NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi loves all things Japanese.
The bonhomie between Modi and his “old friend” Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, was evident during his five-day visit that began Saturday. The two inked business deals and pledged to upgrade defense cooperation. Modi played flute with schoolchildren, attended the traditional tea ceremony and prayed at Buddhist temples.
But Modi also went a step further. On Monday, he took a dig at China while on Japanese soil, without quite mentioning China.
He said there are two streams in this world: one is the path of expansionism and the other is of development.
“Today we are seeing all around us the 18th-century-style expansionist attitudes like encroaching some country and occupying it, intruding into the seas. That’s the mentality,” Modi said at a luncheon meeting with Japanese business leaders, in a veiled reference to China's growing territorial claims in the region. “This kind of expansionism can never ensure welfare of people.”
When Modi was the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, Japan was one of the few international partners at the annual state investment summits called “Vibrant Gujarat.” That was at a time when many Western nations chose not to engage with Modi’s government because of human rights reports about his failure to stop widespread religion-based rioting in 2002.
“Modi’s foreign policy instincts are, again understandably, shaped by his Gujarat experience. Countries that were nice to him during his chief ministerial stint will get attention during his tenure,” said an article in the Hindustan Times on Sunday.
This month, Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit India to engage with Modi’s new government.
Modi is not the first Indian leader who has played on the Japan-China dynamics.
Visiting Tokyo amid border tensions between New Delhi and Beijing last year, then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India and Japan are “natural and indispensable partners” in the pursuit of a “peaceful, stable, cooperative and prosperous future for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.”
But Modi’s special admiration for Japan also means that he will take a personal interest in boosting business. He promised to set up a special coordination team in his office to boost Japanese investment, and he invited Tokyo to nominate members to the team as well.