India-Japan Nuclear Bi-Lateral Deal Shakes Up the Far East

On 11 November, after six years of negotiation, India and Japan signed a landmark nuclear deal at the India-Japan Bilateral Summit in Tokyo. The deal, which was confirmed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while on a trip to India in 2015, will allow for Japanese export of nuclear technology and equipment to expand India’s nuclear programme in hopes of increasing the state’s clean energy output. The deal, which provides for increased Japanese oversight into Indian nuclear affairs, will likely act as a regulator of India’s nuclear arms programme in the coming years.

After the signing, Abe remarked ‘[this agreement] leads to India virtually taking part in the international regime… Without a doubt, our destinies are interlinked.’ This deal will have enormous impact on India’s domestic affairs: it means continued Japanese support for India’s civil nuclear programme. Across India, many of the companies currently invested in Indian reactors are Japan’s largest tech firms Hitachi Ltd., Toshiba, and Mitsubishi. They have major ownership stakes in companies such as GE, Westinghouse, and Areva, all of which have been stalled from conducting business in India until the deal was signed.

These American and French firms have been keen to do business in India, however, the parts produced by Japan’s leading tech firms are essential to make that happen. Japanese ‘large forged components’ claim 80 per cent of the current global market, and without, the projects slated would become impractical.

In Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh, there are currently US Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors being planned, with the bidding process to begin this coming June. With the signing of this deal, Japanese companies will be given access to bid on the supply lines and there are already clear favourites in the bidding process. Currently, the Indian nuclear market is worth an estimated £120 billion. Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, the Japanese nuclear industry has been haemorrhaging money, which is an ailment the new nuclear deal will seek to remedy. The terms of the deal will call for a win-win situation on both states’ parts: it will be critical for India to receive Japan’s cutting edge technology.

Image courtesy of A S, © 2016, some rights reserved.

While the deal has attracted its share of critics, its terms have not ventured into uncharted waters. There has been significant concern on the Japanese side regarding India’s nuclear weapons programme, so Japan has taken significant steps to mitigate any chance of increased Indian nuclear armament. In the last stage of negotiations, the highly controversial ‘nullification clause’ was a closely watched issue: Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura confirmed it will allow for the nullification of the entire deal should India conduct any nuclear weapons test.

This deal marks the first time Japan has ever entered into a civil nuclear agreement with another state that has not yet committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, in an exploratory piece published on 5 September, The Diplomat argued that those concerns would be a non-issue stating that ‘India has demonstrated a firm commitment to non-proliferation principle in practice… If India continues to control its nuclear technology as carefully as it has for the past half-century, cooperation on the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes should not undermine the NPT.’ Already eleven states have signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with India, including the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Namibia.

What is significant is that this deal elevates India to the position of ‘sixth nuclear great power’ in the international order after the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, and China. This has created a sense of unease within China’s elite on the basis that recent border disputes over the Chinese-Indian border and over the South China Sea have marred China’s relations with India and Japan. On 14 November, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang cautiously issued a statement backing the deal stating ‘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… At the same time, the relevant cooperation should be conductive to safeguard the authority and effectiveness of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.’

This came a few days after China had requested India and Japan respect the ‘legitimate concerns’ of their neighbouring states. Previously the Chinese government had issued a warning to India to stay out of the South China Sea dispute, presumably attempting to prevent a bi-lateral New Delhi-Tokyo alliance that would extend past economic dealing. In recent years China has taken a stance of actively opposing India’s nuclear program, opposing India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), citing India’s refusal to sign the NPT for grounds of application dismissal. Shuang stated ‘we believe that the solution should be non-discriminatory and applicable to all non-NPT members and it must not damage the core value of the NSG as well as the authority, effectiveness and integrity of the NPT.’ Meanwhile, India’s application is being backed by the U.S. and a majority of other NSG members based on its non-proliferation record. Despite the NPT, India’s past has been relatively clean in comparison to ‘shady’ states such as Pakistan, which applied for NSG membership at the same time as India.

As it stands, India will continue to rise as a ‘nuclear superpower’ with or without an active relationship with the NSG (the bi-lateral treaty with Japan will see to that). The major questions that remain surround China and their response to a contentious nuclear race that looks likely to heat up in the Far East. The presence of a third nuclear power after China and Japan will certainly affect the dynamic, although in regards to how, only time will tell.

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