YAMANAKAKO, YAMANASHI PREF. – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seeking to perform a balancing act between two Asian giants, invited his visiting Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to a scenic resort near Mount Fuji for a luncheon Sunday, just a day after returning from talks with the leader of China — India’s strategic and economic rival.
Abe and Modi were to hold a formal summit Monday in Tokyo, during which fortifying bilateral security and economic cooperation is expected to be high on the agenda.
Behind their strengthened commitment is China’s rising political and economic clout.
New Delhi has been especially concerned about China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a project that seeks to build ports and other infrastructure around the Indian Ocean linking Asia with other parts of the world, which some experts see as a way to strategically contain India. New Delhi is also worried about China’s naval expansion into regional waters in the Indian Ocean basin.
In addition, the two leaders are expected to confirm their cooperation on the Abe-conceived “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” a concept aimed at developing high-quality infrastructure from Asia to Africa, while promoting principles including freedom of navigation and the rule of law.
The luncheon held ahead of Monday’s formal talks in Tokyo was seen as a token of Abe’s gratitude to Modi, who welcomed the Japanese prime minister to his home state during a visit last year.
After sitting down for lunch in a hotel at the foot of the famed mountain, Abe and Modi, who is on a three-day visit through Monday, went to a factory of industrial robot manufacturer Fanuc Corp. in Yamanashi Prefecture before stopping in at Abe’s vacation home nearby.
At the luncheon, the two leaders discussed regional issues including North Korea and agreed to cooperate in achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said.
It is the first time that the prime minister has invited a foreign political leader to his holiday home in the village of Narusawa.
Since 2005, Japanese and Indian prime ministers have held summits almost annually, with Abe and Modi holding bilateral talks 11 times to date.
In September last year, Abe paid a visit to Ahmedabad in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, western India, and attended a ceremony to mark the beginning of the construction of a new high-speed railway that will use Japanese bullet-train technology to link the city and Mumbai.
Modi’s visit comes on the heels of Abe’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
During the first official visit to Beijing by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years, Abe and the Chinese leaders agreed on the principle of moving from “competition to cooperation” in a new era of relations between Asia’s two biggest economies.
In the talks between Abe and Modi, Indian officials have said the two are likely to consider bolstering the “strategic alliance” between the Indian Navy and the Maritime Self-Defense Force. This comes amid the backdrop of stepped-up Chinese naval patrols of key routes through which international commerce flows in the Indo-Pacific region.
Abe is also likely to pledge the provision of low-interest loans worth more than ¥300 billion ($2.68 billion), including ones to help India’s 500-km high-speed railway project, Japanese government sources said.
In an interview Friday in New Delhi ahead of his Japan visit, Modi said his two days of discussions with Abe “will be an opportunity to review our ongoing cooperation and discuss ways for expanding our relationship for promoting peace, progress and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.”
Japan and India, together with the United States, have been boosting defense cooperation to counter China’s growing influence in the region, with the three countries conducting naval exercises regularly in the Indian Ocean.
“The India-Japan partnership has been fundamentally transformed and it has been strengthened as a ‘special strategic and global partnership,’ ” Modi said. “There are no negatives but only opportunities in this relationship which are waiting to be seized.”
Regarding the two countries’ 2016 agreement on cooperation in the peaceful uses for nuclear energy, Modi called such cooperation “a manifestation of the significant deepening of our strategic partnership and our shared objective of realizing clean energy and sustainable development.”
Modi said India remains committed to its “voluntary, unilateral moratorium” on the testing of nuclear weapons.