High-speed train, Quad figure in 1st call between Japan’s Suga, PM Modi
India and Japan committed themselves on Friday to take forward the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project and welcomed a memorandum of cooperation on specified skilled workers to be signed in the near future.
Both issues figured in the first phone conversation between Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Suga said he will promote bilateral cooperation in security and economic matters and work with India to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Days ahead of a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, to be hosted by Japan, Suga also said he would promote cooperation through the grouping. The foreign ministers of the Quad, which also includes Australia and the US, are expected to meet in Tokyo in early October.
Suga replaced Shinzo Abe, who had established a close working relationship with Modi and put in considerable effort to revive the Quad over the past three years.
The two prime ministers “affirmed their intention to steadily advance the high-speed rail project” and welcomed the fact that the memorandum of cooperation on specified skilled workers would be signed in the near future, according to a readout from Japan’s foreign ministry on the 25-minute conversation.
The text of the agreement on specialised skilled workers has been finalised by the two sides. India has focused on similar agreements with several countries to ensure better mobility for its skilled professionals in fields such as information technology.
The commitment to India’s first bullet train project is significant as the venture has been hit by delays and other issues, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity. The 508-km project is being built with an 80% loan from Japan with an interest rate of 0.1% and a 15-year moratorium on repayments.
Though the target date for completing the project was December 2023, it is now expected to be completed in late 2028. Several tenders for key aspects of the project were floated last year but are yet to be finalised, and the total cost of the link is now expected to be more than the original estimate.
Suga “expressed his intention to promote bilateral cooperation in the fields of security, economy and economic cooperation, and to work with India towards achieving a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’,” the Japanese readout said.
He also said he would promote cooperation in multilateral mechanisms such as the “Japan-Australia-India-US meetings and the United Nations as well as on issues related to North Korea”, it added.
Modi and Suga agreed the special strategic and global partnership between India and Japan has made “great advances over the last few years” and expressed their intention to strengthen the relationship on the basis of mutual trust and shared values, according to a statement from the external affairs ministry.
They also agreed that the bilateral partnership is more relevant in view of current global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic. “They emphasised that the economic architecture of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region must be premised on resilient supply chains, and in this context, welcomed cooperation between India, Japan and other like-minded countries,” the Indian statement said.
Suga also mentioned that bilateral ties had developed significantly “under the mutual trust between” Abe and Modi, and said he too would continue to advance the special partnership.
The two prime ministers shared the view that the annual India-Japan summit meeting should be resumed after the situation related to the pandemic improves. Modi invited Suga to visit India for the summit after the improvement of the situation.