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Bullet train, nuclear deal top Japan's Abe agenda in India

Bullet train, nuclear and strategic ties top Japanese Prime Minister Abe's agenda in India

Bullet train, nuclear deal top Japan's Abe agenda in India

NEW DELHI (AP) -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi hopes the visit this weekend by Shinzo Abe will be a major step in transforming India into an economic powerhouse with Japan's help in building bullet trains, "smart cities" and accessing nuclear technology.

India and Japan are set to sign a $15 billion agreement for a high-speed train linking the Indian financial hub of Mumbai with Ahmadabad, the commercial capital of Modi's home state, Gujarat. The train would cut travel time on the 505 kilometer (315 mile) route from eight hours to two, and would eventually be extended to New Delhi, Indian officials said.

For Japan, still smarting from losing out to China over a similar agreement in Indonesia, firming up the Indian deal was crucial. Tokyo has promised technical support to New Delhi for the project, and a large chunk of the financing would be with a low-interest 50-year Japanese loan.

The deal would benefit Japanese companies with contracts for manufacturing rail cars, tracks and operating systems.

Other major priorities during Prime Minister Abe's three-day visit include discussions on a civil nuclear agreement, military purchases for India's armed forces and Japanese aid to upgrade India's creaking infrastructure. Maritime security and strategic cooperation would also be an important theme of the talks, an Indian official said on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

As India tries to balance its economic growth with sustainable development, New Delhi is keen to increase its use of nuclear power. India wants Japanese companies to set up nuclear power plants, but there were still some wrinkles to be ironed out, Indian officials said.

Analysts said that Japan, which has long been seen as a pacifist nation and a firm supporter of nuclear nonproliferation, will have strong reservations about signing a civil nuclear agreement with India, because New Delhi has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"Tokyo will want some kind of commitment from India that it will not conduct a nuclear test. But India will have concerns about its strategic autonomy being curbed if it agrees to conditionalities," said Lalima Varma, professor of Japanese studies at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"While it's unlikely a civil nuclear deal will be signed during this visit, the two sides will air their concerns. That could be construed as progress," she said.

In 1998, when India conducted its nuclear tests, Japan imposed economic sanctions and cut off financial aid to India. The sanctions were lifted in 2001 and relations have since improved significantly.

India has been trying to upgrade its military equipment and a potential defense agreement to sell US-2 amphibious aircraft to India could turn out to be Japan's first major military sale after it lifted a postwar ban on the export of defense equipment in 2014. Japan's navy uses the US-2 aircraft, which can land and take off from the sea, for maritime surveillance and search and rescue operations.

The two countries are also likely to sign an agreement allowing the transfer of defense technology and co-production of arms and military equipment.

Abe and Modi are expected to explore ways to boost their surprisingly low trade. Analysts say despite a 15 percent annual rate of increase in two-way trade, India accounts for only 1.2 percent of Japan's total trade, and Japan for 2 percent of India's.

In contrast, China accounted for 18.3 percent of total Japanese exports in 2014, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific Chief Economist for IHS Global Insight.

Modi has said that he wants to attract Japanese investment into Indian manufacturing and infrastructure development, including his grand scheme of building around 100 "smart cities" with integrated transport and communications.

Updated : 2021-09-27 23:56 GMT+08:00