India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe were staying in the same hotel in Hangzhou for the G20 summit, and may have engaged in ritualistic pleasantries, but with China looking on, they will meet in Vientiane for a substantive bilateral meeting.
In a delicate geopolitical game, after engaging China’s President Xi Jinping in Hangzhou, PM Modi will now turn to India’s trusted strategic partner for support on the country’s crucial development agenda in which Tokyo has emerged as New Delhi’s prime partner. Significantly, Mr Xi and Mr Abe also met briefly on the sidelines of the G20 summit, signalling prospects of a thaw in strained bilateral relations between the two estranged rivals.
The meeting between PM Modi and his Japanese counterpart takes place against the backdrop of the continuing churn in the South China Sea and the festering instability in the region. The two leaders are expected to review the ongoing India-Japan partnership in promoting maritime stability in the conflicted region. China managed to keep the South China Sea off the G20 agenda, but the issue will figure on the agenda of ASEAN and East Asia summits.
Japan, the only nation to be bombed by nuclear weapons, has declared support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group despite the nation’s strong non-proliferation sensitivities. In the meeting in Vientiane, Mr Abe is expected to reiterate support for India’s NSG bid and promote it with other friendly nations.
The meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Abe, who have forged a personal chemistry and special relationship, will be watched closely in Beijing for obvious reasons. China suspects India to be locked into a containment game with Japan and the US, a perception that has been repeatedly countered by New Delhi. The US, Japan and India have upgraded their trilateral meeting to the ministerial level, signifying their focus on deepening trilateral cooperation on development as well as strategic issues. Japan’s induction as a permanent member in the Malabar exercise indicates that the burgeoning defence relationship between New Delhi and Toyo is set to scale new frontiers in days to come.
Building upon outcomes during PM Modi’s visit to Japan in 2014 and the visit by Mr Abe to New Delhi in December 2015, the two leaders are expected to discuss fast-tracking Japanese investments in India and review progress in launching two iconic projects: the bullet train and Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). The talks in Vientiane will also firm up the agenda for Mr Modi’s visit to Tokyo towards the end of the year for annual summit meeting with his Japanese counterpart.
Meeting with Obama
In Vientiane, Mr Modi will also hold a bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama. Mr Modi met Mr Obama for a brief pull aside talk in Hanzhou, with Mr Obama lauding the Indian leader for the passage of the path-breaking Goods and Sales Tax. The two leaders will have substantive discussions in Laos, with India’s membership of the NSG topping the agenda. This is expected to be the last meeting between the two leaders before Mr Obama demits the office. The US holds the key to India’s NSG membership, and with China still ambivalent about supporting India, the discussions between Modi and Obama should map the way forward for fast-tracking India’s membership into the elite nuclear club.
India will focus on enhancing physical and digital connectivity with the Southeast Asian nations and leverage the modern interconnected world for the mutual benefit, said Mr Modi ahead of his participation in the 14th ASEAN-India Summit and the 11th East Asia Summit in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. “ASEAN is a key partner for our ‘Act East’ policy, which is vital for the economic development of our Northeastern region, he said in a statement ahead of his two-day visit that begins on Wednesday. “Our strategic partnership with ASEAN is also important for safeguarding and promoting our security interests and countering traditional and non-traditional security challenges in the region,” he said.
Underlining that East Asia Summit is the premier forum for discussions on the challenges and opportunities before the Asia Pacific region. “Our engagement and approach can be best encapsulated in just one word – connectivity.”
“We wish to enhance our physical and digital connectivity; to see greater people to people links; to strengthen our institutional linkages; and, to leverage the modern interconnected world for the mutual benefit of all our people,” the prime minister said.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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