Shinzo Abe visit: To check China's influence, Japan and India fortify relationship
It is not just the Rs 88,000 crore soft loan for the bullet train - with an eye on aggressive China, India and Japan have ramped up cooperation and their special strategic partnership.
Despite this, big ticket deals like the sale of US-2 amphibious aircraft to India continue to be in limbo despite serious negotiations. The growth in bilateral trade too is still laggard.
However, Japanese investments have been on a rise and touched $4.7 billion in the last year.
Elevating bilateral ties
Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister is on a two day visit to India, where he is being hosted in Gujarat, Prime Minister Modi’s home state. During his last visit in December 2015, Abe was in Varanasi, PM Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency.
The growing convergence between Japan and India on strategic and economic issues has capacity to stimulate the global economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his statement at the India-Japan annual summit, the fourth since he was sworn in as the Prime Minister in May 2014.
Abe was equally ecstatic. "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," he said.
As both sides seek to elevate the bilateral ties, immense bonhomie has been on display since Abe’s aircraft touched down on Wednesday evening with the visiting prime minister even doing a road show as he travelled to Sabarmati Ashram in an open Maruti Suzuki Gypsy shortly after his arrival.
The visit comes in the shadows of recently resolved India-China standoff at Doklam, and the North Korean nuclear test.
The joint statement issued after the summit talks of more cooperation in India Pacific with and with both leaders reinforcing efforts to “align Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy with India’s Act East Policy, including through enhancing maritime security cooperation, improving connectivity in the wider Indo-Pacific region, strengthening cooperation with ASEAN,” the joint statement reads.
With defence cooperation largely limited in the area of maritime security, both countries seek to expand it. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, speaking to the press after the meeting says India and Japan have agreed to explore cooperation and exchanges between Indian Army and Japan’s Ground Self Defence Force and Indian Air Force and Japanese Air Defense.
Perhaps with an eye on China’s String of Pearl strategy, the joint statement also calls to “strengthen trilateral cooperation frameworks with the United States, Australia, and other countries.” India, Japan and the US already take part in the annual Malabar Naval exercise which has also seen Australian participation in the past.
However, the joint statement, unlike 2016, does not mention the South China Sea.
The mention of increased cooperation has invited a cautious response from China. Spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry Hua Chunying reacting to the joint statement said "that regional countries should stand for dialogue without confrontation and work for a partnership instead of an alliance".
Earlier, an editorial in the Global Times had said how geo economics would trump geo politics and “China's vast trade with Japan and India greatly dwarfs bilateral trade between India and Japan. Given this, Tokyo and New Delhi are unlikely to challenge China without giving it serious thought.“
Development and infrastructure
Interestingly, both countries are exploring 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” and as the joint statement puts it “shared the desire to further promote cooperation and collaboration in Africa in line with the priority measures identified through the India-Japan dialogue on Africa and the processes of the India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) and Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).”
India is also looking up to Japan for the development of Northeast, a key region for the success of Act East policy. Foreign Secretary Jaishankar says how both countries have agreed on Japan-India Act East Forum which will explore possibilities of including Japan in the development of infrastructure projects in the Northeast.
Meanwhile, both countries signed 15 pacts in key sectors, including civil aviation, trade, and science and technology.