Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan had the right mix of pageantry and purpose that make for successful summits. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chose to welcome Mr Modi in the scenic city of Kyoto and played the attentive host while the latter gamely participated in ceremonial elements. Mr Modi fed fish, knelt for tea cakes, mingled with monks, played the Taiko drum with aplomb, and lectured students and businesses in a visit marked by a conscious festivity designed to honour an important guest. Mr Abe clearly sees India as a vital investment destination and as a crucial partner while Japan reconfigures its role in Asia to counter the rise of China. Mr Modi, on his part, gushed, “that without Japan, India is incomplete”.
The summit’s deliverables should help bind the two Asian powers together. Japan is to invest $35 billion in India over the next five years to fund public-private infrastructure projects: transport systems, smart cities, rejuvenation of the Ganga, manufacturing, skill development, and agricultural cold chains. Both PMs have set a target of doubling Japan’s FDI and the number of Japanese companies in India within five years. Mr Modi has wisely promised personal oversight for the implementation of these plans, proposing a “special management team” directly reporting to the PMO to finalise proposals from Japan. He asked Mr Abe to nominate two individuals to the team — which the PM envisages as a “permanent part” of India’s decision-making process. There are a raft of high-value, crucial infrastructure projects that both sides have agreed on, including rapid transit systems, industrial corridors and electronic parks. Instituting a high-level mechanism to facilitate these will ensure that bureaucracies do not choke off political will, as they often have in the past. Strategic consultations are slated to continue and deepen. Trilateral discussions with the United States will be scaled up to the foreign ministers level. Negotiations on the India-Japan nuclear deal will be “accelerated” while Tokyo’s decision to remove six of India’s defence and space entities from its foreign end user list will enable access to high technology.
Mr Modi made an oblique reference to China when he warned of the forces of expansionism that encroach on land, capture territory or enter into contested territory at sea. While some would question the wisdom of such a statement just prior to President Xi Jinping’s visit to India this month, Beijing must realise that Mr Modi could not have avoided a measure of strategic signalling while visiting a country which is actively reworking its nationalist and strategic narratives.