Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe launched India's first bullet train project yesterday as they agreed to deepen economic and defence ties amid a growing alignment of interests to counter China's increasing influence.
The two leaders held talks and attended the ground-breaking ceremony for the 1.08 trillion rupee (S$22.8 billion) project to connect Ahmedabad, in Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat, to Mumbai.
The new link will be a boost for India's ageing railway network, which is prone to accidents.
Travel time will be slashed from the current seven to eight hours to under three hours when the 508km line is completed in six years. The Indian government hopes it will be ready earlier, in 2022.
"Today, Japan has shown what a true friend it is of India's. India's first high-speed rail project is an example of the strength of ties between the two countries,'' said Mr Modi, who called it a historic day for bilateral ties.
Similarly, Mr Abe noted: "A strong India is good for Japan and a strong Japan is good for India."
Ties between India and Japan, which have been growing in the past decade, have come into sharper focus since Mr Modi came to power in 2014.
The two countries have been brought closer by the mutual unease over a rising China.
India has a festering border row with China, while Japan has its own maritime territorial dispute with China.
Mr Abe arrived in India for the annual India-Japan summit, held in Gujarat instead of New Delhi this year. His visit came days after India and China agreed to end a tense border stand-off at the Doklam plateau near the border shared by India, Bhutan and China. Japan backed India in the border row.
On Wednesday, Mr Modi rolled out the red carpet for the Japanese leader, whom he hugged on arrival.
They then rode in an open jeep from the airport through the streets of Ahmedabad, waving to people.
Following talks with Mr Modi, Mr Abe pitched for closer security ties with India.
He noted that the recent Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, involving India, Japan and the United States, had "further deepened cooperation'' among the participants. Japan and India also agreed to hold joint military and air force exercises.
In a joint statement, the two countries expressed their intent to increase maritime security cooperation, work on connectivity projects in the Indo-Pacific region and work more closely with the Asean grouping to maintain a rule-based order.
"The two prime ministers affirmed strong commitment to their value-based partnership in achieving a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region... where all countries, large or small, enjoy freedom of navigation,'' said the joint statement.
Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters that a lot of the discussions revolved around defence and security cooperation.
"We are trying to align each other's approach towards the world,'' said Mr Jaishankar.
India and Japan - the world's third-largest and second-largest economies respectively, after China - also signed 15 agreements. These included one to set up a skills centre and another between Japan Post and India Post to fly fresh Japanese food to India for Japanese expatriates in the country.
Analysts said the visit has set the tone for wider cooperation between the two countries.
"The visit marks continuity in relations. At the same time it takes ties to a higher level. It is also an important visit because it is taking place in the aftermath of the Doklam crisis with China,'' said Dr B. R. Deepak at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"It could entrench Japan and India in deeper security cooperation in time to come,'' he added.