Quad rift over Ukraine to dominate Japan PM Fumio Kishida’s India visit

During his visit on March 19, Fumio Kishida will also assess Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project

March 12, 2022 09:29 pm | Updated 11:18 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida answers to reporters’ questions at his official residence in Tokyo on March 11, 2022.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida answers to reporters’ questions at his official residence in Tokyo on March 11, 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to visit Delhi for a short trip on Saturday, to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the India-Japan annual summit that has been put off several times since 2019. Officials and diplomats working on the visit confirmed that Mr. Kishida, who was took office last October, will be in India on March 19 and leave the next day for Cambodia.

The visit is expected to include a broad range of discussions including “urgent international concerns”, said an official, adding that the meeting is particularly important given that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of India-Japan bilateral ties.

The leaders will also take a close look at the progress on the $17 billion Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed “Shinkansen” bullet train project, which was inaugurated in 2017 by former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and Mr. Modi. Although the project, which is largely funded by loans from Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA), was due to be completed by 2022, in time for celebrations of India’s 75th Independence day anniversary, it has been delayed due to land acquisition issues, and is now slated to begin in 2026, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has said.

While the focus of the visit will be on the rail project and a number of other bilateral agreements, Mr. Kishida is also expected to discuss the situation in Ukraine, where India has taken a divergent position from that of Japan and other Quad partners U.S. and Australia.

On February 25, Japan joined a number of Western countries in announcing sanctions against Russia for its war in Ukraine, and has taken a tough line with Moscow. In comparison the Modi government has not criticised Russia publicly, abstaining at least eight votes at the United Nations (UN), including the Security Council, UN General Assembly, Human Rights Council and International Atomic Energy Agency. In addition, while Japan is in talks with the U.S. and European Union, as well as with the G-7 and most developed nations about curtailing oil imports from Russia, New Delhi is in talks with Russian leaders on the possibility of increasing its Russian oil intake, with reports that Moscow has offered discounted rates.

During the visit, Mr. Kishida, who earlier visited India as Foreign Minister in 2015, is expected to try to narrow the gap between both sides, and particularly between India and other Quad partners over the issue. During the Quad summit convened by the United States earlier this month, Mr. Kishida had taken a firm line on “Russian aggression”, adding that that similar actions must be prevented in the Indo-Pacific. Japan is also expected to host an in-person Quad summit with U.S. President Biden, Australian PM Scott Morrison and PM Modi in May or June this year.

India and Japan, which have a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership”, began to hold annual summit meetings in 2005, alternating between the two countries each year. The last in-person, 13th annual summit was held in 2018 when Prime Minister Modi visited Japan. However, in December 2019, Mr. Abe’s visit for the 14th annual summit was cancelled at the last minute as he was due to visit Guwahati when protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act broke out.

Subsequent plans for the “Annual” summit were shelved due to the Covid pandemic, although Mr. Modi and Mr. Abe held a summit telephone conversation in September 2020 and Mr. Modi and Mr. Abe’s successor, Yoshihide Suga, held an in-person summit on the side-lines of the Quad meeting in Washington in September last year.

Officials explained that Mr. Kishida’s visit may be brief, but would be nonetheless important as it revives the annual summit practice after a gap of three years.

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