The results of national elections in India, expected to be announced on May 12, could mean good news for Japan and not such good news for China. Narendra Modi, the leader of the Hindu nationalist opposition party, has long been a favorite of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who would like to foster military and economic ties with India. Modi, the front-runner in the contest to be India’s prime minister, and Abe also share an antagonism for China. Modi has criticized the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for being too accommodating toward China and has pledged to take a tougher line on issues such as the border dispute between the two countries that has festered for decades.
Abe has clashed with China in a dispute over the ownership of several islands in the East China Sea. When it comes to the Chinese, “the Japanese are extremely apprehensive,” says P.K. Ghosh, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank. “It doesn’t take a genius to say India can be the largest friend of the Japanese.”
Abe has long treated Modi as a kindred spirit. Even after the George W. Bush administration put Modi on a travel blacklist for his alleged role in the 2002 riots that killed about 1,100 people, mostly Muslims, in Gujarat state, Abe welcomed Modi to Japan. The Indian politician, who was exonerated by the Indian courts, visited in 2007 during Abe’s first term as prime minister and then again when Abe was opposition leader in 2012. “Japan has worked very hard to improve relations with India,” says retired Indian General Vinod Saighal, author of Revitalising Indian Democracy. With a Modi victory, he says, relations “will get a boost, certainly.”