Japan recently moved to provide aid to the rail sector in Bangladesh, with as much as $1.7 billion in infrastructure funds under discussion. In an email interview, Purnendra Jain, a professor at the University of Adelaide's Center for Asian Studies, discussed Japan-South Asia relations.
WPR: What is the state of Japan's relations with South Asian countries, and who are its major interlocutors?
Purnendra Jain: Japan's overall relations with the South Asian nations have had a rather low profile throughout the postwar period. Japan became a lead supplier of official development assistance (ODA) to a number of countries -- such as Bangladesh and Nepal -- and India was the first recipient of a Japanese yen loan in the late-1950s. However, the main economic drivers of economic ties, such as trade and direct investment, remained limited as Japan focused its attention initially on Southeast Asia and then on China. The adversarial India-Pakistan relationship and India's choice of maintaining strategic distance from the United States historically made Japan less enthusiastic about the subcontinent. In recent years, however, India has become more attractive for Japan, both economically and strategically, and although Tokyo still maintains "friendly" relations with Pakistan, it no longer sees India and Pakistan as equally important. Although Japan remains a major donor to the subcontinent, including to India, the India-Japan relationship is now following a new trajectory.