For the first time, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has linked the sale of US-2 amphibious aircraft with the goal of realising a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”. This was conveyed in his conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday.
Abe’s spokesperson Takeshi Osuga, who is also Japan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, revealed this in an interview to The Indian Express, on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit.
“PM Abe told PM Modi that with a view to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific, he has given instructions for preparing for early holding of the 2+2 ministerial meeting between the two countries, and making progress in the cooperation for promoting connectivity through high-quality infrastructure. And, also work to concretise defence and security cooperation, including on US-2,” said Osuga.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, however, did not mention the US-2 in his briefing, although he said the two leaders would discuss the Indo-Pacific at the Japan-US-India (JAI) trilateral on Friday.
India and Japan have been negotiating the US-2 amphibious aircraft deal for the last six years or so, but there has been no headway due to the high price.
The two countries have been deepening their cooperation on “Free and Open Indo Pacific” in the wake of an assertive and pro-active China, and they now participate in the Malabar exercises and also hold the Quadrilateral meeting with the US and Australia.
“India is the key country towards realising Free and Open Indo-Pacific. We have a lot of expectations from the leadership of PM Modi, who just won a re-election bid and is in a good position to decide on the bold policies in the coming years,” said Osuga.
Abe and Modi met for about 15 minutes on Thursday, according to Osuga. The two sides discussed holding of the first 2+2 dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers later this year, before Abe’s visit to India. Japan is the second country to have a dialogue with India, after the US.
Gokhale said they discussed the importance of defence, outer space and digital economy, and also reviewed the progress of the Mumbai Ahmedabad high speed railway project and the convention centre in Varanasi.
Modi told Abe about the infrastructure projects in North-East India and also talked about building new projects in third countries, including a cancer hospital in Kenya.
Gokhale said Modi talked about a new initiative which is a coalition of countries for disaster-resilient infrastructure, and the need to enhance capacity building abilities of countries. In this context, Japan’s support will be important, he said.
Osuga said Abe told Modi that he wanted to “elevate the Japan-India relationship which has the biggest potential in the world” to an “even higher level”.
Modi told Abe that he was “the first leader to give me a phone call” after the elections. He also congratulated the Japanese government and the people of Japan on entering a new era, Reiwa. He said President Ram Nath Kovind would attend the coronation ceremony of Emperor Naruhito, scheduled in October this year.
Abe expressed his desire to promote establishment of a fund for start-up investments, and to promote cooperation in the field of digital economy, space and cyber, Osuga said.
Modi told Abe that he was looking forward to meeting him in Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum, which both leaders are likely to attend in September this year.