National / Politics

Modi and Abe agree to boost ties as Tokyo pledges huge new yen loans for India

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an official meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday in Tokyo, agreeing to further strengthen economic and security ties as Tokyo pledged to extend new yen loans for seven projects totaling ¥316.45 billion.

The loans include ¥150 billion for a high-speed shinkansen system being constructed between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in western India and ¥40.1 billion in road construction to ease traffic jams in southern India’s Chennai.

The 500-km railway project will reduce the traveling time between the two cities to two hours from seven hours and is “a symbol” of a new bilateral relationship, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

Modi endorsed Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which calls for rule-based order, territorial integrity and rights to free flight and sea navigation in the India-Pacific region. “Our mutual visits for annual summit meetings has been a driving force for elevating the Japan-India relationship to higher ground,”Abe said at the outset of Monday’s meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“A strong India is good for Japan, and a strong Japan is good for India. … This relationship of Japan and India is blessed with the largest potential for development for any bilateral relationship anywhere in the world,” Abe added.

By advocating the Indo-Pacific strategy, Japan also has pledged to help countries in the region build up high-quality infrastructure to promote regional economic prosperity.

The concept is often seen as part of Japan’s effort to keep in check China’s growing economic and military power in the region, although Tokyo officially denies this.

Abe, who returned from Beijing on Saturday, has recently succeeded in significantly improving Japan’s ties with Beijing by meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping there.

Still, Abe has continued to pursue his apparent favored policy of strengthening Japan’s ties with India as a counterweight to China’s growing power in the region.

The India-Japan relationship “is based on the shared commitment to democratic values, independence and rule of law,” Modi told a joint news conference with Abe through a Japanese translator.

Mutual trust and economic partnership “has kept expanding continuously and friendship has been deepened,” he added.

Abe and Modi also agreed to arrange a so-called two-plus-two meeting of defense and foreign ministers and kicked off talks to conclude an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA), according to a joint statement released after the Abe-Modi meeting.

An ACSA would allow the military forces of the two countries to mutually provide supplies and services. Japan has concluded similar pacts with the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and France.

To date, Abe and Modi have held 12 official summit meetings, and this was Modi’s third official trip to Japan as prime minister.

Since 2005, Japanese and Indian prime ministers have held summits almost annually.

To emphasize the closeness of the two leaders, Abe invited Modi to his vacation home in Narusawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Sunday. When Abe visited India in September last year, Modi invited him to his hometown area of Gujarat, western India.

New Delhi has reportedly been concerned about China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a project that seeks to build ports and other infrastructure around the Indian Ocean, southeast China and central Asia.

During the meeting Monday, the two leaders also agreed that North Korea should abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in “complete, verifiable, irreversible” manner, according to Japanese officials.

Abe and Modi also called for a solution to the issue of Japanese nationals who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The India-Japan partnership has been fundamentally transformed, and it has been strengthened as a ‘special strategic and global partnership,’ ” Modi was quoted as saying in an interview Friday in New Delhi ahead of his Japan visit.

“There are no negatives but only opportunities in this relationship which are waiting to be seized,” Kyodo News quoted him as saying.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Taro Kono paid a courtesy visit to Modi in Tokyo. Kono told Modi that he would like to visit India “in the near future,” according to a statement by Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

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