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INTERVIEW | India-Japan Relations Now and Moving Forward with Ambassador Sibi George

The Ambassador explains how India and Japan's thousand years of friendship without conflict have led to such a successful 21st century strategic partnership.



India's Ambassador to Japan Sibi George responds to an interview with JAPAN Forward on February 14th in Tokyo. (© Sankei by Mina Teragawachi)

While Japan's population continues to decline, India recently surpassed that of China to become the world's most populous country. There is a tremendous opportunity for a beneficial partnership between the two countries that takes advantage of each other's strengths. 

In this connection, JAPAN Forward is publishing a series of articles exploring the potential for cooperation between India and Japan in a changing world. In the first interview for this series, His Excellency the Ambassador of India to Japan, Mr Sibi George, discusses the dynamic areas in which India and Japan are working together and how this cooperation can be further strengthened in the coming years. 

Excerpts follow.

First in a series on Japan-India Relations

Ambassador Sibi George on February 14. (© Sankei by Mina Teragawachi)

India's Fast Pace of Development

India achieved a remarkable recovery post-COVID-19. What policies did the Indian government implement to achieve this? 

India, like every other country, was affected by COVID-19, but we achieved an immediate V-shaped recovery, with GDP growth returning to pre-pandemic levels of over 7% right away. And we continue to be the world's fastest-growing large economy today.  

A major part of the credit for this goes to the Indian government's effective vaccination program. India managed to double-vaccinate its entire population with made-in-India vaccines. This was a mammoth task, given India's population of over 1.4 billion, the country's size, and the diversity of its terrain. But the efficiency with which we handled it is evidence of the monumental digital transformation India has been undergoing. 

A digital platform called CoWIN was developed to keep track of every individual's vaccination status. When Indians traveled, they did not need to carry paper-based vaccination certificates, they had digital ones. 

Incidentally, in addition, India did not only take care of its own population during the pandemic. India also supplied vaccines to 100 other countries in the spirit of vasudhaiva kutumbakam (literally "the world is one family"). This is a theme that repeatedly features in the ancient Indian scriptures called the Vedas. And we take it very seriously. 

Ambassador Sibi George on February 14. (© Sankei by Mina Teragawachi)

Cooperation Between India and Japan

What are some important areas in which India and Japan cooperate? 

India and Japan have a special relationship as we have no history of conflict. Our relationship has always been one of friendship. We have deep cultural and civilizational ties going back over a thousand years. Today, we also have bilateral economic ties as well as strategic and global partnerships. 

India is now the world's fifth-largest economy, and Japan is the fourth. There is a huge opportunity here for us to work together for the welfare and prosperity of both our people. There are already 1,500 Japanese companies doing business in India. And in 2022, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised to invest ¥5 trillion JPY ($33.3 billion USD) in India over the next five years. 

Could you explain what's behind the strategic partnership between the two countries?

India and Japan do have a strategic partnership. As you know, we live in troubled times and face many challenges in our own region – the Indo-Pacific. This an extremely important region of the world, both economically and in terms of population. Late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke about the "confluence of the two seas," referring to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 

Last year (2023), Japan announced new plans for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. India, for its part, has launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). This covers several thematic areas on which we work together with our friends in the region. Japan is our co-chair in the area of connectivity. 

India and Japan, together with the United States and Australia, are also a part of the Quad, a group of four like-minded countries that share the values of freedom, democracy, and open markets, and work together for the peace, stability, security, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific and beyond. 

India has a very young population. How will this contribute to taking the Japan-India relationship forward? 

India has the world's largest young population. This is a very important thing when there is such a huge global demand for a skilled young workforce. To tap into this demand, the Indian government has developed the Skill India program. The program aims to skill and train our young people so they can contribute to Indian and global economic prosperity. 

There is a large diaspora of Indian engineers, doctors, nurses, and other professionals all over the world. Nine million Indians work in the Persian Gulf region and contribute immensely to the economic prosperity of that region. We also have a large number of Indians working in the United States, Europe, and Australia. I see a great opportunity for dynamic and talented young Indians to work in Japan too. 

