Reviving the annual summit practice after a three-year hiatus, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s India visit, albeit brief, is highly significant in more ways than one. He is the first global leader to travel to India since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The visit gives a boost to cooperation in a range of areas, including political and security issues, and promises to work towards a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The highlight of the tour was the focus on the $17 billion Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project, besides discussion on the situation in Ukraine, where India has taken a divergent position from that of Japan and other Quad partners – the US and Australia.
As his trip came before a meeting of leaders from the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue to be hosted by Japan, Kishida sought to ensure that Modi is on the same page with other Quad members as Beijing and Moscow take aggressive actions along their borders.
Kishida, who was in India in 2016 as Foreign Minister, this time made efforts to narrow the gap between both sides, and particularly between India and other Quad partners over the Ukraine issue.
The Japanese PM was warmly congratulated by his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on taking over from his predecessor Yoshihide Suga in October last year.
The two sides will have a broad range of discussions including issues involving “urgent international concerns”, an official of the External Affairs Ministry had said before the visit. The meeting was considered particularly significant given the fact that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of India-Japan bilateral ties.
It is worth recalling that the high-speed ‘Shinkansen’ bullet train project was inaugurated in 2017 by the then-Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and PM Modi.
Although the project, which is largely funded by loans from Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA), was due to be completed by 2022 — in time for celebrations of India’s 75th Independence day anniversary — it has been delayed due to land acquisition issues and is now slated to begin in 2026.
The last in-person, 13th annual summit, was held in 2018 when Prime Minister Modi visited Japan. However, in December 2019, Abe’s visit to the 14th annual summit was canceled at the last minute
India and Japan, which have a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership”, began to hold annual summit meetings in 2005, alternating between the two countries each year. The last in-person, 13th annual summit, was held in 2018 when Prime Minister Modi visited Japan. However, in December 2019, Abe’s visit for the 14th annual summit was canceled at the last minute as he was due to visit Guwahati when protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act broke out.
Subsequent plans for the ‘Annual Summit’ were shelved due to the Covid pandemic, although Modi and Abe held a summit telephone
conversation in September 2020 and Modi and Abe’s successor, Suga, held an in-person summit on the side-lines of the Quad meeting in Washington in September last year.
On February 25, Japan joined a number of Western countries in announcing sanctions against Russia for its war in Ukraine and has taken a tough line with Moscow.
In comparison, the Modi Government has not criticized Russia publicly, abstaining at least eight votes at the United Nations, including the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, Human Rights Council, and International Atomic Energy Agency.
In addition, while Japan is in talks with the US and European Union, as well as with the G-7 and most developed nations about curtailing oil imports from Russia, New Delhi is in talks with Russian leaders on the possibility of increasing its Russian oil intake, with reports that Moscow has offered discounted rates. Russia has been forging closer defense ties with India, including through weapons deals.
The Japanese PM’s visit also focused on joint projects in third countries besides northeast India and the Bay of Bengal.
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