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A worker cleans signage featuring India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe ahead of their meeting in Ahmedabad, India.   © Reuters

Japan, India opening up airways to more flights

Abe-Modi summit to focus on cementing economic, security ties

TOKYO -- Japan and India are expected to sign a pact allowing passenger planes unfettered access to each other's airports in a move designed to boost the number of tourists visiting here from the subcontinent.

The agreement will be part of a package of deals formalized when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet Thursday in India as a part of Abe's three-day visit starting Wednesday.

The Japanese leader has been pursuing so-called open-skies accords ever since his first stint as prime minister last decade. Within those arrangements, it is the airlines instead of the government that get to decide the number of routes and flights between participating countries, although the number of landing slots assigned at airports does place a limit.

Japan has sealed open-skies agreements with 32 nations and territories so far. Abe and Modi will agree to open up six airports each in Japan and India initially, with more to come in the future.

Driving this deregulatory push is Japan's aim of attracting 40 million inbound tourists in 2020, the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. India's 1.3 billion people represent a prime market, yet it has gone untapped. Only about 120,000 Indian nationals made it to Japan last year. Creating an environment that makes Japan a more attractive holiday destination has been seen as key to changing the situation. Bringing in more budget carriers goes a long way toward addressing the issue.

The two sides will also push forward on a nuclear pact previously signed. Japan will set up a public-private panel to discuss and plan the export of its nuclear technology to India. The resulting framework aims to prevent any military use of the technology or transfers to other nations.

In addition, Japan will provide India with new yen loans for building a high-speed rail line connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad based on Japan's shinkansen bullet train technology.

Abe will press for the Japanese technology to be employed in six other rail lines in the works during his meeting with Modi.

The political dimension

Japan's renewed focus in building ties with India is also rooted in national security considerations. India is situated in a strategic area needed to contain China's maritime encroachment.

Japanese and Indian leaders have conducted reciprocal state visits every other year. This week's trip will mark Abe's third visit to India since his second stint as prime minister began in late 2012. Abe has met with Modi 10 times in all sorts of settings, which underscores the weight given to the bilateral relationship.

Last year, Abe launched the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, which centers around ensuring the rule of maritime law applies in the waters stretching from the Pacific to Indian Oceans. The strategy aims to secure sea lanes for Japan across Asia and Africa in the face of Beijing's Belt and Road initiative, which seeks to establish marine as well as land routes in the area.

Meanwhile, Modi is championing his Act East policy, which is focused on building ties in East Asia. New Delhi sees China's stepped-up maritime activity as a threat as well, and is looking to deepen cooperation with Japan.

The two leaders are expected to reaffirm their commitment to joint exercises between the Indian navy and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force. Also on the agenda is the continuing collaboration on military technology and hardware, including India's pending purchase of Japan's US-2 amphibious aircraft.


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