Bridging towards a shared future

Written by Cassie Lim, Be Movement issue 4 – INDIA, published August 2014

On the surface, Japan and India could not be more different from each other. India is the second most populous country in the world, with over 1.2 billion people and growing, and the seventh largest country by area, whereas Japan has a population of over a hundred million residing along a thin strip of islands. However, despite the apparent polar opposites in cultures, behaviours, languages and food, both countries share the same deep sense of identity. Perhaps due to their unmistakable uniqueness and long history, both countries have come to respect each other’s differences.

Be Movement India issue Japan 1

Be Movement India issue Japan 1

As a frequent traveller to India and someone who has lived and worked abroad for 19 years, Mr Junichi Sasaki, President of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), Singapore, and President & CEO, ITOCHU Singapore highlights, “There are many differences … India has [a higher] poverty level and [a coterie of] very rich guys, a wider range than Japan … India’s culture is also different, [having a large] Hindu and Islamic culture. [There are also] very strong provincial governments … which is different from Japan.” Discerning in his observation, Sasaki notes, “India likes to debate. We don’t like debate … We have many opportunities to learn from India. For example, India has very young and aggressive people, very smart logical guys, and they are very familiar with Europe, USA and Middle East and Africa.”

Be Movement India issue Japan Sasaki

Be Movement India issue Japan Sasaki

Recognising the potential of India, Japan embarked on one of the most expansive collaborations undertaken in India known as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) Project. Renowned for cutting edge science and technology, Japan is providing technological and financial support for this project. It is an ambitious USD 90 billion industrial programme to develop astute cities in India and to orient the country as a global manufacturing and trading hub. The first phase of the project was launched this year in the state of Maharashtra.

The DMIC Project will see major expansion of infrastructure and industry – including industrial clusters and rail, port, road, air connectivity – in the six states along the route of the 1,483km long western dedicated Freight Corridor, which forms the backbone. On what he hopes for the project Sasaki says, “The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Project [has been planned for] almost more than five years … The two governments [India and Japan] promoted this DMIC Project. [When] Modi was the governor of Gujarat, he made big success in terms of inviting foreign investment [for the] automobile industry. Many industries enjoyed business in [the] Gujarat state, so I hoped he could diversify [that] successful business model to all of India.”

Expressing a desire for a better India and reliable trading partner, Sasaki provides judicious advice on what could accelerate the pace towards a durable economy: revising the GST system for local and foreign firms, as well as improving infrastructure. As businesses in India “have to pay for GST across states,” this disrupts the flow of goods and services in which “reasonable solutions” are required. Bereft of adequate ports, roads and utilities to attract foreign investments, major infrastructural renovations are also necessary.

With the shrinking Japanese market, Sasaki feels that Japanese companies will need to diversify their markets overseas to remain competitive. Asia is the most important market because of its proximity to Japan. Since Japanese staff are limited, Japan will need very reliable local Asian partners for the long-term. Another option is to utilise trading houses, such as Itochu Corporation, which provide easier avenues for companies to expand overseas. “We want to emphasise the India market as the second biggest market next to China,” says Sasaki, who feels that the DMIC Project would be the bridge between Japan and India to create a shared future.

The decade long economic stagnation, aging population and decreasing birthrates have also caused Japan to rethink its immigration and economic blueprints to restore global competitiveness. With Japan hosting the 2020 Olympics, the country hopes to double the number of annual foreign visitors  to 20 million.

Speaking of the Japanese Prime Minister’s “Abenomics” Sasaki explains, “Abenomics has three arrows. One is monetary policy, easing monetary policy … The second arrow is aggressive financial back-up from the government, aggressive expenditure from the Japanese government. [The] third arrow is very important. [The] third arrow means growth strategies, how to grow in Japan, how to proceed structural reforms. Otherwise, it’s not so easy to grow.” Examples of growth strategies include encouraging greater gender equality and foreign labour.

“Currently our business circumstances are borderless. We need very talented foreigners in a Japanese company and of course we have to speak English. Otherwise, it is very difficult to communicate with them … We have to be more aggressive for foreigners and foreign investments.”

Being an auxiliary to Japan’s endeavours, JCCI is a medium for Japanese enterprises to glean business know-how. JCCI Singapore, for instance, organises seminars and workshops which promote the exchange of best practices. Sasaki also hopes to collaborate with the Indian Chamber of Commerce, Singapore, for dialogue sessions on conducting business in India.

The JCCI Foundation was established in 1990 to enhance understanding of the Japanese culture and to foster bilateral exchange. JCCI Foundation supports the development of all aspects of arts, culture, sports and education. “We want to support these developments in Singapore and introduce Japanese culture here,” says Sasaki. Having lived a large part of his life overseas, Sasaki shares, “My philosophy is co-prosperity and coexistence.  [Being a foreigner,] I want to understand Singapore history and culture … Give and take is very important and respect for each other. We make successful business models one by one and deepen our business relationships together. This is [the] right way.”

When asked on how to overcome the current differences between Japan and India, Sasaki aptly concludes, “We have to understand more and more of India. I hope [the] young generation … visit India and understand by themselves what is current India and make good friends. That is most  important.” •






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