Friends Abe and Modi seek business deals on India visit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is embraced by his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe upon his arrival at Kyoto in 2014.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is embraced by his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe upon his arrival at Kyoto in 2014.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is looking to seal a deal on building India's first bullet train when he arrives in New Delhi later Friday (Dec 11) for talks with his conservative counterpart Narendra Modi.

Abe is set to meet Indian business leaders in the capital before taking a tour with Modi on Saturday (Dec 12) of India's holiest city of Varanasi and the prime minister's parliamentary constituency.

New Delhi and Tokyo are seeking to take advantage of a warm relationship between the two premiers that has only deepened, partly to counter China's growing rise, since Modi came to power last year.

Before leaving for Delhi on Friday (Dec 11), Abe told reporters that relations between Asia's second and third largest economies harbour great potential.

"I want to achieve results that will give a boost to the development of future Japan-India relations in the areas of high speed railways, security cooperation, and an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear power," Abe said.

Several lucrative business deals are slated for discussion, according to officials, including a US$15 billion (S$21 billion) agreement for Japan to provide a "Shinkansen" bullet train connecting the cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

Modi has pledged to overhaul India's ramshackle railways and other infrastructure as part of ambitious reforms to revive the economy.

The pair are also expected to discuss a long-mooted civil nuclear deal that would allow Japan to export its nuclear plant technologies to the subcontinent.

Japan once shunned nuclear cooperation with India, which has not ratified the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but analysts say Tokyo has softened its stance in the face of China's growing influence in the region.

Modi and Abe enjoy an unusually close friendship that pre-dates the Indian leader's election in May last year.

Both are right-wing nationalists elected on a platform of kickstarting economic reforms.

And both are seen as strong leaders at the helm of nations with separate territorial disputes with China, the dominant regional power.

Tokyo and Delhi are wary of China's growing ambition in the region, and are keen to curb its activity in the East and South China Seas and the Indian Ocean.

Modi visited Japan twice as chief minister of prosperous Gujarat state and met with Abe both times.

He also received a warm welcome in Japan last year, when Abe showed him around the ancient capital of Kyoto, after choosing the country as the destination for his first bilateral visit outside South Asia.

"Their schedule reads like a global romance: They met recently in Paris, had dinner in Istanbul, lunch in Kuala Lumpur and now will be together in New Delhi for three days," the Hindustan Times newspaper wrote on Friday (Dec 11).

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the visit was aimed at "strengthening cooperation in a wide range of fields including politics, security, economic cooperation and exchange of people".

India's cabinet this week approved the bullet train project, with Japan reportedly offering a cheap loan worth one trillion yen (S$11 billion).

Meanwhile, Tokyo is encouraging Japanese businesses to tap fast-growing emerging markets such as India, as the domestic market shrinks due to a rapidly ageing population and low birthrate.

Japan has agreed to invest 8.6 billion rupees (S$180 million) in sewage treatment plants and other urban development in Varanasi, according to the Hindustan Times.

And Japan has agreed to develop highways in India's remote northeast, where India and China fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962 over the state of Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which Beijing claims as South Tibet.