India-Japan relations have grown into a close strategic partnership in the past decade. Regular annual summits between their leaders have helped nurture the relations and made them among the fast-growing ties for each country. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India from December 15 to 17 will be his sixth bilateral summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to further consolidate the bilateral relationship.
The summit will take place in Guwahati this time, which will bring a focus on Japan’s development cooperation in the North-Eastern states. Japanese organisations are actively involved in a variety of projects in the North-East under the Act East Forum that was set up during Abe’s visit to India in 2017. The Act East Forum aimed to expand cooperation between Japan and India in the North-Eastern region. Japan is the only country that the Indian government has allowed to take up developmental projects in the sensitive North-Eastern region.
India-Japan summits have a wide agenda of bilateral and global issues. But during the discussions, the Japanese side is likely to inquire about the implications of the Maharashtra government’s recent decision to review the bullet train project. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail project, or bullet train project is among the most prestigious Japan-India projects. A shadow was cast on the project when the new Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said that his government would review the bullet train project. However, he clarified that his government had not taken a decision to cancel the project. The Maharashtra government is one of the three parties involved in the project and would find it difficult to cancel the project. But the project is likely to be in the doldrums if it loses its priority as a Maharashtra government project.
India and Japan held the first Two plus Two meeting of their foreign and defence ministers, when they reviewed the progress in the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which is in the final stages of negotiations. The logistics agreement is similar to those signed with the United States and France and would provide access to each other’s naval facilities. Defence and security cooperation has expanded steadily and India and Japan hold a series of defence exercises involving all three wings of the armed forces. The two sides have recently agreed to hold a joint exercise of fighter jets from Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force and the Indian Air Force next year.
The Act East Forum brought together various agencies on both sides to identify specific projects for development in the North-Eastern states. The cooperation between Japan and the North-Eastern states ranges from key infrastructure projects such as road connectivity, bridges, electricity, water supply and sewage, to social and environmental sustainability such as afforestation and community empowerment, as well as people-to-people exchanges, including inviting youth from the North-East to Japan. It has taken up construction of roads and highways in Meghalaya and Mizoram, a biodiversity conservation and forest project in Sikkim, other forest management projects in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura.
Japan supported the construction of the Imphal Peace Museum, which was inaugurated in June this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal during World War ll at Maibam Lokpa Ching, also known as Red Hills. It was constructed with the support of the Nippon Foundation in collaboration with the Manipur government and the Manipur Tourism Forum. The museum displays exhibits from the war as well as lists the casualties in the battle including the names of the local people of Manipur who joined the Indian National Army (INA) forces. It also has a section on the arts and culture of Manipur.
The Imphal Peace Museum is located 20 km south-west of Imphal at the base of the Red Hills, where the last battle between the British India Army and the Japanese army was fought during World War II. About 55,000 Japanese soldiers died in the India offensive of the Japanese army. Many of them died in the Imphal and Kohima battles, from March 8 to July 18, 1944 which are regarded among the fiercest battles of the Second World War. Prime Minister Abe is expected to visit the Peace Museum.
(Shubha Singh is a foreign policy and strategic affairs commentator. The views expressed are personal. She can be reached at [email protected])