Indo-Japan Civil Nuclear Agreement: A win-win?

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Written by Sanjna Sudan

Even as objections from antinuclear campaigners clouded the prospects of signing a civil nuclear deal, India and Japan’s government made a breakthrough in their six-year long on-going negotiations last week. A civil nuclear cooperation agreement was signed in Tokyo during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much awaited visit to Japan.

While many hail this deal to be a success in India’s ‘Look East’ policy and others compare it to the historic Indo-US civil nuclear deal, there are a few key features about the deal;

A win-win situation

The deal is critical to India’s renewable energy plans and a lifeline for the Japanese nuclear power industry, which has been swamped since the Fukushima Daiichi power plants’ meltdown in Japan in 2011. New York Times reported that for Japan ‘India looks like a rare opportunity. It is planning 20 new reactors over the next decade or so, and as many as 55 more have been proposed.’

Japan’s nuclear energy industry has certainly a lot to gain by tapping into India’s market. India with its burgeoning population, pollution and desperate energy needs, hopes to achieve a lot through investing in this means of cleaner and greener energy source. Therefore, the deal it key to fulfil India’s nuclear vision, which envisages about 63000 MW of installed nuclear power capacity by 2032. Economically, this move translates into a boost for the bilateral trade of about $15 billion between the two Asian economies.

Bridges Indo-Japan Diplomatic efforts

The deal evidently helps bridge India and Japan’s diplomatic effort towards each other significantly, as Japan has sent out a clear message by signing the deal, that it recognises India’s ‘exemplary record in nuclear prudence’. For Japan this is a huge stride forward, as being the only country in the world to have suffered nuclear attacks, it has made a major exception by signing the atomic cooperation agreement with India. For India, this is a much-needed moral boost for New Delhi’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership ambitions.

Severing ties with Asian Neighbours?

However, Asian neighbours aren’t too pleased with the deal. China reacted guardedly to the deal. ”With regard to nuclear agreement signed between India and Japan and on the use of nuclear energy, we believe that under the promise of absorbing international obligation of nuclear non-proliferation, all countries are entitled to the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told the media. “At the same time, the relevant cooperation should be conducive to safeguard the authority and effectiveness of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime,” he added.

In the past, China has been obvious about its distaste towards deeper Japan-India ties in Asia, by investing in its relationship with Pakistan. In the recent years, both India and Japan have been hailed as two major Asian rivals to China, economically and strategically.

Japanese not too happy with the Deal

In Japan, however, the nuclear agreement was greeted with protests from hibakusha survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as survivors from the Fukushima nuclear accident. According to the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue issued a statement that said, “The signing of the agreement is extremely regrettable for a city that has been hit by a nuclear weapon.” Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui also issued a statement on November 11 stating, “Concerns remain about the conversion for use in nuclear weapons development of nuclear materials, nuclear energy-related technology, materials and equipment.”

Termination Clause and the NPT- Deja Vu?

In India, many recalled the signing of the historic 123 Civil Nuclear deal between India and the US. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar recalled the deal and explained to the reporters that the new deal was strikingly similar to atomic agreements India inked with the US regarding its ‘termination’ clause. In the 123 Agreement between India and the US, there is a clause for termination but it mentions that if India conducts a nuclear test, the two sides will initiate discussions immediately to understand the reasons for it. That will have to be concluded within a year.

In the Indo-Japan deal too, a certain ‘Views and Understanding’ document cites India’s September 2008 declaration of unilateral moratorium on atomic tests and says that if this commitment is violated, the deal will terminate.

It is quite evident that there are certainly several hurdles on the way towards a more energy secured India— but the overall pictures looks positive. Both the Asian nations will gain immensely through the deal, and a lot of credit for getting this through goes to Modi’s and Abe’s leadership and optimistic view towards this partnership. But then, the game has just started.


About the author: Sanjna Sudan, Young India fellow at Ashoka University