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'Jai Japan, Jai India': How Indo-Japan Ties Prospered With Modi-Abe Bonhomie

As Modi travels to Japan to attend Shinzo Abe's funeral, a look at their friendship and Indo-Japan ties under them.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be attending the state funeral of his “dear friend” and Japan’s longest-serving prime minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday, 27 September.

Sixty-seven-year-old Abe was shot dead during an election rally in the southern Japanese city of Nara on 8 July. He was cremated on 12 July during a private funeral held at the Zojoji temple in Tokyo.

The state funeral, scheduled for Tuesday, is going to be a grand affair with an expected 700 dignitaries from across the world, including United States Vice President Kamala Harris and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

An influential post-war public figure in Japan, Abe served as the prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and then from 2012 to 2020.

Abe consistently championed for strong Indio-Japan ties, visiting India four times during his tenure as the prime minister of Japan. 

In fact, in his book called Towards a Beautiful Country: My Vision for Japan, which was published in 2007, Abe had mentioned that it would “not be a surprise, if in another decade, Japan-India relations overtake Japan-US and Japan-China ties.”   

When Abe demitted his post in 2020 due to health reasons, Modi tweeted, “Pained to hear about your ill health, my dear friend… In recent years, with your wise leadership and personal commitment, the India-Japan partnership has become deeper and stronger than ever before. I wish and pray for your speedy recovery.”

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'Friendship Beyond the Trappings of Office'

Modi is known to have shared a special rapport with Abe; the inception of their bond dating back to 2007 when Modi first visited Japan as the chief minister of Gujarat.

Modi had first visited Japan as the chief minister of Gujarat in 2007.

(Photo: PM Narendra Modi)

To condole Abe's demise, Modi on 8 July penned a blog – ‘My Friend, Abe San’ – wherein, he wrote, “Shinzo Abe – an outstanding leader of Japan, a towering global statesman, and a great champion of India-Japan friendship – is not among us anymore. Japan and the world have lost a great visionary. And, I have lost a dear friend.”

"Our friendship went beyond the trappings of office and the shackles of official protocol."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
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'Special Strategic Global Partnership'

Abe first visited India in 2007, when the United Progressive Alliance-led government was being helmed by Manmohan Singh at the Centre. At that time, addressing the Indian MPs at the Parliament, Abe said, “The Pacific and the Indian oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and prosperity…”

What followed, and was also seen as cementing ties in the face of a rising China, was an influx of investments in India by Japan.

After Modi's arrival at the Centre in 2014, soon after Abe returned as Japan's prime minister in 2012, the ties grew even stronger, buoyed by the personal rapport of the two leaders.

According to former Indian ambassador to Japan, Hemant Krishan Singh, the global partnership established between India and Japan in 2007 was upgraded to a “special strategic global partnership” in 2014.

"The ties between both the countries have since progressed steadily across the fields of investment, civil nuclear energy, defence, economic infrastructure and development,” according to Singh, The Economic Times reported. 

"He was resolute in pursuing the civil nuclear agreement with India – a most difficult one for his country – and decisive in offering the most generous terms for the high speed rail in India."
PM Narendra Modi in tribute to Abe on 8 July 2022
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India-Japan: Beyond Strategic Ties

Modi's relationship with Abe, which began in 2007 with the then Gujarat chief minister's visit to Japan, was rejuvenated with the former's ascension to the prime minister's chair. When Modi assumed office as the prime minister in 2014, he chose Japan as his first destination for a bilateral visit outside India's immediate neighbourhood.

The Tokyo Declaration for India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership, signed on 1 September 2014 during Modi's visit, became the bedrock of the relationship of not just between the two countries but also between the two leaders.

During his first term as prime minister, Modi had deployed a point person in the Prime Minister’s Office only to oversee foreign investments from Japan. Also, Japan was the only country to have a serving official posted in India’s commerce ministry, according to a Times of India report.

It was under Abe’s leadership in 2015 that Tokyo opened defence exports to India – an uncommon eventuality for post-War Japan – and began conducting military drills. 

In 2015, Abe accompanied Modi to his parliamentary constituency Varanasi, where the Japanese premier participated in the famous Ganga Aarti at the Dashashwamedh ghat.

Abe and Modi partake in the Ganga Aarti at the Dashashwamedh ghat in Varanasi.

(Photo: PM Narendra Modi)

On his official tours to Japan, Modi also travelled to cultural landmarks, such as Toji and Kinkaku-ji temples in Kyoto. Moreover, he took Abe to Varanasi, a cultural centre for Hinduism, on the latter's visit to India, underscoring the cultural ties between the two countries. Similarly, Abe inviting Modi to his family home in Yamanashi prefecture and the red carpet for the Japanese prime minister in Modi's home state of Gujarat emphasised the personal bond between the two statesmen.

Reminiscing their visits to the Sabaramati Ashram in Ahmedabad and the Toji temple in Kyoto, Modi said:

"Our visit to Toji temple in Kyoto, our train journey on the Shinkansen, our visit to the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, the Ganga Aarati in Kashi, the elaborate tea ceremony in Tokyo, the list of our memorable interactions is indeed long."
PM Narendra Modi
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'Jai Japan, Jai India!'

During his 2017 visit, Abe laid out the foundation of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train in Gujarat. Abe received a grand reception during his visit to Gujarat, as Modi returned the favour for the invite to the Japanese premier's family home in Yamanashi.

"I will always cherish the singular honour of having been invited to his family home in Yamanashi prefecture, nestled among the foothills of Mt. Fuji," Modi wrote.

(Photo: PM Narendra Modi)

The bullet train project, which is a joint venture between Indian Railways and Japan’s Shinkansen Technology, has been funded by Japan with a loan of Rs 88,000 crore at a low interest. It was during the launch of this project that Abe had coined the phrase, “Jai Japan, Jai India!”

On its completion, slated to be in 2026, the bullet train will cover a distance of 500 kilometres in two hours, running at a speed of 320 kmph.

Economic cooperation between India and Japan grew substantially between India and Japan during Abe’s tenure. Between 2012 and 2019, Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) from Japan jumped by a whopping 180% to 624 billion Yen, The Times of India reported. Similarly, the bilateral trade between the two countries recorded a growth of 27% in the same tenure. 

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Strengthening the Quad

Abe is also credited with the formation of the Quad – a group comprising India, Japan, the US, and Australia – in 2007, in an attempt to counter China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Soon after, India, Japan, and the US participated in joint military drills off Japan’s coast. 

Again, when Chinese aggression grew stronger in the Indian Ocean and along India’s northern borders in Doklam, it was Abe who mooted the idea of reviving the Quad, which had fizzled out since its inception.

'Final Meeting'

In 2021, India accorded the Padma Vibhushan – the country’s second-highest civilian award – to Shinzo Abe for “excellence in public affairs.”

In May 2022, after Abe had demitted from the post of Japan’s prime minister, Modi paid him a visit, while he was in Japan for the second in-person Quad Summit. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared a picture of his last meeting with Shinzo Abe in Japan, in May 2022.

(Photo: PM Narendra Modi)

While sharing a picture of his last meeting with Abe in May this year, PM Modi said, "I had the opportunity to meet Abe San, who had just taken over as the Chair of the Japan-India Association. He was his usual self –energetic, captivating, charismatic, and very witty."

"He had innovative ideas on how to further strengthen the India-Japan friendship. When I said goodbye to him that day, little did I imagine that it would be our final meeting."
PM Narendra Modi

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