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Yuriko Koike | If Russia takes the next step, it will be a bad idea

LiveMint logoLiveMint 13-05-2014 Gayatri Chandrasekaran

In a country ranked 105th among 136 on gender parity, Yuriko Koike is an exception. Japan’s first woman defence minister, former national security adviser and currently a member of the National Diet, Koike has been involved in politics for more than three decades. In an interview, Koike spoke about India’s relationship with Japan and the threat from aggressive countries such as Russia and China. Edited excerpts:

How would you describe the current state of relations between India and Japan?

Relations between the two countries are excellent. The prime ministers have met frequently, especially the current prime minister Shinzo Abe. He visited India in January 2013, soon after taking oath in December 2012. His visit followed the visit of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to India. Abe’s January visit was very fruitful, not only from the point of view of diplomatic relations, but from the economic and defence perspectives as well.

In 2007, Abe spoke of the confluence of two seas as a euphemism for India-Japan defence ties. What needs to be done to further that relationship?

The security relationship has been well developed since 2007. When I was the defence minister I visited India and was well-received. I met (defence) minister A.K. Antony. Since then for naval drills between the US and India, Japan has been invited as an observer and to participate. This has become an annual practice. Joint (military) exercises are very useful for tackling terrorists, pirates etc.

Also, I would like to stress that ocean security is very important. Abe’s government feels that oceans are global commons, whose security has to be sought based on international laws and not force. Trade is so widespread that ocean security is vital from an economic perspective as well.

Countries such as India and Japan which respect democracy and international laws have to get together to ensure maritime security. Japan is ready to support India in its ability to improve maritime security. The two countries have started talks in this respect. A joint working group is also discussing a deal for the US-2 flying boat (an amphibious aircraft with a range of more than 4,500km).

Is India not signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) a barrier to civilian nuclear cooperation between the two countries?

We hope India can change their attitude towards NPT. The Japan-India nuclear power plant treaty has just begun. Recently, Japan has concluded such treaties with Turkey and the UAE (United Arab Emirates), so that nuclear power plants can be exported to these countries.

I hope that if India signals its intent to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, Japan will be ready to support the construction of nuclear power plants in India. Japan has had nuclear accidents in the past. The rechecking of these facilities is taking place. Research shows that nuclear power plants in Japan are much safer now.

Last month US president Barack Obama described the defence of Senkaku Islands as part of the US-Japan bilateral defence agreement. Do you think that statement marks another attempt by the US to pivot to Asia?

For many years, in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, greater emphasis was given to policies on Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East rather than Asia. The keyword of Obama’s trip was rebalancing policies from the West to the East, especially in the Pacific Rim. I remember Obama’s speech when he visited Japan for the first time in 2009 after becoming president of the US. He was raised in Hawaii and he proudly declared that he was America’s first Pacific president. It was very impressive and the Japanese welcomed his speech and expected that the new administration would pay more attention to the Pacific region.

But look at the situation in Crimea for instance. We had some doubts that rebalancing is just about words. But his visit to Asia makes us hopeful that rebalancing is still a priority and will be developed in the future.

Japan and the US are allied countries. We have the US-Japan security treaty and the US’ duty to Japan is to secure us. This was a very clear message from the US President about the Senkakau Islands and this should act as a deterrent in our region.

How serious do you think is the new wave of Chinese aggression in Asia?

China has had a plan to challenge the US in the Pacific region for many years. After Japan suffered from economic decline, the country has decreased its national and security budgets. This might have given an opportunity to China to challenge (us). But as Abe mentioned at the G-7 summit in Hague, no one can change the status quo just by force. That message was not just for Crimea. That was for our (territorial disputes) as well. This is my analysis.

Will the inaction of western countries in countering Russia embolden other countries to attempt to seize territories they covet?

I don’t think so. The international economy is complexly interdependent in terms of energy and finance. If Russia takes the next step, for their sake it will be a bad idea. They will face more retribution. That is not good for them. The world economy is not in good shape. In order to be improve the situation we have to enjoy more sustainable and stable societies in all countries. And I hope India realizes this as well and whoever takes the leadership in India will have wise policies with respect to its neighbouring countries and Japan.

Recently two Japanese firms, Daiichi Sankyo and NTT Docomo exited from their investments in India. Is India considered a poor investment destination by Japanese firms?

No, I don’t think so. Those two companies’ activities in India had some problems because of competition. In fact, Japan has strengthened its economic relations with India over the years. Every year hundreds of Japanese firms decide to enter India. Japanese companies are increasing their manufacturing facilities in the country. But some problems that Japanese firms face are lack of infrastructure, electricity and water supply. Those basic facilities are needed. There Japan can help India.

I am also watching the current election. Whoever takes office, Japan is ready to support to enhance Indian infrastructure. Not only for the sake of business but also for the sake of bettering the life of citizens. Water supply and purification of air is essential. Japanese technology can help India in these areas.

Also, Japan has many plans on how to develop the economic relationship further. There is an official plan to develop an industrial corridor between Chennai and Bangalore. The plan is to make this corridor an economic engine so that India can turn into a hub for manufacturing industries.

How would you rate Abenomics today? Successful?

It is successful. Abe took his office in end of 2012. When the then prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, decided to dissolve the House, the markets reacted favourably in the hope of a change. The Nikkei index jumped and the yen went down drastically. The first thing Abe did was to change the governor of the Bank of Japan. Abenomics is essentially how to get rid of deflation. It is not just about the economy but also deals with the morale of the Japanese people. If your salary goes down, and you know it will go down further next month, it will affect your morale. For long, almost 15 years, Japan suffered from deflation and Abe changed the direction (of the economy) completely. And he is determined to get rid of deflation. A stimulus package including the lowering of corporate tax is something Abe has to decide on. Japan is notorious for its debt. Abe has to balance the bad financial situation in Japan, the debt and stimulate the economy as well. Lowering corporate tax will lead to more international companies investing in Japan.

There is another stimulus package for improving the position of women in Japanese society: Womanomics. I started this policy and Abe took it forward. Japan was ranked 105th among 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2013. (The ranking is based on numerical analyses of women’s status in finances, education, politics and health.) There is little political participation of women in Japan. The number of women in the two houses of Parliament is very low. I am very surprised that women are so active in Indian politics. I hope that in five years, there will be more women in top positions in companies and in government.

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