Ambassador Sibi George on February 14. (© Sankei by Mina Teragawachi)

Building Up Infrastructure

India has been rapidly expanding its infrastructure. Could you give us an overview of the various ongoing projects? 

India is undergoing a huge economic transformation. One important element of this transformation is infrastructure building. 

India today has the largest number of cranes operating anywhere in the world. They reflect the enormous amount of construction on infrastructure projects. Also, the number of airports, ports, and highways has increased dramatically, greatly improving inter-city connectivity. There are also many freight corridor projects all across India, connecting the country from north to south and east to west. 

Japan is our partner in many of these projects. And I would like to thank our Japanese friends for their support and cooperation. 


An example of a major infrastructure project with Japanese collaboration is the Shinkansen project to connect Mumbai and Ahmedabad. This is expected to be completed in the next few years. 

A large number of metros are also being built across India with Japanese assistance and technology. The Delhi Metro, for instance, was launched 25 years ago. Now there are many more, some already functioning, and others still under construction. 

India is also advancing in the area of digital infrastructure. Could you tell us about your country's initiatives?

Yes, in addition to physical infrastructure, India is also building digital infrastructure. The digital transformation we are witnessing is like nothing the world has seen before. Go to any part of India, and you will find that it is digitally connected. Our new digital payment mechanism, UPI (Unified Payment Interface), has transformed the country. With UPI, even small stores and streetside vegetable vendors are able and willing to accept digital rather than cash payments.

In fact, we are hoping Japan will also join India in adopting the UPI system. I am sure we will be able to work it out in the coming months. 

Ambassador Sibi George on February 14. (© Sankei by Mina Teragawachi)

Future of India-Japan Relations

How would you like to see India-Japan relations grow?

We need to have a quantum leap, not an incremental increase in the number of Indians in Japan. At present, we have 45,000. I would like to see more young Indian workers come and work here. 

The number of Indian students studying here in Japan is 1500. There, too, I would like to see a quantum leap. We would like to see 15,000 Indian students studying in Japan in the coming months. We need to do that, and I see the momentum.

What are your expectations for further cooperation from Japanese companies, and how can this be achieved?

I have seen a strong momentum for the India-Japan relationship everywhere I go in Japan. In JBIC (Japan Bank for International Cooperation) surveys on overseas business operations by Japanese manufacturing companies, India continues to be rated the most promising country. At present, there are 1500 Japanese companies in India, but we need a quantum leap forward.   

The framework for enabling this is already in place. India and Japan have a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA). We have set up platforms for SME (small-medium enterprise) partnerships and for cooperation in the energy sector. And we have signed a memorandum of understanding on semiconductor-related cooperation. 

In addition, we have set up a number of platforms in India to attract Japanese companies. There are 11 Japanese Industrial Townships (JIT) in different parts of India. Once these platforms and mechanisms begin to be fully utilized, I can see that quantum leap taking place.

Ambassador Sibi George at the entrance to the Embassy of India in Tokyo on February 14. (© Sankei by Mina Teragawachi)

About Ambassador Sibi George

The Honorable Sibi George is the Ambassador of India to Japan. Earlier he served as Ambassador to Switzerland, The Holy See and The Principality of Liechtenstein, and Ambassador of India to Kuwait. Ambassador Sibi Goerge also served in Washington, DC, Teheran and Riyadh. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1993.  After serving in several highly responsible positions at the Headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi and overseas, the Ministry of External Affairs conferred on him the SK Singh Award for Excellence in Indian Foreign Service in 2014.

Hailing from Kottayam District in the southern State of Kerala in India, Ambassador George belongs to Podimattam family of Pala. A gold medallist both for his graduation and post-graduation, he also studied at the American University in Cairo and trained at several post-graduation specialized programs in India. He is married to Joice John Pampoorethu, an artist by profession. They have two daughters Elhita Thampuran and Ayilya Thampuran and a son Jeff Vakhan Thampuran. The Ambassador is well-versed in Arabic, Malayalam, Hindi, and Tamil languages. Learn more about Ambassador Sibi George on the website of the Embassy of India in Japan.


Interview by: Yasuo Naito, Editor in Chief, JAPAN Forward

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