Abe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made no mention of China in their public pronouncements and in the lengthy statement they issued at the end of their summit. Japan pledged to work with New Delhi to combat Pakistan-based Islamist groups active in Kashmir and endorsed India’s demand that Islamabad “bring to justice the perpetrators of terrorist attacks including those of the November 2008 attack in Mumbai and the 2016 terrorist attack in Pathankot.”
Tokyo and New Delhi have used Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s two-day visit to India last week to further cement their “strategic partnership,” laying plans for enhanced military-security cooperation across the Indo-Pacific region and for joint economic and strategic initiatives to counter Chinese influence in Africa.
Abe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made no mention of China in their public pronouncements and in the lengthy statement they issued at the end of their summit last Thursday. However, according to the Indian Express, the visiting leader raised the Doklam standoff with Modi in private and “complimented” him for “standing his ground” during the crisis.
Modi – Abe joint statement outlined plans to strengthen Indo-Japanese co-operation across the board, emphasizing theirs is a “global” partnership. The two countries pledged to work together to “enhance defence equipment and technology cooperation in such areas as surveillance and unmanned system technologies, and defence industry cooperation.” They also agreed to explore the possibility of mounting “joint field exercises” in 2018 between the Indian Army and Japan’s Ground Self-Defence Forces.
The two Prime Ministers welcomed “the renewed momentum” for Indo-Japanese “trilateral cooperation” with the US, and Australia “stressed …the strategic importance of these cooperative frameworks” and agreed to work for their expansion. The statement made specific mention of the annual Indo-US-Japanese Malabar naval exercise, whose most recent iteration was hailed by the Trump administration as the largest-ever Indian Ocean wargame.
A highlight of Abe’s India visit was a ground-breaking ceremony held in Modi’s home state of Gujarat to initiate the building of the 508-km long Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail project, known popularly as the Bullet Train.
Japan pledged to work with New Delhi to combat Pakistan-based Islamist groups active in Kashmir and endorsed India’s demand that Islamabad “bring to justice the perpetrators of terrorist attacks including those of the November 2008 attack in Mumbai and the 2016 terrorist attack in Pathankot.”
The joint statement’s paragraph on North Korea also included a snipe at Pakistan and an implicit attack on Beijing, with Modi and Abe urging “all parties that have supported North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes” to be held “accountable.” India has long accused Pakistan of having collaborated with North Korea in developing its own nuclear capabilities.
Again without naming it, the Modi-Abe statement attacked China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in which Pakistan (through the $50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor) is playing a major part. This was coupled to pledges that India and Japan will cooperate in building infrastructure to enhance connectivity between Asia and Africa and between India’s northeast and Southeast Asia. India and Japan are currently working on a $40 billion Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, although the project has yet to be officially launched.
India’s invitation to Japan to help build infrastructure in India’s northeast—an economically backward region bordering China, Bangladesh, and Burma—underscores the strength of Indo-Japanese ties. India views its northeast as especially important and strategically vulnerable, because it is the site of myriad insurgencies, is at the center of its border conflict with China, and is connected to the rest of the country only by a narrow corridor.
Development of the northeast is critical to India’s plans to expand its commercial and strategic ties with Southeast Asia. Both Washington and Tokyo have repeatedly pledged to support India’s “Act East” policy. Japan is also anxious to link its existing cheap-labour production lines in the ASEAN countries with India.
Beijing’s response to the Abe-Modi summit has been muted. This is not surprising given that it is seeking to reset relations with India in the aftermath of the Doklam face off, and, more importantly, is coming under unrelenting strategic pressure from the US as it stirs up the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
Japan and India are also anxious to kick-start their commercial ties. These have waned in recent years, with Japan’s exports to India remaining stagnant and India’s exports to Japan falling from US $6.81 billion in 2013-14 to just $3.85 billion in 2016-17.
A highlight of Abe’s India visit was a ground-breaking ceremony held in Modi’s home state of Gujarat to initiate the building of the 508-km long Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail project. Japan is funding more than 80 percent of the project’s total cost with US $17 billion loan. Repayable over five decades the loan carries a nominal interest of just 0.1 percent.