Ahmedabad/Gandhingar: After a day filled with gestures of friendship and bonhomie underlining the warmth in ties between India and Japan, the prime ministers of the two countries are to sit down for formal talks on Thursday and discuss ways to strengthen the India-Japan partnership both in the bilateral context and beyond.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who arrived in Gujarat’s commercial capital Ahmedabad on Wednesday, is in India for the 12th India-Japan annual summit.
India and Japan decided to institutionalise bilateral summits between their prime ministers during a visit by Abe to India in 2006. Russia is the only country other than Japan with which India has such an arrangement of annual summits, said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of international relations at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University. This is also the fourth annual summit since Modi took office in 2014.
The two countries are expected to come up with a joint statement that will outline their priorities over next year and beyond.
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One of the first engagements of Abe and Modi on Thursday will be the launch of the high-speed railway corridor from Sabarmati station near Ahmedabad. The inauguration of the project will mark the entry of Japan into what is seen as a key Asian market ahead of competitors like China and several European countries like Germany and even Spain.
Here’s a look at some of the issues to watch out for on Thursday.
■ Modi and Abe are expected to participate in the inauguration of Japan Industrial Parks I and II, which are expected to come up on the Mandal-Becharaji and Khoraj-Sanand stretches in Gujarat. About 15-20 Japanese companies have shown interest in investing in Gujarat, which has already attracted $1.1 billion in investments from Japan, according to several estimates. This will give a boost to manufacturing in India as well as increase the level of Japanese investments in Asia’s third largest economy.
■ Japan could press India to improve its investment climate for Japanese companies. This is despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the launch of a “Japan window" under his office three years ago to promote Japanese investments in the country. Kondapalli pointed out that despite India and Japan enjoying close and cordial political relations, economic ties between the two countries remained far below potential. This is in contrast to China with which Japan has uneasy political ties but robust economic relations, he said. Bilateral trade between India and Japan too has stagnated around the $16 billion mark.
■ The two countries are expected to announce the launch of the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), regarded as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to connect China by land and sea to Southeast, South and Central Asia, and beyond to the Middle East, Europe and Africa. India and Japan could 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.
■ India and Japan could also firm up plans to improve cooperation on the Chabahar port project in Iran. India is looking to develop the Chabahar port as an alternative access route to landlocked Afghanistan given that Pakistan is unwilling to give India access to a road through its territory to reach Afghanistan. During the 11th India-Japan annual summit last year in Tokyo, Modi and Abe had called for discussions to facilitate Japan’s involvement in Chabahar. India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement last year in May for establishing transport and transit corridors for the strategically located port in Iran.
■ Given that India and Japan have testy relations with China, the India-Japan joint statement could contain language signalling a closer partnership—may be even an alliance—between India and Japan, Kondapalli said. Abe’s current visit comes against 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. China is seen as the main backer of North Korea as well as India’s arch rival Pakistan. Japan also has concerns about China’s claims over Senkaku Islands, said Kondapalli, referring to some uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China. Given these, India and Japan could come up with a section in the joint statement suggestive of an alliance, Kondapalli said. Defence ties could also get a fillip if the two sides announce any decision on India buying two US amphibious aircraft from Japan.