The Deputy Chief of Mission of Japan says both nations are committed to a rules-based order.
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Japan, India and Japan agreed to a number of joint projects in the neighbourhood and in Africa, seen as an attempt to offer alternatives to countries that may be heavily indebted to China. Speaking on the outcomes of the summit, Japan’s Deputy Chief of Mission Hideki Asari says both Tokyo and New Delhi have reasons for a constructive relation with Beijing while being committed to a rules-based international order.
This is the fifth bilateral meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe. What was the most important outcome?
It was the fifth bilateral meeting, but their twelfth meeting as Prime Ministers in the past four years. I think it provided a very strong springboard for our special strategic and global partnership across all fields: political, economic, business, strategic connectivity, people to people exchange or global issues. It was important not only for Japan and India but also for the free open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
So far, joint projects in the Indo-Pacific and along the Asia-Africa growth corridor have not come to fruition. Did this meeting see concrete progress on them?
Yes, we did. As you recall, when Prime Minister Abe visited Ahmedabad last year, the two Prime Ministers agreed to seek synergy on strategic connectivity in India and beyond. After that, we had intensive consultations on projects in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Kenya, which are now ongoing and will come to fruition very soon. In India’s northeast too, there are projects going like National Highway 40, which will improve not only the connectivity in the region but also Bangladesh.
During the visit, the two countries exchanged notes for a yen loan for infrastructure projects, including most notably the bridge between Assam and Meghalaya. This will reduce the travel time from eight hours to just 20 minutes.
What does the India-Japan combination provide these countries, that they don’t at present receive from other countries like China?
First of all, India and Japan are committed to providing quality infrastructure. Not just cheap but also good quality, which means they are resilient to the landscape. When we combine our efforts, we improve the effectiveness of each project. The project in Bangladesh (Jamuna Railway bridge) is one such example.
While India and Japan are seen as part of the Indo-Pacific forum to counter China, we have seen recent outreaches to China by both PM Modi in Wuhan this year and during PM Abe’s visit to Beijing last week. Are we seeing a reset?
I don’t think there is any change in Japan’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific that is open, inclusive and willing to work with any partner who subscribes to international norms. Japan and India have promoted this vision without thinking of countering anything. Prime Minister Abe had a very good visit to China, and both Japan and India have a good reason to have a constructive relation with China. At the same time, both are committed to a rules-based order, so I don’t think there is any change.
Will Japan join the Belt and Road Initiative?
Japan’s position on the BRI hasn’t changed. We do not express any blanket support for BRI. We believe any infrastructure development must be free and open, and any use of infrastructure must be non-exclusive and based on international standards.
We hope that the BRI takes into account such international standards and will contribute to the prosperity of the region. On this point, India and Japan are on the same page.