Memoranda and agreements were signed on digital technologies cooperation, especially pertaining to Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met In Japan for their annual summit meeting on 28-29 October 2018. Last year, the summit was held in India. Unlike the rancour and bitterness that characterise some heads of government meetings in the modern era, Indian and Japanese Prime Ministers meet with great expectations for a future with upward trajectory.

The most notable agreement reached between PM Abe and PM Modi was the US $75 billion currency swap facility, upgraded from the previous $50 billion negotiated by then PM, Dr Manmohan Singh in 2013 with Finance Minister Aso, and PM Abe. The enhanced currency swap facility is to further support the dampening of currency volatility, and build India-Japan trade. PM Abe is well on his way to becoming the longest-serving post-War Prime Minister of Japan, although Mr Abe is term-limited to a maximum of three more years, even after amending the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Constitution.

Memoranda and agreements were signed on digital technologies cooperation, especially pertaining to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), on health and wellness, agricultural value chain and fisheries, and between other bureaucracies in India and Japan. Japan joined the International Solar Alliance, which is an India and France initiated global collaboration on solar energy. A platform for collaborative India-Japan projects in Africa and Asia is in formation, and projects in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and in Africa would benefit. PM Modi signalled India’s support for Japan’s hosting of the 2020 Olympics, and next year the G20 and the Rugby World Cup, and for a free and open Indo-Pacific, all issues of great importance to Japan.

PM Modi said that progress on India-Japan relations is limitless, like the Kaizen philosophy of constant improvement. To further emphasise the commonalities, PM Modi also cited the examples of Goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Lords Shiva and Ganesh, who are mostly present but with different, familiar names in Japanese spirituality.

In his speeches, PM Modi spoke about the commonalities of India and Japan in accepting new technologies while respecting the old; and said that Japan amalgamates the best values of eastern and western cultures.

No Indian minister accompanied the PM, only officials, a stark difference from previous pre-Modi PM visits and indeed Japanese PM visits abroad.

However, BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who was in Tokyo for an India-Japan-US conference of the Hudson Institute, a US think-tank, joined the PM’s team for bilateral meetings.

PM Modi stated that Indian Ministers of Defence and External Affairs would meet with their Japanese counterparts in the next months in a 2+2 meeting. Defence cooperation and joint exercises will be enhanced. PM Modi stressed the efforts he and the government are making to improve the conditions/environment for doing business.

India has been making significant progress in this respect according to the World Bank’s country rankings. He said that 200 additional Japanese companies have located in India since he took office, when he and PM Abe upgraded the relationship to that of Special Strategic and Global Partnership. He recalled projects like the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor that pre-date his administration, but which, he said, are making rapid progress showing how in a democracy like India’s, continuity in projects is a hallmark. The Shinkansen high-speed rail project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is in the land-acquisition phase, and a very low-interest Yen-denominated loan was agreed to for that as well as other projects of approximately $2.8 billion.

He lauded the investments announced by Japanese companies of about $2.5 billion in India. PM Modi stressed that capital investment is the urgent need for India, and linked that to his efforts to improve business friendliness in the country. There was, however, no mention of demonetisation that featured prominently the last time PM Modi was in Japan in November 2016, when he had come to Japan right after that momentous decision of his.

Prior to his series of speaking engagements and reception in Tokyo and his bilateral meetings on 29 October 2018 with Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, and LDP Policy Research Chief Fumio Kishida, a contender for PM after the term of Mr Abe, both PMs travelled to Yamanashi Prefecture to visit a factory automation, Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics plant on 28 October.

Every time a Japanese and Indian PM meet, it is akin to a mutual admiration society, and it has been so for many years now, irrespective of political party or individuals concerned. This time, however, PM Abe went a step beyond in hospitality by inviting PM Modi to his holiday villa in Narusawa, near Lake Kawaguchi in Yamanashi Prefecture, for a private catered dinner on 28 October after their joint visit to the automation plant. It was to reciprocate PM Modi’s hosting of PM Abe in Ahmedabad at last year’s summit. This was the first time that any foreign leader has been hosted by PM Abe at his personal holiday home.

For everyday ordinary Japanese people’s life, at happy moments and moments of victory and achievement, the Indian God Daruma is present, as a huge symbol, familiarly called “Daruma-San”. Few realise, however, that Daruma/Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, omnipresent in Japan and practised around the world, was an Indian monk whose philosophy and teachings have been over centuries followed by the high priests of Japanese Zen as the guiding patriarch. Daruma is a crossroads deity, and indeed one can consider that India too is at a crossroad, potentially able to move towards a tectonic shift of supra 10% growth, essential for social harmony in a restless, large, young population.

The value of the annual summits is for the wider population engaged in trade, investment, tourism, and multiple sectors to think of India-Japan even more positively. Such sentiments and interest have to be channelled to tangible income-boosting and employment-generating growth, respectively for Japan and India, so that the perennial promise gets transformed into further enduring opportunities.

Dr Sunil Chacko, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia Universities and the Trivandrum Medical College, has been a faculty member in the US, Canada, Japan and India.