Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and First Lady Akie Abe visited India for the 12th India-Japan Annual Summit held on 14th September 2017, in Gandhinagar. The Summit took place in the backdrop of the Doklam standoff, a nuclear test by North Korea and the uncertainty of USA’s role in Asia. It was an opportunity for the leaders to air common concerns and strengthen the commonality of views between India and Japan. India and Japan also signed the civil nuclear agreement in November 2016, making India the first country to sign such an agreement with Japan. At the 12th India-Japan Summit, the two leaders signed 15 agreements on developmental projects, investment promotion, infrastructure development, civil aviation, science and technology, education and research cooperation. The Summit showcased an increasing alignment in the interests of India and Japan. There were some areas of cooperation that stood out.
The Shinkansen Bullet Train project was kicked off when Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail corridor. The colossal high-speed rail project costs 1.08 lakh crore (USD 17 billion) and will reduce travel time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to two hours. The Indian government plans to have 35 Shinkansen E5 series of bullet trains operational by 2022 which coincides with the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence. The leaders also inaugurated the Bullet Train Research Institute in Vadodara for a phased technology transfer of the HSR technology. The project entails the creation of jobs and highspeed connectivity, which is in line with the “Make in India” project.
Japan has also loaned India 88,000 crores to be paid at an interest of 0.1% over a period of 50 years. The remainder of the cost, 33,000 crores, will be provided by the government of Maharashtra. Japan has been facing stiff competition in the high-speed rail technology market from China and South Korea.
Japan is invested in developing strategically significant areas such as North-East India and the Andaman and Nicobar islands for improved interregional and intraregional connectivity. This is the first time the Indian government has allowed foreign investment in the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the form of a 15 megawatt diesel power plant on South Andaman island. These investments work to develop regional security and counter Chinese geopolitical rivalry.
Negotiations and discussions at the Summit took place keeping in mind the aggressive nature of Chinese expansion. At the Summit, Abe emphasised a rules-based international order, freedom of navigation, lawful commerce and peaceful resolution of territorial disputes. Under Abe, Tokyo has been trying to counter China’s naval aggression by developing bilateral relations and improving defence capacities.
India has consulted Japan about its plans for six diesel submarines equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) technology to add to the underwater fleet in the Indian Ocean. However, Tokyo is hesitant to plunge into negotiations on submarine exports. According to Japanese foreign ministry sources, the two governments held their first round of talks last week, but the 50,000 crore rupees project was never discussed. However, an Indian source said that the process for acquisition of the diesel submarines had just begun.
Japan loosened its self-imposed ban on defence exports in 2014 and India has been keen on acquiring ShinMaywa’s US-2 amphibious aircraft for years. The $109 million price tag per plane, depending on the specifications, has been a bone of contention. Through the India-Japan Summit, India has attempted to change the equation with Japan and eventually play a greater role in Asia.
The Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) was given further shape at the Summit when the two leaders discussed the possibility of cultivating value chains, advancing economic networks and interconnection between and within the two growth poles of Asia and Africa. The Corridor represents a synergy between India’s ‘Act East’ policy and Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’ strategy. The convergence of interests has allowed a re-established focus on resources-rich African states, infrastructure projects and investment mechanisms to improve connectivity between Asia and Africa.
Other agreements signed at the summit include:
Disaster Risk Management: MOU between the Home Ministry and Cabinet Office of Japan to cooperate in disaster risk reduction and share experiences, technology, policies and capacities on disaster prevention.
Skill Development: MOU in Japanese language education in India to strengthen the cultural linkages between India and Japan.
Investment: India-Japan Investment roadmap between DIPP (Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion) and METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) to facilitate Japanese investment in India. Focus on infrastructure development in the Mandal Bechraj-Khoraj region of Gujarat.
Civil Aviation: The Open Skies agreement between India and Japan allows Indian and Japanese carriers to fly unlimited number of flights to select cities of each other’s countries.
Author: Jayanth Deshmukh