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Defence cooperation, dual-use technology on table at Shinzo Abe-Narendra Modi meeting

Defence technology and cooperation, including a possible breakthrough on the US-2 amphibious aircraft and cooperation in developing unmanned ground vehicles and robots for defence purpose, is expected to be one of the key takeaways of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Ahmedabad that started Wednesday.

“Defence and security will be one of the focus areas of the joint statement. The strategic convergences, especially in the Indo-Pacific area, will reflect in the joint document,” a source said after Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a dinner for Abe and his wife Akie. There is also a possibility of upgrading the two-plus-two mechanism between defence and foreign secretaries to the ministerial level.

Hectic last-minute negotiations were on till late Wednesday night between the two sides at the Hyatt hotel in Ahmedabad where the Japanese delegation is staying.

Sources told The Indian Express that officials were working on specifics of a possible breakthrough, which got some momentum during outgoing Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s visit to Japan early this month. A joint statement after Jaitley’s visit said, “They noted the effort made by both countries regarding the cooperation on US-2 amphibious aircraft.”

Modi and Abe are scheduled to hold bilateral talks Thursday at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar. This is their tenth meeting in the last three years.

During the talks, the two leaders are likely to push for increased interaction between governments and defence industries of the two countries, so that there is supply and transfer of “defence and dual-use technologies”, a source said. In this context, they are likely to form a “joint working group on defence equipment and technology cooperation”.

Apart from defence, the two leaders are also expected to take stock of the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, which was ratified this year and came into force.

Sources said that there had been a minor setback to plans after Westinghouse, one of the main nuclear firms, owned by Toshiba, filed for bankruptcy. “But we are thinking of creative ways to kickstart the cooperation, and a lot of brainstorming is going on right now on this,” sources said.

The Japanese nuclear industry, which is facing a slump after the Fukushima disaster, is keen to collaborate since the Indian market offers tremendous opportunities. So, Japanese nuclear firms may be asked to provide design and operations capabilities for nuclear reactors, which will be done by Indian firms. This is a shift from New Delhi’s earlier strategy under which Japanese companies like Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi would have built the entire nuclear plant from inception.

Apart from defence and nuclear cooperation, the two sides will also look at infrastructure development in India and in third countries. For India, the ground-breaking ceremony of a high-speed bullet train will be an important step towards Japanese commitment to help in building infrastructure.

The two sides will announce their synergy in projects in North-East states, which has been a no-go area for most countries. “It is going to be major focus area, since it ties into India’s Act East policy,” a source said. This assumes importance given that many agencies, including the World Bank, have not been forthcoming in financing projects in the border states in the North-East — seen as sensitive as parts of Arunachal Pradesh are claimed by China.

The two sides will also underline cooperation in third countries, especially since Chinese investment under the One Belt One Road project is taking shape. Joint development of projects in the neighbourhood and in Africa will figure in the discussions.

The Asia Africa Growth Corridor, which is expected to finally take off, will be the culmination of the dialogue between New Delhi and Tokyo in recent years. This is expected to help synergise efforts and explore specific joint projects including in areas of training and capacity-building, health, infrastructure and connectivity.

The two sides will also have a “strong paragraph” on North Korea, which has been a cause for concern for Japan in recent months, sources said.

Abe, who arrived in Ahmedabad Wednesday afternoon, was received by Modi at the airport, a departure from protocol. Abe and his wife, Akie, changed into traditional Indian clothes and went on a roadshow for about 8.5 km in an open-top vehicle, from the airport to the Sabarmati Ashram.

At the Sabarmati Ashram, where Chinese President Xi Jinping too had gone in September 2014, Abe and Akie were taken on a guided tour by Modi. They signed the visitor’s book in Japanese, “Love and gratitude, Shinzo Abe and Akie”.

They then visited a 16th-century mosque, Sidi Saiyyed Ni Jaali. Thereafter, they had dinner at a rooftop restaurant that serves traditional Gujarati cuisine.

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