’s recent visit to Nepal was the first visit by an Indian Prime  Minister in 17 years. Here he drew parallels between Somnath, Kashi  Viswanath and Pashupatinath. He offered assistance for the  development of Janakpur, Baraha Chhetra and Lumbini and linking these  with the Buddhist Tourist Circuit in India, on the basis of specific  proposals from Nepal. Nepal has requested India to allow three  additional air entry points at Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj.

External  Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent visits to Singapore,  Vietnam and to Myanmar for the 21st ASEAN Regional Forum Meeting and  4th East Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting has already set to tone  for the NDA government’s future interaction with East Asian  countries.

The  Indo-Pacific region has emerged as a key point in the rebalancing of  power equations in the world. India has an important role to play in  the region. Shortly after his return from Japan, Mr Modi is expected  to host Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot; Australia is presently  the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. The Chinese President  Xi Jinping is also scheduled to visit India soon. It is to be seen  how Mr Modi’s Buddha diplomacy works out for the region.

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