India's North East can help shape Asia's future, says Japan

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Japan is the fourth largest investor in India and the number of Japanese companies in India, more than 1400 currently, continues to increase steadily

India and Japan are stepping up their infra partnership in the North-East to substantiate New Delhi's Act East policy and Japan's Indo-Pacific strategy.

"The North East connects us to our neighbours and to one of the most economically dynamic and politically significant geographies of the world - the ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific. It is therefore logical that we have chosen to work with one of our most valuable partners, Japan, for the development of this area, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said during a webinar organised by Asian Confluence in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan today.

Japan is the fourth largest investor in India and the number of Japanese companies in India, more than 1400 currently, continues to increase steadily. Tokyo has also been actively providing assistance to various projects in the region. The ongoing Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects supported by Japan amounts to more than 231 billion yen (appx. INR 1,600 crore).

Japanese ODA is deployed over sectors ranging from healthcare to sustainable development, agriculture, food processing, digital partnership, skill development, sports, and outer space. It includes projects such as the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway.

India Japan Partnership North East India

Through the Act East Forum (AEF), Japan remains the only country which has an independent framework for discussing the development of India’s North East and the one at such a high-level. The forum was  established in 2017 to conceptualize, evaluate and facilitate Japan-India collaboration in connectivity and developmental projects in and with the North Eastern region of India.

Along with the United States and Australia, the two nations drive and promote the vision of a 'free and open Indo-Pacific' and an ASEAN-led regional architecture under the Quad framework.

The signing of the Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services (ACSA) agreement last year has further enhanced the interoperability between the armed forces of India and Japan, taking the bilateral defence engagements under the special strategic and global partnership between the two countries to a new high.

"It is not simply because of geopolitical reality that exits at India's western border, but because the future of Asia lies in that direction. The link to the East, from Bangladesh to ASEAN to Japan, is the source for further growth of India and its North East. Our national highway projects, be it in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura, will be extended to the border of Bangladesh. Japan and India have been working road connection improvement projects in Bangladesh as well," Japanese Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki said at the forum today.

Mentioning the "power of connectivity", Suzuki, who had visited Assam last month along with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, pointed out how Japan is supporting the construction of the Dhubri-Phulbari bridge which will dramatically shorten the travel time across the Brahmaputra river from more than eight hours to less than 30 minutes. It will be the longest river bridge in India, creating a corridor stretching from Bhutan, through Assam and Meghalaya to Bangladesh.

Japan is also helping modernize the Umiam-Umtru Hydroelectric Power Station in Meghalaya and the Guwahati Water Supply and Guwahati Sewerage Project even as India continues to expand intermodal transport linkages and inland waterways through Bangladesh besides intiating flagship projects like Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway Project with Myanmar to connect the North East all the way till Thailand.

Japan India Partnership

Japanese Ambassador to India, Satoshi Suzuki delivering the keynote address during the Japan-North Eastern Dialogue on 'Development of North Eastern Indian Region: Indo-Japan Collaboration for Connectivity, Commerce, Culture and Conservation' co-hosted virtually by Embassy of Japan in India and Asian Confluence, a North Eastern India based thinktank 

The Japanese Ambassador had said last month that he feels "at home" in Assam as its beautiful scenery reminded him of his hometown in the northern part of Hamamatsu City of Shizuoka Prefecture. He insists that for India to achieve the 5-trillion-dollar economy, the development of North East is indispensable.

Japan knows that connecting India with Southeast Asia and to the Bay of Bengal does make sense both economically and strategically.

"North East is situated where India’s Act East Policy and Japan’s vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific converge. To be “free and open” is critical here in Assam. That is why Japan is supporting various connectivity projects in this State," Suzuki had said last month.

Today, during the virtual address to the Asian Confluence, Suzuki delved further on some "interesting ideas" to help India and Japan pick together "any low-hanging fruits" in the region.

"How can we combine road connectivity with inland waterways? What is needed to attract investment to the North East? Are there anything we can do to bring in more tourists so that they can enjoy the rich natural and culrural attractions of the region? How can we advance intellectual dialogue with the North East?"

Tokyo believes that it is the North East that holds a ticket to broaden the "already-rich" bilateral relations between the two nations as it also secures a truly free, open and inclusive lndo-Pacific.

The partnership is only expected to get stronger as India and Japan celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year.