On September 13th, the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe alighted on the Indian turf for a two-day visit to participate in the 12th India-Japan Annual Summit in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Abe, along with his wife Akie Abe was given a red carpet welcome at the Ahmedabad Airport. Prime Minister Narendra Modi received him with a warm hug.
On the way to Sabarmati Ashram from the Airport, a cultural roadshow was organized. Standing all the way in an open-top white Gypsy, Abe and Modi greeted people, as people enthusiastically waved back.
Surprisingly, this was the first time a roadshow was organized for a foreign Prime Minister. At the Sabarmati Ashram, both Prime Ministers paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi. After that, they visited the 16th century Sidi Saiyyed Mosque in Ahmedabad (The mosque has been a significant contributor towards the UNESCO heritage tag given to Ahmedabad).
Importance of the Summit
Amid the hustle-bustle created by China and North-Korea, the fourth annual summit between Modi and Abe has been looked at as an effort to strengthen ties between India and Japan.
The aims of the summit underline reviewing the ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’, considering the India- Japan Vision 2025. Where Japan can play a key role in the “Act East” policy of the Indian Government, India can anchor Japan’s “Free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy”. This would bring prosperity to both the nations, creating a value-based partnership in the process with mutual benefit.
Without further ado, let’s plunge deep into the key happenings in his visit, and India’s future with Japan.
The Bullet Train Project
India and Japan share the vision of a peaceful and technologically modern world. The multi-billion dollar Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (HSR) project is being viewed as a solid step towards the same.
With 350 km/hr top speed and a 7 km undersea tunnel, the bullet train comes with a bundle of rewards. Besides promising tremendous speed, the train will have enhanced safety features and extremely punctual and time-bound travel. The train will cover a distance of 508 Km and will reduce the travel time (Ahmedabad to Mumbai) from 7 hours to 2 hours.
Further, the design is based on Japanese ‘Shinkansen network’. The network is known for its cutting-edge technology and speed. Automated train control system is used in the system to eliminate the need for trackside signals. This system also largely limits safety concerns (It has a tremendously safe past record).
Indian PM Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone of HSR project as a part of the summit. After the pre-inauguration inspection, the Indian Prime Minister focused on the role of technology in poverty extermination. The new Railway Minister, Piyush Goyal commented on the train as the ‘train for the future’ and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis (who has been handling the issues relating to land acquisition) called the train as a step towards ‘New India’.
Shinzo Abe started his speech with a ‘Namaskaar’ and combined Japan’s first two letters (Ja) and India’s first letter (I) to create the Hindi word ‘JaI’, meaning victory. “Jai India, Jai Japan,” he said with enthusiasm.
There are great expectations from the new train. While the Indian Prime Minister has claimed this train to be ‘virtually free of cost’, a lot of experts disagree.
The train comes with a hefty cost of Rs. 1.08 lakh crore (USD 17 billion). According to estimates, the rupee may depreciate with respect to Japanese Yen in the coming years. Even if the interest rate on loan is a meager 0.1%, this depreciation may result in India paying over 88,000 crores in the coming fifty years.
Let’s wait and see if the benefits outweigh costs, or it goes the other way round. The project is scheduled for completion in 2022, with the first run scheduled on 15th August 2022.
India’s Act East Policy
Since the Sino-India war (1962), both India and China have been strategic competitors in Asia. To lead the competition, both nations have been stretching out huge financial aid to other Asian countries. While China has cultivated commercial relations with India’s neighbor Pakistan, India has looked to strengthen ties with the East.
India’s “Look East” policy was first developed and enacted during the government of P.V. Narasimha Rao. In this period, thanks to economic liberalization (1991), India changed its strategy and started focusing on forging close economic and commercial ties. Slowly, the strategic and security cooperation with other nations started taking place.
Coming to the recent past…
After Narendra Modi’s win in 2014 elections, India and China have seen a lot of differences; be it China’s opposition to India’s NSG bid or the recent Doklam standoff, something or the other has been hampering a healthy bond.
To counter the cloud of uncertainty, the new government made ‘relations with East Asian neighbors’ as its foreign policy priority. On the same lines, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj proposed the Act East Policy during her Vietnam visit (2014). She insisted that this was the time to ‘Act East’ and not just ‘Look East’, making it clear that India would focus more on improving relations with East Asian countries.
Shinzo Abe’s visit to India is yet another important step in line with India’s Act East policy. Like India, Japan is keen to expand its investment in infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia. As a part of it, Japan will extend a loan of Rs 2,239 crore to NorthEast India for ‘North East Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project’. The project is expected to contribute to the improvement of the intra-regional and international connectivity through regional economic development.
Asia Africa Growth Corridor
To overcome China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, India and Japan have come up with a joint vision to “develop industrial corridors and industrial network for the growth of Asia and Africa.” This vision marked the implementation of Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). The initiative would provide an alternative to OBOR. The proposed growth corridor connects Asia with Africa. To this work, India and Japan are expected to commit about $40 billion initially.
While Japan is ready to commit $ 30 billion on the AAGC, India is planning to invest $10 billion in Africa for the development of the corridor.
Defence Technology Transfer
India and Japan have long maintained close defense ties sharing interests in keeping the Asia-pacific and Indian Ocean sea-lanes secure. They have also agreed to cooperate in fighting international crime, terrorism, privacy and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The visit by Shinzo Abe impacted the military and defense relations between the two nations; discussions regarding the same still to continue.
Both the nations will collaborate on research into unmanned ground vehicles, robotics, and the possibility of joint field exercises of the two armies. In July 2017, the Indian Navy took part in a trilateral naval exercise with the Japanese and US navies. This was called the Malabar naval exercise. This shows how three countries are realigning their common vision on the Indo-Pacific maritime security apparatus to counter China’s influence in the strategic waters.
The much-anticipated deal to purchase ShinMaywa US 2i amphibious aircraft did not take place. Differences in pricing and technology transfer seem to have prevented the closure.
Also, there was little progress towards the development of the civil nuclear deal as the joint statement released read: “”The two Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction at the entry into force of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of Japan for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. They looked forward to a working group to strengthen bilateral cooperation in this field and reiterated their shared view that the Agreement reflects a new level of mutual confidence and strategic partnership in the cause of clean energy, economic development and a peaceful and secure world.”
As a whole, Shinzo’s visit can be seen as a new level of mutual confidence and strategic partnership with India. Both the countries are looking forward to a working group to strengthen bilateral cooperation.
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