Shinzo Abe arrives in Ahmedabad, says India, Japan will lead the way to world peace
Ahmedabad: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Ahmedabad on Wednesday at the start of a two-day visit to host Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, with the two leaders aiming to further shore up economic and strategic ties between their nations.
Abe and his wife Akie Abe were received at Ahmedabad airport by Modi, who gave the visiting Prime Minister a hug—a trademark gesture of the Indian Prime Minister that also underlined the close ties between India and Japan.
Abe is the second world leader to be received by Modi in Gujarat after Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2014.
Abe and Modi will review “the recent progress in the multifaceted cooperation between India and Japan under the framework of their ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ and will set its future direction,” said a statement on the Prime Minister’s website, Narendramodi.in.
Soon after his arrival, Abe and his wife changed into Indian clothes—a blue silk khadi jacket with a cream kurta and white pyjamas for Abe and a red salwar kameez for Akie Abe—for a rare cultural roadshow through Ahmedabad to Sabarmati Ashram, established by Mahatma Gandhi on the banks of the Sabarmati river.
Hundreds of people lined the route as Abe and Modi were driven in a white open jeep decorated with garlands.
A visit to the famous 16th century Sidi Saiyyid Ni Jaali mosque and dinner were also part of the engagements for the two leaders ahead of bilateral talks on Thursday.
“I look forward to welcoming PM @AbeShinzo. I will be hosting him in Gujarat in our fourth annual summit together,” Modi tweeted in English as well as in Japanese ahead of Abe’s arrival.
“India truly values the relationship with Japan and we look forward to further boosting our bilateral ties in a wide range of sectors,” Modi said in another Twitter post.
Abe is in India for the 12th annual India-Japan summit. It was in 2006 that India and Japan agreed to hold annual summits between the Prime Ministers of the two countries. But Abe’s current visit comes in the backdrop of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on 3 September and India announcing the end of a tense military confrontation with China on 28 August.
“The Japanese Prime Minister’s visit is a bilateral one but it comes in the context of certain developments that show up the uncertainties in the world that we currently live in,” said a person familiar with the development. “In this context, I think it will be fair to say that India and Japan would be looking at how to boost cooperation and collaborate further in all spheres to strengthen their bilateral ties.”
In a message released before his arrival, Abe said: “Both India and Japan place importance on the universal values and strategic interests that we commonly share. Both countries are major Asian democracies and global powers. ...and I’m determined that Japan and India will lead the way towards peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the world.”
Abe is seen as a friend of India and ties between India and Japan have warmed dramatically since his re-election as Prime Minister in December 2012.
“Abe’s visit is part of a process of expanding India-Japan ties. Abe has played a pivotal role in transforming India-Japan relations. The visit will be helpful in ensuring that the relationship is consolidated,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
The centrepiece of the Abe visit will be laying of the foundation stone on Thursday for India’s first high-speed bullet train, connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad. It will mark the entry of Japan into what is seen as a key Asian market for infrastructure, construction and modernization ahead of competitors like China. The 500-km train service is expected to start in 2022—a year ahead of what was previously scheduled. According to news reports from Tokyo, Japan is providing 81% of the funding for the estimated $17 billion-project through a 50-year soft loan at 0.1% interest.
Several agreements to boost skill development and manufacturing – two areas that Modi is keen to deliver on, following his 2014 election promises – are expected to be signed after talks between Abe and Modi in Gandhinagar on Thursday. The two leaders will also address industry representatives.
“Trade with Japan has declined in the last couple of years which is not a good sign,” Sibal said, adding that though the number of Japanese companies in India have gone up, trade figures are seen declining.
“India will need to look at measures to address Japanese concerns about creating a more conducive atmosphere for Japanese investments given that the potential of economic ties is huge,” Sibal said.
On the strategic front, India and Japan are likely to announce the launch of the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) on Thursday, seen as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The two countries may commit about $40 billion initially to the proposed growth corridor that envisages capacity building and human resource development in Africa, creating quality infrastructure and institutional connectivity, people-to-people partnership, and development and cooperation projects.
At home, India is looking for help from Japan to develop its northeast region.
Defence cooperation between the two countries could also be one of the issues on the agenda for the talks, with India engaged in negotiations for the purchase of US 2i surveillance aircraft from Japan for several years now.