NEW DELHI: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touched down in New Delhi Friday for a two-day visit with his counterpart Narendra Modi, during which they are expected to announce a deal for India’s first bullet train.
Abe is set to meet with Indian business leaders, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and President Pranab Mukherjee before heading Saturday to Varanasi, India’s holy city on the River Ganges and Modi’s parliamentary constituency.
Slated for discussion is a reported $15 billion agreement for a ‘Shinkansen’ bullet train connecting the economically dynamic cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad, part of Modi’s pledge to revive India’s ramshackle railways.
The pair is also expected to discuss building defense ties and 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 assertiveness.
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.”
Modi and Abe enjoy an unusually close friendship that pre-dates the Indian leader’s election last year.
Both are right-wing nationalists elected on a platform of kick-starting economic reforms in Japan and India, Asia’s second and third-largest economies respectively.
And both are seen as strong leaders at the helm of nations embroiled in territorial disputes with China, the dominant regional power.
Modi visited Japan twice as chief minister of prosperous Gujarat state and met with Abe both times.
He received a warm welcome in Japan in August last year after choosing the country as the destination for his first bilateral visit outside South Asia.
When Abe joined Twitter in 2012, Modi was the third person he followed, after his wife and a Japanese politician.
Japan’s leading Nikkei business daily reported Tuesday that India would adopt the Shinkansen bullet train, with Japan offering a cheap loan worth one trillion yen ($8 billion).
Modi’s government said last year it would open up the railways to foreign investment as they struggle to win back freight traffic lost to roads, coastal shipping and planes.
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.
Yet the past experience of Japanese firms in India has been marred by some high-profile disasters.
Among them was pharmaceutical maker Daiichi Sankyo’s $4.6 billion purchase of Indian giant Ranbaxy in 2008.
The Japanese pharmaceutical company decided to sell Ranbaxy in April 2014 after US regulators banned imports of its drugs over quality concerns, dealing a huge blow to Daiichi Sankyo’s bottom line.
Carmaker Suzuki has suffered from bouts of labor unrest at its Indian operations, including a 2012 riot that resulted in the death of a personnel manager.