New Delhi: Japan’s ambassador to India, Kenji Hiramatsu, on Monday said he hoped that the Indian government would find a way to ensure that the issues plaguing the bullet train project between India and Japan is resolved amicably and speedily.

The statement comes against the backdrop of delays in acquiring land slowing down the flagship project.

“I think this is a very symbolic project between the two countries. The two prime ministers (Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan) decided to go ahead with this very important project. So I am very confident that under the very strong leadership of the two prime ministers, this project will be completed on schedule," Hiramatsu said at an event ahead of the scheduled fifth meeting between Modi and Abe under the aegis of the India-Japan annual summit.

Modi will travel to Japan at the end of this week for the meeting with Abe, which comes a day after Abe returns from a visit to China, seen as a fence-mending visit on both sides in the wake of US president Donald Trump’s imposition of trade sanctions against a number of countries seen as friends (such as Japan) and competitors (such as China).

Hiramatsu said the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has released the first tranche of 5,500 crore for the project. Japan is providing 81% of the funding for the estimated $17 billion-project through a 50-year soft loan at 0.1% interest.

“We will continue to support this project. I am hoping that the Indian government will find a way to ensure this land acquisition issue is amicably mutually settled," he said.

The laying of the foundation stone for India’s first high-speed bullet train project was the centrepiece of Abe’s visit to India for last year’s annual summit.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the service connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad marked the entry of Japan into what is seen as a key Asian market for infrastructure, construction and modernization ahead of competitors such as China.

However, the project has missed several deadlines in recent months, especially those concerning land acquisition in Maharashtra. Last year it was announced that the 500 kilometre train service would start in 2022—a year ahead of what was previously scheduled.

Japan, under Abe, has been keen to consolidate ties with India. Abe has often stated that an economically strong India is in Japan’s interest. In 2014, Japan pledged to give India 3.5 trillion yen (more than $33.58 billion) in public and private investment besides overseas, something which was proceeding as planned four years down the line, Hiramatsu said.

The ambassador said defence cooperation between the two nations is on an upswing in recent years with both taking part in trilateral exercises with the US—the Malabar series—and also undertaking bilateral exercises.

The two sides concluded a naval exercise off the coast of Visakhapatnam earlier this month focused on inter-operability, understanding and imbibing the best practices of the other side, according to an Indian navy statement.

An exercise between the armies of the two countries is scheduled for early next month.

The two sides also aim to sign a logistics support pact and another on maritime domain awareness that could be concluded during Modi’s visit.

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