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International relations

Modi-Abe summit to pave way for closer security cooperation

Leaders to discuss sharing military logistics as China watches warily

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is deepening its strategic relationship with Japan.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Security cooperation and military logistics will be high on the agenda when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, hold an annual summit on Monday in Tokyo.

Defense and security are "important from our perspective with Japan, particularly because there is a growing focus on our strategic partnership over the years," Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said in New Delhi on Thursday.

The two governments have already agreed to work on research and development of unmanned ground vehicles and robotics, and plan to continue discussions. Modi and Abe are likely to talk about a bilateral Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, a military logistics pact that would allow access to each other's bases.

The leaders are not expected to conclude the agreement at this summit. But Japan's ambassador to India this week said it is high time the two countries think about mutual logistics support.

"We are hoping to start a kind of formal negotiation process with regard to a possible signing" of the accord, the ambassador said.

The Indo-Japanese defense relationship has expanded quickly in recent years. The countries conduct three-way naval exercises with the U.S. in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

Signing an ACSA would pave the wave for their defense forces to share not only bases but also fuel, food, water and other supplies. Shamshad Ahmad Khan, a visiting associate fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, said the governments reached an understanding on signing such a pact when Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited India in August.

Khan said it is "likely that Japan will allow India access to its base in Djibouti and India in turn will allow access to Japan to its Andaman naval base." But he warned that, although the logistics arrangement would be geared toward peacekeeping missions, it may prompt a reaction from China -- especially from elements who see such moves as attempts to encircle the country.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Modi, pictured in 2017, have already met 11 times, including annual summits and other events.   © Reuters

Asked about Abe's ongoing visit to China, just before his meeting with Modi, Gokhale said: "I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that [it] will have no impact on our bilateral relationship. We have a very deep relationship, very diverse relationship, we have two governments committed to this relationship."

Modi is to arrive in Japan late on Saturday. On Sunday, he will visit Yamanashi Prefecture, at the foot of Mount Fuji. Abe will greet him there and host an informal lunch at a hotel. The two leaders are scheduled to stop by a factory automation systems company there before heading to Abe's private residence in Yamanashi for dinner.

"This is a very special gesture that Prime Minister Abe is making," Gokhale said. "We believe this is the very first time that a foreign leader is visiting Prime Minister Abe's second home or his holiday home."

The visit, the secretary said, reflects the countries' strategic global partnership as well as the personal relationship Modi and Abe have developed. This will be the leaders' 12th meeting, including their annual summits and talks at various forums.

On Monday, the leaders will sit down for a formal meeting, followed by an exchange of documents. Modi will also address a business forum to be hosted by Nikkei and the Japan External Trade Organization, before departing that evening.

One agreement he and Abe are expected to sign concerns a second tranche of Japanese funding for a high-speed rail project between the western Indian cities of Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The Indian government aims to complete the project by 2022, the 75th anniversary of the country's independence from British rule.

Besides security, the two sides will discuss how they can collaborate on capacity building and infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region and Africa. This cooperation would have a "geostrategic element," Gokhale said.

The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, floated by the two countries in 2016, is an economic cooperation initiative involving India, Japan and a group of African countries. It is viewed as a counterweight to China's Belt and Road Initiative, which entails huge infrastructure investments across Central Asia and on to Europe.

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