|By Nilova Roy Chaudhury||September 2017|
New Delhi. “India-Japan ties are at their best ever,” Kenji Hiramatsu, Japan’s Ambassador to India, told India Strategic days before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in India for the 12th annual India-Japan summit in the Gujarat capital Ahmedabad.
The mutual warmth and the outcome of the discussions between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Abe September 13 and 14 appeared to amply reflect the sentiment behind that statement. The title of the Joint Statement issued at the end of the summit, “Towards a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific” itself also outlined the state of the relationship and mutual desire for peace and prosperity around the two countries.
The two leaders decided to work together to elevate their partnership to the next level to advance common strategic objectives to reflect the growing convergence in political, economic and strategic interests.
The bilateral bonhomie was particularly on display when, after a welcome befitting royalty on arrival and a guided tour of India’s first UNESCO-designated heritage city, Prime Ministers Modi and Abe together laid the foundation stone for the bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in the Gujarat capital. They hoped the 508-km-long Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (MAHSR) corridor, to be built at a cost of $17 billion, would do for the Indian economy what the Shinkansen bullet train did for Japan’s economy.
Speaking at the foundation stone-laying ceremony, Mr Abe said, “A new Japan was born in 1964 after the Shinkansen’s launch. Modi plans to do the same for a new India, and we are determined to realise his plan,” he said. The strategic partnership between the two nations would help make India the “world’s factory,” the Japanese PM said.
“India and Japan will play a major role in Asia’s emergence,” said the Indian Prime Minister.
“The growing convergence between India and Japan on strategic and economic issues has the capacity to stimulate the global economy. Strong India and Strong Japan will also be a stabilising factor in Asia and the world,” he observed.
For the MAHSR, Japan is providing a $12-billion loan, at an interest of 0.1 per cent, for 50 years. This will include a 10-year moratorium on repayment for the project. The Indian bullet train will have 10 cars and accommodate 750 people. Of the 508-km stretch it will cover, 468 km will be elevated, 27 km through tunnels, and the remaining on the ground. The average speed of the train will be 320 km per hour, reaching a maximum of 350 km per hour, completing the distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in less than two hours.
This is the normal speed at which trains in Europe have been running for decades now. In Japan, they go faster.
A total of 15 agreements and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed after the summit, the fourth between Mr Modi and Mr Abe. MoUs were signed in the areas of disaster risk management, skill development, connectivity for India’s Northeast, and open-sky civil aviation, while deals were sealed for infrastructure development in Gujarat’s Mandal Bechraj-Khoraj region and to bring fresh food from Japan to India – thoughtfully – for Japanese expatriates whose number in this country is sure to rise.
“Japan has been closely involved with most of the flagship projects in India, like Make in India, Skill India, Digital India,” said Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. “We agreed specifically on an investment promotion partnership which was putting together modalities which would further accelerate Japanese investments in India,” he said while briefing the media after two days of intense discussions between the two PMs.
“The broad thrust of the discussions has been about how to really elevate the level of the ‘Special, Strategic and Global Partnership’ between the two countries,” Jaishankar said. “We are trying to align each other’s approach towards the world and towards the region. In Japan’s case it is the free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy, in our case it is the Act East Policy,” he explained.
On defence and security cooperation, the thrust of the contact and cooperation so far has been on maritime security and, this time, “we agreed to explore cooperation and exchanges between the Army and Japan Ground Self Defence Force and also between our Air force and Japan Air Self Defence Force as well as with the Coastguards,” the Foreign Secretary said.
“There was discussion on defence cooperation including technology cooperation and equipment cooperation,” including dual use technologies, he said, but declined to specify the hurdles preventing India from acquiring the US 2 ShinMaywa Amphibious Aircraft.
Notably, there is a regular and institutionalised engagement between India and Japan through the annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue, the National Security Advisers’ dialogue, the “2+2” Dialogue (defence and foreign ministers), the Defence Policy Dialogue and Service-to-Service staff talks.
Katsuyuki Kawai, Special Advisor on foreign affairs to Prime Minister Abe, said he had been deeply involved in the “trialogue” comprising the United States, Japan and India, as “like-minded forces” that are attracting other regional players like Australia and others, to be part of the naval exercises to drive home the point that Chinese ‘ham slicing’, expansionism, threat and coercion will not scare the democratic world and that ‘action, will be met by action.’
“There are two aspects of India-Japan relations I want to highlight,” Kawai said. “The first is high speed of railways that takes railways to a new era.
The second aspect is security. The Malabar joint naval exercise between Japan, India and United States in July is a symbol of defence cooperation. Japan looks forward to joint development of military equipment with India,” he said, outlining the growing bilateral security partnership.
Seeking to firm up the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) initiative, “connectivity was the second big theme and again both India and Japan shared a principled approach towards how connectivity should be built,” Jaishankar said. Taking on China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR), the two leaders opined that connectivity should be open, transparent, and non-exclusive and it should follow responsible debt financing practices.
There was a greater focus on Africa, on how best to meld the individual strengths of Japan and India in that continent; India’s outreach and long-standing goodwill with Japan’s quality and deep pockets.
Another crucial aspect of raising connectivity was an agreement to work in a more focused and substantive way on India’s North East.
A Japan-India Act East Forum has been established to explore the possibilities of involving Japan in developing critical infrastructure in Northeast India and connecting it to Bangladesh and Myanmar, thereby practically providing legs to India’s Act East policy.
Terrorism made up a significant part of the agenda of discussions. Japan has always made clear that it has zero tolerance for terrorism and, in the 60-paragraph long Joint Statement, there is a specific mention of rooting out safe havens, on disrupting terrorism networks, financing channels and halting cross-border movement of terrorists. As in the Declaration issued after the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, earlier this month, in the India Japan joint statement, the two countries have specifically named terrorist organisations like Al-Qaida, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other affiliates, and agreed to cooperate against them.
The two Prime Ministers “condemned in the strongest terms the growing menace of terrorism and violent extremism,” the statement said.
“The two Prime Ministers called upon all UN member countries (read China) to implement the UNSC Resolution 1267 and other relevant resolutions designating terrorist entities. They emphasised the need for stronger international partnership in countering terrorism and violent extremism, including through increased sharing of information and intelligence,” the statement said.
Targeting Islamabad, “the two Prime Ministers also called for Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of terrorist attacks including those of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai and the 2016 terrorist attack in Pathankot. They looked forward to the convening of the fifth India-Japan Consultation on Terrorism and to strengthening cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including Al-Qaida, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lakshar-e-Tayyiba, and their affiliates.”
North Korea’s dangerous antics and the situation in Afghanistan were other prominent areas of regional focus before PM Abe left for home to confront a fresh missile crisis in the Korean peninsula.
“The proliferation of weapons for mass destruction by North Korea is a destabilizing factor for our region,” said Advisor Kawai, blaming China for Pyongyang’s dangerous power play.
“The North Korean leadership has an upper hand over the Chinese leadership,” said the Japanese PM’s key advisor. This entire opaque process, according to Kawai, “raises China’s importance in the international arena as a country that has the wherewithal to leash North Korea. In fact, greater the nuisance North Korea becomes, the greater the value of China” to the global community.
Praising New Delhi for standing up to Beijing’s intransigence during the faceoff at the Doklam tri-junction, Kawai said, “I strongly feel the Indian government’s resilience, perseverance and determination in the Doklam standoff resulted in a settlement according to the rule of international law rather than a unilateral decision”.
He summed up the growing partnership as: “A strong Japan is in India’s interest and a strong India is in Japan’s interest. Our bilateral relationship is indispensable to the Indo Pacific region as well as the world.”