Narendra Modi , Shinzo Abe put India-Japan ties on the fast track

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and India’s Narendra Modi at the India-Japan Annual Summit in Gandhinagar on Thursday. Photo: PTI

Ahmedabad: Japan and India on Thursday decided to deepen their strategic ties by introducing new areas of cooperation that significantly broaden the future contours of their partnership against the backdrop of a rising China.

They decided on cooperation in connectivity spanning Africa, South-East Asia and India’s North-East—some parts of which are claimed by China; pledged to fight terrorism and drew up a roadmap for future economic interaction.

They were some of the highlights of the 12th India-Japan Annual Summit in Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar. Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe chaired the summit.

“We are trying to align each other’s approach towards the world and towards the region. In Japan’s case it is the Indo-Pacific strategy (connecting Asia and Africa). In our case it is the Act East policy,” which focuses on deepening India’s linkages with South-East Asia, foreign secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters in Gandhinagar.

The two countries also signed 15 pacts spanning cooperation in infrastructure development, skill development and disaster risk mitigation besides better air connectivity.

A concrete example of India-Japan partnership coming to fruition was the foundation-laying ceremony for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project, popularly called the bullet train, at the Sabarmati railway station in Ahmedabad. Modi and Abe were in attendance at the ceremony, marking a new chapter in India-Japan relations.

Japan sees India, a democracy like itself, as a natural ally, especially to counter China. The two countries are keen to broaden and deepen their bilateral engagement, especially economic ties.

“We have just signed a joint statement which will serve as a milestone to open a new era for Japan-India relationship… based on that we will strongly promote Japan-India special strategic and global partnership to drive peace and prosperity for Indo-Pacific region and the whole world,” Abe said.

In the joint statement, the two leaders “expressed their strong commitment to work together to enhance connectivity in India and with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region including Africa.”

Also in the statement, Japan backed most of India’s concerns on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that aims to expand links between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond, backed by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment.

“India and Japan share a principled approach towards how connectivity should be built,” Jaishankar said.

“In our view connectivity should be open, it should be transparent and it should be non-exclusive and it should follow responsible debt financing practices,” he said.

New Delhi has objected to the ambitious Chinese project drawing attention to the debt trap countries like Sri Lanka had fallen into by accepting Chinese loans for infrastructure projects—besides their environmental costs.

Recently, India and Japan outlined the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) that is widely regarded as an alternative to the BRI. “The two Prime Ministers welcomed the efforts to explore the development of industrial corridors and industrial network for the growth of Asia and Africa, which will benefit various stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region including Africa,” the joint statement said.

On connectivity in India’s North-East, the statement said Modi and Abe “welcomed the India-Japan cooperation on development of India’s Northeastern region (NER) as a concrete symbol of developing synergies between India’s Act East policy and Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.”

“We agreed on a Japan-India Act East Forum to explore the possibilities of involving Japan in the development of infrastructure in (India’s) North-East, that would help us open out much more to Myanmar, Bangladesh and beyond,” Jaishankar said.

The joint statement had some strong lines on terrorism, something seen as important from the Indian perspective.

“The two Prime Ministers also condemned in the strongest terms the growing menace of terrorism and violent extremism,” the statement said, calling for a halt to “cross-border movement of terrorists” and urged Pakistan to bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2016 attack in Pathankot. The statement said India and Japan would strengthen cooperation against threats from groups like Al-Qaida, Islamic State, Jaish-e-Mohammad(JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba—the last two being groups based in Pakistan and focussed on plotting and carrying out attacks against India.

On the economic front, the two sides welcomed the exchange of notes for 100 billion yen ($1 billion) in the first loan assistance for the high-speed railway as well as the start of the first four Japan-India Institutes for Manufacturing (JIMs) in the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu in 2017 under the Manufacturing Skill Transfer Promotion Programme, the joint statement said.

“The joint statement shows the willingness to build a stronger bond between the two countries. On the economic side there is Japan’s commitment to invest more in India through connectivity projects in the North-East. There is a clear desire to deepen cooperation in areas like the Indo-Pacific region,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

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