Friday, December 30, 2011

Yet Another Summit Meeting

The Japanese Prime Minister, Noda, visited India this week. As usual, there was much talk about boosting trade, technology transfer and maintaining high levels of ODA assistance for infrastructure projects. Despite all the special reports, exclusive interviews and sound-bites, there seems to be little evidence of any real change in the bilateral equation.

When the dust settles down one hard fact will still remain: Japan-India trade stands at $15 billion while Sino-Japan trade is chugging on at $340 billion per year.

Why is there such a huge gap between the rhetoric and reality? A part of the answer perhaps lies in the completely unrealistic expectations with which Indian's approach the Japanese. Take for instance, India's desire to obtain advanced technologies from Japan. On 28 Dec., an Indian Express report on bullet trains headline said, 'Japan Says Will Provide Latest Technology'. The crux of the report was a quote by one Toshihiro Yamakoshi, Director, Office of Project Development, Japan's transport ministry, who is aparantly stated, 'Japan would be offering the necessary technology' for the six corridors that India is planning to develop.

A transport ministry offers technology that does not belong to it and the report claims that Japan 'will provide latest technology'. This might have made some sense if the reporter was quoting a Soviet official in the erstwhile USSR. But Japan is not USSR and neither companies not technologies belong to the government to do as they please.

The Chinese officials understood this simple fact a couple of decades ago and focussed their attention, not on the MITI officials, but on Japanese companies that needed cheap labor and access to markets. They delivered what was promised in meetings, played transnationals against each other and, over the years,  built-up their own companies as formidable competitors.

At the end of this prime-ministerial visit, Indian politicians and bureaucrats will no doubt pat each other on the backs and hope that the private sector will  take a cue from the high-level discussions and "do the needful" - until the next summit meeting.

Joint Forum of Indian and Japanese CEOs - Joint Report (28 December 2011) -

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